The Government aims to have at least six high-powered charge points for electric vehicles at every motorway service station in England by the end of 2023. This is part of its vision for the rapid chargepoint network in England, published in 2020.

The Government defines high-powered charge points as those that can deliver around 120 to 145 miles in 15 minutes for a typical electric vehicle. Ultimately, the Government wants around 6,000 of these points on England’s motorways and A roads by 2035.

This plan will be crucial to ensuring there are enough charging points to meet future demand as the Government is phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. It is also important if the UK is to meet its target for net zero emissions by 2050.

How many charge points are there on motorways?

Data published by the Government shows there were 2,540 en-route charging devices in the UK on 1 April 2023. En-route charge points include those located at motorway service stations, other service stations, “electric forecourts” and ferry terminals.

The Government data does not show exactly where these en-route charging devices are. This means we cannot use it to assess whether the ambition of six high powered charging points per motorway service station in England has been met.

However, in answer to a parliamentary question in May, the Government said there were around 400 rapid and ultra-rapid chargers at motorway service areas in England. It said over 200 of these were ultra-rapid chargers that charge quick enough to meet its definition of high-powered.

The RAC, which provides vehicle and breakdown services, came to the same figure when it used commercially available data to look more closely at charge point provision on motorways. From its assessment, the 400 charging units had capacity for 682 electric vehicles to charge at once, roughly 3.4 charge points per motorway service station. It said only around a quarter of 119 motorway service stations in England had at least six high-powered charge points. It found six service areas with no high-powered charging points at all.

The data published by the Government does show the number of publicly available chargers per local authority. The Library’s interactive data dashboard on electric vehicles and chargers shows this data.

The Government says it will make regulations requiring charge point operators to make their location data public “in the coming months”. This should allow for the progress of charge point installation on the motorway to be more easily monitored. Even once the regulations are made, it will be a year before the new data requirements come into force (PDF), to give operators time to comply.

What is affecting the roll out of electric vehicle charging points?

Installing charging points on a motorway can be logistically challenging and expensive, especially for motorway services in remote locations.

The Competition Market Authority (CMA), the competition regulator for the UK, conducted a market study of the electric vehicle charging sector in July 2021. It found “very limited” competition for charge point provision at motorway service areas. It said this was a barrier to increasing the investment needed to meet the future demand for motorway charge points.

The CMA found that one company, Electric Highways, had an 80% share of the motorway charging market. It said exclusive arrangements between Electric Highways and three of the private motorway service area operators and the high costs associated with upgrading the electricity network were preventing new charging companies entering the market.

The CMA recommended the Government rolls out its rapid charging fund as “quickly as possible”. It also recommended the Government attaches conditions to the new funding to enable competition between charge point operators at service stations.

What’s the rapid charging fund?

The rapid charging fund is a £950 million fund designed to “future-proof electrical capacity at motorway and major A road service areas”. The Government first announced it in 2020 but has not opened it for applications yet.

In March 2022, the Government said the fund will be “rolled out as quickly as possible” (PDF) and that it’s “actively considering the principles for allocating funding”. It said it would consult on the fund’s design and “launch some pathfinder projects” before it is fully open. It plans to open the public consultation this year.

Some necessary infrastructure improvements are already taking place. In February 2023, National Highways, a Government owned company which manages England’s motorways and A roads, awarded an £8 million contract for the building of energy storage systems at motorway service areas with poor connectivity to the national grid. National Highways says the new storage systems, essentially giant batteries, will support the aim to have six rapid charge points at all motorway service areas.

Is there more the Government could do to increase the number of charge points?

The Government has powers in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 it could use to require large fuel retailers or motorway service area operators provide public charging points. So far, it has chosen not to use these powers, focusing instead on encouraging private sector investment.

About the author: Jennifer Brown is a researcher in the House of Commons Library.

Photo by Eilis Garvey on Unsplash

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