A tale of squires, stew and electric vehicles
My daughter came home from school with a maths joke. Three mighty armies gathered ready to do battle; one from the south and two from the north. On the night before the upcoming battle, the soldiers of each army drank themselves into a slumber. Each army had a squire carrying its banner. In the south, the sober squire got ready for the aftermath of the battle. He prepared a big pot of stew, and then hoisted it high into a tree with ropes to keep it safe. He also threw up a hangman’s noose, should it be needed after the battle.
The two armies from the north were traditionally enemies, but disliked the south even more. While the soldiers slept, the two squires met and decided to pool their resources and attack the squire in the south right now. If they could steal the southern army’s banners, the battle would be over before it even began. So battle was joined, and the three squires fought hard through the night. But no advantage could be gained, and the three squires eventually fell, exhausted, with none able to claim victory. “Which just goes to prove,” my daughter said triumphantly, “that the sum of the squires of the opposite sides is equal to the squire of the high pot and noose.”
Anything that can enthuse children about maths is good because maths is important. Too often, unfortunately, the maths is forgotten in favour of the headline, and that’s where the preamble leads us somewhat circuitously to electric vehicles, because this is where the maths is critical. With the number of battery powered cars on UK roads growing, access to charging points is key. Last autumn a report came out stating that there were now more charging locations (9,300) than there were fuel forecourts (8,400). This was hailed as a game changing moment, but lets look at the maths.
The most recent figures for 2020 put the number of charging locations at a whisker over 11,000, with a total of almost 18,000 charging points between them. The average fuel filling station, by contrast, has, let’s say, eight pumps. That’s a total of just over 67,000 pumps. Let’s be really generous and assume that all of the charging points are rapid charge points. With that, I could get a decent top-up to my battery (75%) in about 15 minutes. To do the same at a filling pump would take around one minute. So to fulfil the same fuelling demand without cars queuing for miles out of the forecourt waiting, we’d need 15 times as many charging points as fuel pumps – a total of just over a million.
According to Zap-Map, 495 charging points were installed in the 30 days to 11 March. So let’s assume that we’re installing around 500 per month, 6,000 per year. At that rate, it will be 167 years before the number of charge points offers parity with the number of fuel pumps. The Chancellor allocated £500m funding for the installation of rapid chargers. That sounds a lot, but a rapid charger, fully installed, comes in at a cost of around £35,000. So that £500m is only going to fund around 1500 chargers – still some way off the million need before we achieve parity with conventional fuel pumps. Considering that in only 15 years you will no longer be able to buy a conventionally fuelled vehicle or a hybrid, the scale of the challenge for charging infrastructure is significant.
Mark Simms Editor