Will 2023 be a year of lengthening queues at public electric car charging points? According to national statistics, electric car sales almost doubled in 2022, to almost 16,000 vehicles, or 15pc of the market. Plug-in hybrids represented a further 8pc, meaning that the number of plug-in cars in Ireland is expanding at a pace not seen before.
But this isn’t being reflected in the number of public charging points. According to figures from the Department of Transport, there are 1,700 publicly accessible charge points in Ireland, with only 374 of these described as fast chargers capable of providing at least half a charge within 45 minutes.
A separate tally from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) puts the figure slightly higher, at 2,100, including slower ‘destination’ chargers in the car parks of supermarkets and hotels and a handful of proprietary charging points from suppliers such as Tesla.
But neither shows the number of charging points increasing at anything like the rate of new electric vehicles now hitting the roads. Ireland has an official target of close to 1m electric cars by the end of the decade.
But with online messaging boards and drivers’ apps reporting an increase in spontaneous queues at popular charging points, the lack of infrastructure is starting to become a challenge for those switching to electric cars for the first time.
“At busier times, you now sometimes have a queue of people trying to get a charge because [public charging points] haven’t scaled as quickly as the adoption and sale of electric vehicles,” said Derek Reilly, the general manager of Nevo.ie who also runs the EV Review Ireland channel on YouTube.
“And that’s with the current supply shortage [in cars]. If there were as many electric vehicles as people want to buy, we’d be in a much worse position.”
Some comparisons show Ireland as having one of the lowest penetration of public chargers per head of population in Europe. According to the NWRA, in the most densely populated eastern region of the country, there are fewer than nine public chargers per 100km. In the north and western parts of the country, that falls to fewer than two per 100km.
At busier times, you now sometimes have a queue of people
By comparison, Europe’s EV infrastructure leader, the Netherlands, has 75,000 public chargers.
The largest single provider of public charging points, the ESB, says that it has over 1,350 standard, fast and high power EV charge points across the “island of Ireland”.
However, it is no longer rolling out large numbers of new charging points, focusing instead on upgrading.
A spokesperson was unable to say exactly how many new charging points had been added last year or scheduled for this year, other than to say that there are six hubs currently under construction, each of which will have more than one charging point.
“We’re currently investing in and upgrading the public charging network across Ireland,” he said, adding that the multi-year project will cost €20m.
“The upgrade of over 500 standard charging points is now complete and around 50 sites have been upgraded to faster charging speeds. We are now focused on building and developing high power charging hubs capable of charging multiple vehicles simultaneously. The high power chargers deliver 100km of range to an EV in as little as six minutes. There are 52 hubs to be delivered in total, we have completed 20 to date and six are currently in construction.”
He said that the responsibility for the country’s infrastructure must be shared with “local councils, hotels, apartment blocks and retail parks rolling out EV charging on their sites”.
Associations representing the operators of traditional filling stations recently told this newspaper that barriers to installing more public EV chargers include the “astronomical” costs and challenges with adequate grid connections.
This week, a study from Trinity College Dublin suggested that poor public charging infrastructure is contributing to lower takeup of electric taxis than might be the case otherwise.
We are seeing a more layered choice of EV charging options
The Department of Transport says that the number of charging points may not be the most important measure.
“While the number of charge points is an important figure, key metrics now being developed by the European Union are moving towards measures of charging power,” a spokesperson said.
“Many other publicly quoted figures quote the number of connectors rather than charge points and also some workplace charge points are mis-categorised as publicly accessible.”
The ESB says that home-charging looks set to remain the dominant form of power.
“We are seeing a more layered choice of EV charging options evolve including charging at home, where EV drivers do most of their charging, at work, and at destinations such as retail parks and hotels, while the Government has also provided funding to enable more local authorities to install EV chargers,” said a spokesperson.
“Our main focus in 2023 and over the coming years is the accelerated delivery of additional high power charging hubs at key geographic locations throughout Ireland. ESB will also be investing to double the size of the fast charging network nationally. These investments will provide sufficient charging capacity for the increasing volumes of EVs on Irish roads as we approach 2030.”