Written by Trevor Watt, Regional Sales Director for EB Charging
The Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan puts electric vehicles (EVs) at the heart of UK ambitions to reach net zero by 2050. Its vision includes creating one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world. So why was take-up of the On Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS), a grant to help councils fund EV charge points, so low last year? Only £10 million of a £20 million fund was awarded in 2019/20.
With applications soaring this grant year, what can be learned to help more councils improve air quality and enable constituents to lower their carbon footprint?
The race for EV infrastructure
Despite a record 15% of new cars sold last month being electric, EVs still only account for 1% of traffic on UK roads. With less than nine years to go until new petrol and diesel vehicles are banned, we are approaching a very fast transition, and infrastructure has to keep up.
Part of the challenge is that 40% of UK drivers don’t have access to off-street parking. Accessible, affordable infrastructure for those without space for home charge points is becoming a necessity.
The government responded by creating a new funding mechanism for electric vehicle provision. The ORCS scheme, now extended as far as 2022/23, allows local authorities to apply for 75% of the capital costs of installation. The remaining 25% can be funded by councils, or through match-funding by Charge Point Operators (CPO), like ourselves at EB Charging, which are contracted to cover ongoing running costs. The scheme is designed to help councils prepare for the future and support emissions targets without any financial outlay.
Short lead times and missed deadlines
While ORCS is clearly a great opportunity, as many councils found in earlier rounds, it is by no means an easy process.
The first version of the grant had to be used within 12 months and concentrated on areas with high levels of air pollution. With a three-to-six-month application time, pressure was on to move quickly. The majority of councils also had to deal with decision-making crossover between county and district levels of government. Decisions about charge point locations became complicated, and at times, politicised, with authorities fearing angering residents who didn’t want dedicated EV charging bays taking up valued parking space on their street.
Even unitary councils faced challenges. An ORCS application requires dedicated time and extensive co-operation across departments, with views from highways, environment and parking all forming a necessary part of the discussion.
Picking suitable sites is rarely easy, with the cost of roadworks varying hugely depending on accessibility of a site and existing cabling. Social and political objectives also come into play, with the need to ensure access to infrastructure is fairly distributed and doesn’t favour affluent areas.
Frustratingly, problems didn’t stop with applications. Councils have also had to contend with Brexit-related supply delays and, as a result, many missed the one-year deadline.
Changes made to ORCS 2021/2
Several helpful updates have now been made to ORCS, and it looks like the grant year will end with more than double the financial value of last year’s successful applications. These updates are:
- Longer deadlines – projects with a completion date no later than 31 March 2023 will be considered. This later date makes the funding accessible to larger-scale projects.
- A broader definition of “on-street” – these can now include some more traditional local authority-owned car park facilities, however, car park chargepoints must be available to residents for free overnight and have a minimum ‘maximum stay’ time of at least four hours during the day.
The opportunity for councils
The government’s decision to roll over funding for another year, targeting local authorities who did not receive funds through the Go Ultra Low Cities Scheme, has already led to an increase in applications. But like all funding, ORCS has a limited shelf-life.
We can see ORCS ending in the next three to five years, once policy makers allow the market to take over, at which point on-street charge point locations will be dictated by their revenue-earning potential, not the needs of a community. So now is the moment for local authorities to control the future of EV infrastructure in their area. In doing so they can not only lower emissions and step towards zero carbon towns and cities, but address social inequalities as part of wider planning policies.
Trevor finds himself inspired every day because he sees the real purpose, and moral benefit, of the positive changes EB Charging is making locally and nationally. Trev lives each day selling the dream of changing the world, to anyone and everyone who is interested in EVs and EV charging points.