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The importance of site selection in the implementation of an electric vehicle charging network

Avisha Patel, Electric Vehicle Lead at Project Centre, has created a checklist assessment tool to assist with and streamline site audits to ensure that proposed sites are assessed using the same set minimum standards.

“We recognised that while there have been guidance documents published for the placement of charge points in London, there has been no official guidelines set for the UK. Local authorities are under a tighter timescale to ensure charging infrastructure is in place to support the switch to electrification, so it is important that networks are futureproofed”. Avisha explains more below…

In June 2019, the Government committed to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050. Reducing harmful air pollution emissions is essential for the UK’s future as a healthy and sustainable economy.

The Government has set out its aims for zero-emission transport in its ‘Road to Zero’ vision, in which it calls for between 50% and 70% of new car sales and up to 40% of new van sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030. In 2020, announcements were made declaring that no new conventional petrol or diesel cars or vans will be sold in the UK come 2030.

In the UK, road transport accounts for a third of all CO2 emissions and became the largest emitting1 sector of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.

Zero-emission technology plays a vital part in decarbonisation – so what role do local authorities have in achieving and accelerating this reduction?

Local authorities have published commitments and delivery strategies outlining their actions to reduce road transport emissions – electric vehicles are part of their broader action plans.

To help achieve this, charging points should be installed efficiently and effectively, to ensure infrastructure is no longer a barrier to drivers switching to electric vehicles – the perceived availability of charging infrastructure is a cause for concern for consumers.

When introducing a charging network, consideration should be given to all footway and road users to make sure we are not only providing solutions for electric vehicle drivers, but we are creating a cleaner, greener and smarter towns and cities for everyone.

Working closely with local authorities has highlighted the importance of charge point locations being considered under a set of guidelines, providing consistency.

At Project Centre, we approach choosing locations from two angles:

• Finding the correct location – a well-placed charger of the right capacity can potentially charge many more electric vehicles than multiple units in the wrong place.

• Ensuring we use best practice when selecting sites to prevent causing issues during installation, or contention between another footway/road users.

To determine an appropriate geographical location, it is important to consider the following questions:

• What type of network do you want to introduce?

• Who are you catering for?

• What land-use patterns make up your borough/ward/district?

• Where is there demand for charge points?

• Would the charge point be easily accessible?

Once a location has been identified, we can start to evaluate the site.

Our design assessment tool is a checklist that local authorities can use to streamline their site selection process during a site audit, to identify whether a location is suitable for a charging point. We have used these criteria while working on projects with charge point operators and have applied them to subsequent site selection exercises in different areas.

Our tool combines questions from different disciplines within an authority or organisation; Parking, Street Lighting, Highways, all of whom have a potentially conflicting set of priorities when installing charge points. It also reduces problems during installation and takes into consideration electric vehicle owners and all footway and road users.

The tool has been used by Project Centre to audit potential sites for authorities and has proven to be useful, taking approximately 15 minutes per site. Our engineers have been able to return the completed checklist to the council, enabling them to make an informed decision. We must design our charging point locations on a site-by-site basis; and this tool enables us to do so.

An example included for free-standing charge points is: What is the width of the footway?

There has been debate surrounding the placement of charging infrastructure on the footway (a possible obstruction for pedestrians and footway users) or placing units on build-outs on the carriageway; we must consider who else is using that space and what the level of footfall is like. Some streetscape guidance recommends 2.5m of clear footway however this seems too unrealistic in cities and towns. We also need to account for the fact that from the kerb edge to the back of the charge point the distance can be up to 754mm. Whilst these measurements are flexible to a degree, it is important to find the correct balance for that particular site.

Using this, we can collect information to come to an informed conclusion on the site – the assessment will have different criteria to evaluate for slow, residential charge points. An extract from the tool can be found below:

The Covid-19 pandemic gave us an unexpected glimpse of cleaner air, especially in cities. During the national lockdown in 2020, DEFRA published some statistics which stated that NO2 pollution (predominately from road traffic) had fallen in some cities by 60% compared to the previous year, because of less people travelling and driving. Almost half of all drivers now want to switch to a zero-emission vehicle2 after experiencing improved air quality during the pandemic. From this, we can assume that there will be a demand for charging infrastructure; we just have to be mindful about how these networks are designed.

Covid-19 has increased the focus on the space beside the kerb. This space already has multiple uses: parking, deliveries, buses, pedestrians of all abilities, cycling, as well as growing areas such as electric vehicle charging and dockless bike schemes. Now we also need to consider things like social distancing.

A Centre for London study from March 2020 analysed priorities Londoners ascribe to street space uses.3 Electric vehicle charging was on that list, but ‘trees and other green space’ and ‘pavements free of clutter’ were greater priorities. So, where possible, should authorities look to install or relocate infrastructure on to build-outs positioned in the carriageway? Perhaps we could consider where feasible, the introduction of a Parklet – a multi-functional space, where although a parking space is being removed, it is being replaced by space that can be used by different people for different purposes – electric vehicle charging, greening, seating and bicycle storage, for example. (see image on page 24)

Technology such as wireless induction charging is currently being trialled; if this solution were to become viable and implemented for charging on a wider scale, it could address many of the street space issues highlighted within this publication.

There is a long list of considerations to review as part of any site selection process, however a solid charging network with inclusive design and well-placed infrastructure will decrease the likelihood of a charge point becoming obsolete. This in turn should encourage the uptake of electric vehicles and consequently help to support the Government’s ambitions towards a zero-carbon economy.

1 2018 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures, National Statistics, UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

2 https://www.helstongarages.co.uk/news/42percent-of-uk-drivers-likely-to-switch-to-an-electric-vehicle/

3 https://www.centreforlondon.org/reader/parking-kerbside-mangement/introduction/

www.projectcentre.co.uk

avisha.patel@projectcentre.co.uk

This article first appeared in the April Air Quality News magazine, click here to view it. 

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