Is the UK’s Electric Car Game Charging Ahead of the United States?

The U.K. will ban sale of new gas cars in 2030, a decade earlier than its previous commitment.

A charging plug connects an electric vehicle (EV) to a charging station on August 17, 2017 in London, England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Electric vehicle companies are making cars faster than charging stations are built. As a result, the supply may not meet the demand, as a lack of stations has given rise to a new problem called “range anxiety,” or the constant worry about not being able to find a charger before a car runs out of power. This could become an increasingly dire problem, especially in countries where gasoline cars phased out on the roads, like the U.K.

Last Wednesday, Britain’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), launched an official study on range anxiety, aiming to evaluate how fast charging networks need to be built out to keep up with electric vehicle ownership.

Currently, there are about 20,000 EV charge points in the U.K., or about 300 chargers per million population. That’s a steep increase from around 1,500 in 2011, but still far from enough. Last month, the British government announced a plan to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2030, a decade earlier than its previous commitment.

To help the country shift to a fully-electric future, Britain plans to build 100 large EV charging hubs over the next five years. On Monday, the first such location, operated by green energy provider Gridserve, opened near Braintree in Essex.

By comparison, the U.S. has a better built-out charging infrastructure, but isn’t without its own problems. In the nation’s metropolitan areas, where electric vehicle adoption rate is high, there are on average 450 charge points per million population, according to The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).


Electric vehicle shares of new 2019 vehicle registrations by metropolitan area. New vehicle, per IHS Markit data. The International Council on Clean Transportation

There are two hidden issues, though. First, the distribution of these chargers is very uneven. In San Jose, Calif., the country’s most EV saturated city, for example, every million residents have 1,350 chargers to share, leaving about half of the country’s urban areas with fewer than 450 chargers per million people.

And second, most charge points are, in fact, not public. According to the Department of Energy, plug-in electric vehicle owners charge at home 80 percent of the time. As of March 2020, the U.S. had only about 25,000 public charging stations and 78,500 private charging outlets, per Statista.

Last August, a study by ICCT of 100 metro areas in the U.S. concluded that at least 100,000 public chargers would be needed to serve the anticipated 2.6 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2025. To achieve that goal, most cities need to increase the number of charging stations by 20 percent each year, the organization estimated.

Every electric vehicle on the road today is compatible with the U.S. standard Level 2 chargers, known as SAE J1772. Tesla vehicles, which are always a bit different, come with the brand’s proprietary Supercharger connector. (A Tesla (TSLA) owner can still connect to a J1772 plug using an adapter.)

The U.S. is currently the third largest electric vehicle market, following China and Europe. Last year, about 2 percent (320,000) of new cars sold in America were electric, according to ICCT .

Is the UK’s Electric Car Game Charging Ahead of the United States?