Public electric vehicle charging infrastructure: deliberative and quantitative research with drivers without access to off-street parking

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Executive Summary

The Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned BritainThinks to conduct research exploring the future electric vehicle (EV) charging needs and preferences of drivers without access to off-street parking. BritainThinks designed two phases of work to explore current consumer attitudes and motivations in relation to future chargepoint needs.

The first phase involved a large-scale deliberative project with 90 UK drivers without access to off-street parking at home, including a mix of 61 non-EV (i.e. conventional petrol and diesel) drivers and 29 battery electric vehicle (BEV) drivers. Fieldwork took place online over three weeks between 16th June and 21st July 2021.

The second phase complements the deliberative research with a quantitative survey of 1,006 UK non-EV drivers only without access to off-street parking, covering current behaviours and perceptions of electric vehicles. Fieldwork took place online between 2nd and 15th September 2021.

This research has highlighted a series of key themes among drivers without off-street parking, relating to driving and parking behaviours and perceptions of how charging a BEV would fit into existing habits. Non-EV drivers without off-street parking are strongly wedded to their current driving and parking behaviours – particularly rural drivers, parents of young children and drivers with mobility issues. There is a perception that a BEV would not fit well with existing driving and parking habits. The perceived difficulty and subsequent inconvenience of charging a BEV is seen to diminish the door-to-door nature, autonomy, and flexibility that people currently enjoy about driving.

These views are exacerbated by low awareness, poor knowledge, and some misconceptions about BEV charging, costs and electric driving range. There was a common misconception amongst non-EV drivers without access to off-street parking that charging a BEV would be more expensive than refuelling an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV). For many, there is confusion about how often a BEV will need to be charged, and how long it takes. The concept of ‘topping up’ a battery’s charge rather than charging a full battery was difficult to envisage. For example, of the non-EV drivers without off-street parking surveyed, 41% believed a BEV needs to be charged every day. These misconceptions all contribute to range anxiety.

Findings from the deliberative research suggest that the appeal of potential options for charging relates primarily to convenience and how closely they could fit into existing driving and parking habits. The vast majority (69%) of non-EV drivers without off street parking surveyed said they habitually park their car in front of or near their house every night. Moreover, almost four in five (79%) reported their walking time to typically be less than two minutes, and almost all (95%) reported a walk of 10 minutes or less. Consequently, future overnight charging solutions that require parking further away from home (e.g. in council car parks or local hubs further away) would require a significant change in behaviour and are less appealing to non-EV drivers.

Summary of future charging scenarios tested in the deliberative research:

  1. The local hub – Public charging close to home
  2. Rapid charging as you go – A network of commercial charging stations
  3. The EV Valet service – An electric car club with doorstep charging
  4. Charge where you are – Public charging at work, shops and pubs
  5. Near-home charging – Shared on-street charging solutions

Of the potential charging options tested in the research, near-home charging was most appealing and desired as the primary charging solution in future. ‘Rapid charging as you go’ and ‘charge where you are’ (i.e. charging at destinations where people regularly park their car), whilst also appealing, were generally seen as ‘back up’ or secondary options to support charging near home.

Charging at workplaces, places of education and destinations such as supermarkets are appealing for most current BEV drivers without off-street parking as well as non-EV drivers with compatible routines. Up to 49% of non-EV drivers surveyed reported parking at a workplace or place of education at least once a week. As these drivers reported parking at these locations for a long time, workplace/place of education charging could therefore be an effective and convenient solution for many. This, however, still leaves a substantial proportion of non-EV drivers who reportedly park at their workplace/place of education less than once a week (5%) or never (47%).

The vast majority of non-EV drivers (68%) reported parking at a supermarket once a week or more frequently, with an average length of stay of just 53 minutes. However, BEV and non-EV drivers in the deliberative research indicated changes in their habits as a result of Covid-19 (i.e. switching to remote working, online shopping) and for some, there was a lack of clarity about behaviours and routines in the longer term. This uncertainty makes it unclear what proportion of drivers will perceive these types of destination charging solutions as appropriate or appealing in the future.

The research also suggests that more exposure to BEVs and associated charging behaviour could help non-EV drivers see a bigger role for some potential solutions, making them more appealing. Whilst generally appealing, the use of destination charging is not viewed as a sufficient, standalone option for charging in future, even in locations where drivers park frequently and regularly. This is due to its perceived inconvenience compared to near-home charging and partly because non-EV drivers do not know enough about the possibility of speedier charging and/or the role of ‘topping up’.

However, the research indicates that current BEV drivers regularly top up their charge in addition to fully charging once a week and before any long trip. Consequently, current BEV drivers would welcome additional charge points at destinations. This suggests that, upon making the transition to a BEV, some non-EV drivers may similarly not feel the need to exclusively fit charging into their existing driving and parking habits.

The research also found that many of the issues that non-EV drivers anticipate around charging, including the expected impact on current routines, align with actual experiences of current BEV drivers without access to off-street parking. These include charging taking too long, the limited range of BEVs, and public chargepoints not yet being widespread. BEV drivers have (somewhat grudgingly) adapted and find they can usually work around common issues by planning ahead, identifying multiple chargepoint options in case they are not working or already occupied (either by another BEV or being wrongfully occupied by a petrol or diesel vehicle), and factoring more time into their journeys.

However, there are some challenges that they did not anticipate prior to switching to driving a BEV – including not having access to correct information about chargepoint availability/working status and having to navigate a wide variety of specific payment methods and apps. In addition, lack of availability of chargepoints on arrival at destinations was also identified as an issue that could be addressed to improve charging experiences in future.

During the deliberative research, non-EV drivers without access to off-street parking concluded that, in addition to fitting with existing habit and proximity, reliability and dependability of charging solutions are essential aspects when considering switching to a BEV. The research also found that BEV drivers would rather travel some distance to have guaranteed charging, than be ‘caught out’ in urgent situations with unreliable charging points.

Current BEV drivers without off-street parking have adapted their behaviours to fit charging into their journey planning; however, while they are currently willing to plan ahead and factor in more journey time to enable charging, they would prefer to see charging more seamlessly integrated into driving and parking behaviours in the longer term. Meanwhile, for many non-EV drivers without access to off-street parking, hesitance in transitioning to a BEV is linked strongly to the combination of ‘range anxiety’ and concerns about driving on longer journeys or in unfamiliar areas where they may not be able to find a charging point. For this segment of consumers, seeing evidence of how charging can align with existing driving and parking behaviours will be vital in making the switch to electric.

Continuously evolving consumer habits, charging preferences and innovative technologies will affect future BEV charging infrastructure provision and needs. This research provides in-depth insight into drivers without off-street parking at an early stage of the EV market. This research identifies the importance of reliable charging close to where vehicles are regularly parked, for both current and future BEV drivers, and offers views on how charging a BEV could best fit into people’s current lives.

The unabridged (106 pages) report – “Public electric vehicle charging infrastructure: drivers without access to off-street parking” – was published on 25th March 2022 and can be downloaded via the Documents link on this page of GOV.UK

Feature Image Source: Sabine Kroschel on Pixabay 

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