Charging ahead: the UK’s green mobility ambitions kick up a gear

The electrification of transport has become a major front in Britain’s journey to net zero. From enhanced accessibility to better tech, what’s powering the EV transition?

Electric charge point

News of Indian conglomerate Tata Group’s £4bn investment in a UK-based gigafactory landed last month, sending an important message: the future of Britain’s automotive industry is electric. 

The investment is one of the largest in the history of the sector in the UK and is anticipated to create thousands of jobs. Following extensive coverage of the war-induced energy crisis, lithium chip shortages and global cost concerns, the nation has been overdue good news and real progress on the green transition.

With all the excitement, the thought of mass EV adoption doesn’t seem far off. According to Shell Recharge’s EV Driver Survey 2023, the European market for electric cars was particularly strong last year, with 42% of respondents having bought their vehicle within 12 months of the survey and more than 1,000 drivers making the shift just two months prior. 

Capturing the views of 25,000 drivers across Europe, the report (the company’s largest yet) finds that previous barriers to adoption - range anxieties, purchasing costs, inaccessible charging and the like -  are easing as confidence in technology grows. Motorists are increasingly relaxed about covering long distances between charges. 

Meanwhile, a new generation of less expensive options is changing market dynamics; it’s perhaps no wonder, then, that consumer interest is surging.

Sustainability is a lifestyle choice

There is a growing acceptance that sticking with petrol or diesel long term is simply not an option, whatever barriers linger for drivers right now. 

As public concerns about climate change deepen, people are pondering going electric as part of a concerted effort to reduce their personal carbon footprints. Research from the EV Driver Survey suggests that the likelihood of investing in solar panels or smart home thermostats, for example, sits cheek-by-jowl with the likelihood of owning an electric car. 

“The UK has been playing catch-up in terms of the speed of EV adoption across Europe but has seen a relatively sharper acceleration over the last year,” says Euan Moir, regional manager for the UK and Nordics at Shell Recharge Solutions. 

This record-breaking growth in the sector is promising. But despite the relatively strong penetration of at-home charge point installation, Moir believes there’s still work to be done on accessibility. 

He adds: “As we enter the next phase of EV adoption, driving electric continues to have a significant impact on driving behaviour in the UK, and public charging is growing in importance.” 

Although, drivers are less concerned about the possibility of losing power on the go than they used to be. Half of respondents this year highlighted range anxiety as a top-three concern, down from 60% in 2022. Only 14% of respondents said they refrain from taking longer journeys, while reluctance to drive abroad because of charging or range concerns fell.

The rise of the faff-free EV

Still, it is clear that more charging is needed everywhere. Wherever they are in the world, drivers are safe to assume that a petrol station will be nearby. The ubiquity of the traditional fuelling structure needs to be replicated for the electric market, says Moir. 

“The number of drivers who charge away from their home is likely to increase as EV adoption accelerates, especially in highly dense urban cities where access to off-street parking is limited,” he explains. “We need to build charging infrastructure to be ready for this.”

As drivers’ demands and expectations for green mobility become clearer, the market is flexing to fit their needs at long last. For example, people understandably want access to high-quality services and amenities while their EVs are plugged in at public charge points.

However, the expanding charging ecosystem is not without its challenges. The rise of multiple charging service providers means drivers are left grappling with multiple applications and cards before they can hit the road. 

While price is one of the leading factors attracting users to charge cards, the full picture is far more nuanced. Convenience and experience also play a key role, with the size of the network coverage and application functions also enticing users. In fact, 47% of respondents agree that they would prefer to have a single method of accessing all public charge points, even if that means they were to pay slightly more per charge. 

Building better, more integrated roaming services through network interoperability has been on the agenda for charging providers for some years. The good news is that the likelihood of having a wallet full of different cards is starting to decline, with the number of respondents who own four or more cards falling by 8% in the last year. But progress is slow. 

On cost concerns, Moir points out: “We’re starting to see first generations of EVs being re-sold. This is significant, as a bigger second-hand market will improve access to lower-priced models and support mass EV adoption.” 

Collaboration on decarbonisation

Corporations also have a stake in the EV conversation. Company cars are central to decarbonisation strategies, and according to Shell’s research, 50% of business drivers with electric vehicles received an employer-provided charge card, compared to only 11% among drivers who are not provided with a car or fuel through their work.

Mobility service provider (MSP) propositions are offering EV business drivers access to a wide range of charging networks and, therefore, greater freedom of choice while meeting the needs of employers who only want to deal with one vendor to enable charging for their employees. There is a similar pattern when it comes to free charging being offered at the workplace or reimbursements for home charging, with business drivers trending higher than non-business drivers.

If we are to continue accelerating at pace, the public and private sectors must work together to remove barriers to entry

Moir argues that creating more propositions focused on targeting business drivers will be integral to promoting electric alternatives on a national scale.

While this year’s EV Driver Survey is focused on end-users, not policymakers, it does outline some of the ways governments can support the effective rollout of charging infrastructure and its integration with renewable electricity. 

“Charging rollout relies on a broad coalition of businesses and policymakers, which can be built by identifying the mutual benefits of charging provision,” says Moir. “If we are to continue accelerating at pace, the public and private sectors must work together to remove barriers to entry.” For a successful energy transition and for EVs to become the default, everyone’s sights must be set on a low-carbon future.

To find out more about the trends, challenges and opportunities as we accelerate towards mass EV adoption, read the Shell Recharge EV Driver Survey 2023 here.