UK’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Is Booming

The change will help ease mainstream concerns of range anxiety.

Electric Highway opens high power charging at Rugby services
Electric Highway opens high power charging at Rugby services.

Electric Highway

It’s probably a decade since I interviewed British wind energy pioneer Dale Vince, founder of green energy utility Ecotricity. He alerted us to his company’s growing interest in electric vehicles, and their fledgling investments in a nationwide electric charging network known as Electric Highway. 

At the time, the project consisted of a gradually expanding list of locations, each equipped with a couple of DC fast chargers. Yet it was an important early contribution to making at least medium-range, regional travel feasible in the lower range electric vehicles of yesteryear. 

Today, however, the game has changed. And Electric Highway, in conjunction with clean energy company GRIDSERVE, just launched its first high-powered charging location, consisting of 12 “pumps”—yes, I thought that was weird terminology too—each capable of charging supported vehicles at 350 kilowatts.

According to Ecotricity, that means adding as much as 100 miles of range in just five minutes. And they plan on switching out all existing stations for this new standard soon. 

“We began building the Electric Highway ten years ago and Moto were one of our founding partners," said Vince in a statement. "Back then, state-of-the-art charging was just 7kW and here we are today at 350kW in just a decade. This is our very first high-power installation, and this new technology comes just at a tipping point in the adoption of electric vehicles.”

It’s important to note these charging stations are located at motorway service stations—a sort of a cross between a U.S. rest area and a travel mart—meaning they are purely geared toward folks on the road who need to get where they are going. There are folks like Brad Templeton of Forbes who argue that most charging would be better suited to 50 kilowatts or so, and located where people want to hang out for longer. 

That said, charging and electric vehicle is as much about psychology as it is logistics, meaning that even though most of us will charge at home most of the time, drivers who are used to gas and diesel cars will want to see fast charging options for when they are on the road. Whether or not projects like Electric Highway can turn that into a viable commercial proposition remains to be seen, but I firmly believe they’ll help ease mainstream concerns of range anxiety. 

Electric Highway isn’t the only one beefing up British charging infrastructure. The BBC reports that a huge, high-powered “super hub” will be opening near Oxford later this year, with 40 more similar sites planned across the country. The site will be home to 38 fast and ultra-rapid chargers, open 24/7 and feature an on-site café. This one, however, is located at a park-and-ride which does not appear to be near the country’s motorway (highway) network, at first glance at least. This certainly beggars the question as to how much ultra-fast charging really will be necessary.

Nevertheless, charging infrastructure in the U.K. looks set to expand dramatically in the coming few years. And it will be interesting to watch how mainstream acceptance of electric vehicles shifts as a result.

As an island nation with limitations on how far anyone can drive, it seems reasonable to assume that we’ll hit tipping points when the majority of the population is within easy driving distance of multiple fast and ultra-fast charging options. And while e-bikes and buses and walking will always be preferable, it’s also worth noting that because the U.K. has achieved significant grid decarbonization already, rapid electrification of transport should deliver outsized benefits compared to other nations.