The infrastructure of alternatively-fuelled vehicles

One of the biggest concerns for motorists and fleets considering switching to alternatively-fuelled vehicles is finding somewhere to recharge or refuel them. There are thousands of petrol stations at the side of Britain’s roads, and most of us can find one conveniently nearby. But what about charge points for electric cars, or filling stations for hydrogen or gas?

Electric charge points

Electric car owners do most of their charging at home. Buying or leasing an electric car therefore usually also means installing a private charge point. These generally cost around £900. Fortunately, though, the Government offers grants worth 75% of the cost of installing a charge point at home, up to a maximum of £500, through its Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

For businesses that are adding electric cars to their fleets, the Government also offers vouchers worth £300 for each of the first 20 charging sockets they install. Full details of the Workplace Charging Scheme are available in the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ guidance document, here. In his Autumn Statement in November 2016, Philip Hammond introduced extra support for businesses installing charge points, in the form of a new 100% First-Year Allowance available until April 2019.

There are three different kinds of charge point: standard, fast and rapid. Standard chargers usually take around six hours to fully charge a battery, and are therefore the most popular option for owners installing one at home, where they can leave their car to charge overnight. Fast chargers can fully charge a car in around three to four hours, and are most common at workplaces or in car parks. Rapid chargers bring a battery up to 80% charge in just 30 minutes. These can mostly be found at motorway services, for topping up quickly on a long journey.

Public charge points

Publicly available charge points are spreading around the road network. There are now 12,000 in the UK, and you’ll find at least one rapid charge point at 96% of motorway service stations. Zap Map provides a useful online map of all of these.

Many, though not all, of these charge points require users to subscribe to their provider, though fees are relatively low, and sometimes free. The cost of charging works out at only about 2 pence per mile, compared to around 10 to 12p for petrol or diesel.

Hydrogen filling stations

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles are making their way onto our roads, but there are only around a dozen public filling stations for them in the UK, most of them in and around London.

More are on their way, though. ITM Power has partnered with Shell to open hydrogen filling stations on existing forecourts. The first of these, at Cobham services on the M25, was opened in February 2017.

CNG filling stations

Most fleets with HGVs running on Compressed Natural Gas fill them up at their depots. However, CNG Fuels has also opened public filling stations, including one in Leyland that is the first to be connected to the high-pressure gas grid. It opened in March 2016, and can refuel 500 lorries a day. The company’s director. Philip Fjeld, has said he expects 30 to 50 such stations to open around the country over the next decade.

The modern transport bill

The Government is keen to continue the spread of alternative fuel infrastructure and to make it easier to find places to recharge or refuel alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Following a consultation in late-2016, it has published plans to introduce several measures aimed at doing so in its forthcoming Modern Transport Bill. These include requiring motorway service stations and large fuel retailers to provide a certain amount of electric and hydrogen fuels, as well as requiring operators to provide real-time information to the public on the availability of their facilities.

So, the proliferation of public electric charge points in recent years means it is now relatively easy to find somewhere to charge a Battery Electric or Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, but similar public facilities to refuel Hydrogen Fuel Cell or CNG vehicles are still in short supply. However, efforts by both government and businesses should see more filling stations for Alternatively-Fuelled Vehicles spread around the country in the coming years – helping