An electric vehicle driver uses a charging point at a BP Pulse charging station
Big hubs can have cars ready to go again in 15 minutes © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

If governments want to fast-track the mass adoption of electric cars, they should focus on the total capacity of vehicle charging networks, rather than the number of charge points, according to Richard Bartlett, head of future mobility and solutions at BP.

Bartlett, who runs the energy major’s charging business BP Pulse, has a vision for the future of mobility in which vehicles are charged at home, at destinations like supermarkets and cinemas, or at large-ultrafast charging hubs on key transport arteries.

This shift would result in fewer of today’s “forecourts”, but these could be replaced with bigger sites capable of charging hundreds of vehicles at the same time.

Having vast numbers of charge points scattered around a city or a country quickly becomes “uneconomic”, he argues. “You don’t supply much power. It’s a lot of maintenance when they go wrong . . .[and] customers get frustrated . . . so we believe it’s more efficient for the grid, and the customer, to concentrate in fewer but larger latest-tech deployments.”

One of BP’s ultrafast chargers can deliver 1,000kWh a day if in use for a third of the time. Over the same period, a single lamppost charger would only deliver 40kWh.

“We have a deep conviction that the focus should be on high-speed charging, fast and ultrafast,” Bartlett explains. About 50 per cent of BP’s global charging network is fast or ultrafast but, in the first three months of the year, those chargers accounted for 95 per cent of all the EV energy BP sold.

Historically, though, the UK government may have put too much emphasis on the number of charge points, rather than the capacity of the network, Bartlett says. According to data collected by charging app Zap-Map, there were 33,996 electric vehicle charging points in the UK at the end of August, of which 8,398 were “slow” chargers.

China has been quicker to embrace the need for fast and ultrafast charging and eased regulation to make it easier for companies to acquire the land, permits and power connections needed to roll out large sites.

“In China, we just opened an ultrafast charging location from start to finish in less than 30 days,” Bartlett points out. “In the UK and America, it can take up to two years.”

A second Chinese site, which BP has recently acquired in the southern city of Shenzhen, has capacity to charge 480 vehicles simultaneously.

“The Chinese government has a very clear strategic goal: we are moving to EV. And [as a result], EV is coming so fast there it is off the charts.”

Last year, China accounted for more than 50 per cent of new electric vehicle sales globally, says Energy Intelligence. By May, electric vehicles represented 24 per cent of all cars sold in China, up from 13.8 per cent in May 2021.

Outside of China and the UK, BP Pulse says it has the biggest fast and ultrafast charging network in Germany, and now plans to expand in eight other European countries. It also has a growing presence in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

To facilitate the mass adoption of electric vehicles, governments should think about where charging needs to occur and then create “the permitting and grid connection support to do it in a strategic way”, Bartlett says.

“At the moment, there’s a bonanza,” he observes, “a land grab from companies, like us, just rushing out there going: ‘That looks like a good location’. But only time is going to really tell what is a great location.”

For the companies, he adds, it is important they get the software right to ensure the grid, the charging point, and the vehicle can communicate to make the charging process as efficient as possible: “We’re a customer-first company in business but we are hugely dependent on product and software.”

BP Plc Pulse company logo on a screen on an electric vehicle charging point
© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Other paths that BP is exploring include the installation of batteries at charging locations to store power for periods of peak demand and the development of ultrafast charging for heavy goods vehicles.

The fastest electric vehicle chargers in the world today have a maximum output of 400kW, meaning a vehicle capable of accepting such speeds can be fully charged in about 15 minutes.

A charger able to deliver 1 megawatt could theoretically charge a heavy goods vehicle in about 40 minutes. That would enable it to be fully recharged during the 45-minute break lorry drivers are required to take every 4.5 hours under EU law.

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Ultimately, electrifying vehicle fleets for ride-hailing, car hire and particularly the delivery of goods, will drive the biggest gains for electrification and influence how charging infrastructure evolves, Bartlett suggests.

“The forecourt will move to the depot of Amazon, to the airport for car rental companies, to hubs for people on the go, and to hubs for ride hailers.”

Electrifying work fleets will have the most impact on emissions. “If you want to dent carbon dioxide, the more you can take diesel trucks or vans off the roads and replace them with electric, the bigger the benefit for society,” he concludes.

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