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Electric car ownership: The big divide in West Berkshire

Battery powered car sales outstripped sales of diesel engines in Europe at the end of last year.

But for town dwellers who would love an electric car the biggest hurdle might be keeping it juiced up.

There are people across West Berkshire who would buy one tomorrow – if only they had some where to plug it in.

A car blocking a charger point in Newbury (55095115)
A car blocking a charger point in Newbury (55095115)

“Unless there’s a charger at work or your flat, or at least close to it, it’s not practical to buy an EV [electric vehicle],” said Jenny Tyler from Thatcham, filling up her petrol SUV at Chieveley Services.

“I can’t go miles from my home and then do nothing for several hours,” said another motorist overhearing us, and echoing Jenny’s concern about so-called ‘range anxiety’. Most new EVs have a top range of 200 miles before the need to plug in.

For electric vehicles to go mainstream, charging will need to be widely accessible and convenient.

It is on West Berkshire Council’s (WBC) radar. It has developed an Ultra Low Emission Strategy – all part of its response to the climate crisis.

So far, it has only installed seven public charging points, all in Newbury town centre locations.

But there’s a societal issue which rubs with the council’s vision that West Berkshire should be ‘a place where everyone is given the chance to thrive’.

There is a significant number of people who don’t have access to home charging and never will – as they live in flats.

Home electricity supplies can be half the price per kWh of public chargers, or even less, and there are tariffs around that make this even cheaper if you charge at night.

The end result could be richer people who own homes with home charging enjoying the benefits that EVs offer, while the less well-off are relegated to an increasingly dilapidated fleet of used internal combustion engine cars that cost more to keep on the road every year.

“Actually, it is quite a tricky problem,” said Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common), opposition portfolio holder for the environment, who hopes to suggest a range of ideas to the council.

Councillor Adrian Abbs wants to bring some innovation to West Berkshire to increase uptake of electric vehicles (55095119)
Councillor Adrian Abbs wants to bring some innovation to West Berkshire to increase uptake of electric vehicles (55095119)

“One scheme that could be looked at would be to introduce a multi-tiered tariff scheme that is linked to a vehicle that is registered at a specific address in the area.

“A lower tariff that is close to standard home charges would be available for that vehicle at our charging locations.”

He says there is also an issue with dedicated charging bays being used as parking spots.

“The vast majority do not have restricted access so most of the time are they are not usable when you want to park and charge at night,” he said.

“That’s because the majority are also street side so you can’t park and charge because a fossil fuel car is taking the space.”

Mr Abbs wants bays marked at charging bays – to encourage non EV cars to choose the other spare spaces available – and time of day restrictions.

Penalty notices can be dished out for charge point parking violations in West Berkshire, although there are no figures as to how many have been fined.

“My own thoughts are that chargers should be available at places people drive to [destinations] and places where there is no option for a home charger [kerb side residents parking].”

The issue eventually comes down to being able to generate enough power.

A charging vehicle (55095117)
A charging vehicle (55095117)

If every person in Newbury switched over to an electric passenger vehicle, utilities will likely need to build new power plants to service charging demand.

“I’m bringing forward a budget amendment [March 3] to investigate setting up a council or joint venture company to manage the complexity of using power that’s generated and stored locally,” added Mr Abbs.

“Given we know that going forward there will be things such as community energy projects, individuals with solar installed on their roofs, battery storage in homes, then if we are able to tap into this we get to draw less from the grid and reduce the costs to local users.”

Low emission technology is also a rapidly changing area. So what is right now, won’t necessarily be right in two years’ time.

West Berkshire Council already has a car club for its own employees. The idea here is that shared car use takes a lot of cars off the road, and therefore reduces emissions.

Co-Wheels is one of a number of commercial EV pay-as-you-go operators in West Berkshire seeing an uptake in shared car use following the pandemic and changing work patterns.

But Robert Schopen, Co-Wheels partnerships manager, says the lack of public charging points is restricting how many EVs he can offer to customers in the district.

“About a third of our fleet are EVs, but not in West Berkshire. We only have two there,” he said.

“We are aiming to get our fleet of cars from a third of electric vehicles to 50 per cent by 2025. The only way we can do that is by having more 7-22kw fast chargers on the street.

“You need a good enough number of available free chargers on the street. But that’s not the case in Newbury, as we only have two cars and they need to be on a charger – unless we can make arrangements with other people like businesses or hotels who have a charger on site that we can use.

“If the council isn’t putting enough chargers in, then we are looking to garage chains or even hotels where we can use their chargers.”

Transport emissions

Transport emissions make up a large part of West Berkshire’s overall emissions.

“Providing charge points is a step towards a more sustainable district and we hope to encourage the uptake of low emission vehicles,” says the council, which is switching its fleet accordingly.

In West Berkshire, road transport accounted for nearly 58 per cent of the district’s CO emissions in 2018.

The M4 motorway accounted for just under 31 per cent, with other roads just over 27 per cent.

Vehicle licensing data from the Department for Transport (DfT) shows that there were 119,664 vehicles registered in West Berkshire. Of these 1,007 were ULEV – or 0.84 of cars on the roads.

There are now rapid charging stations at all motorway services around the district (Membury East and West, Chieveley and Reading East and West), and an increasing number of fast destination chargers at the district’s hotels, businesses and car parks.

WBC commissioned industry experts to look in more detail at potential charging requirements in the district.

By 2030 those experts predict that 25 per cent of residents in the area will be using electric vehicles – that’s around 31,500 vehicles.

They reckon West Berkshire will need 103 destination chargers, with 1,762 residential ones.

They estimated that 31 per cent of residential buildings in the district have no off-street parking, meaning these residents will need to use on-street parking and public charging points.

This, they say, would have a requirement of more than 2,000 daily charges for users without home charging facilities by 2030.

Where are the chargers?

Each new Mer 22kW Fast Charger is capable of charging two vehicles at once and can be found at public car parks here:

  • Lambourn High Street
  • Thatcham Gilbert Court
  • Newbury Library
  • Pangbourne Station Road
  • Newbury Central Car Park
  • Kennet Centre Multi-Storey

If you have suggestions for suitable locations, email EV@westberks.gov.uk

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