Electric vehicles (EVs) are central to many national governments’ decarbonisation strategies, but access to EV charging infrastructure is uneven. Public consultation with early adopters and marginalised communities alike is needed to make EV charging equitable.
EVs offer a green solution
EVs will play a key role in the long-term sustainability of the automotive industry, as well as national aims to reduce carbon emissions. While various EV technologies exist, the battery electric vehicle (BEV) dominates and will lead EV technological innovation, production, and consumption. According to GlobalData forecasts, annual BEV production will reach 38.6 million units by 2036, up from 3.7 million in 2021.
BEVs are powered by plugging vehicles into the grid. Charging infrastructure, therefore, is vital for EV uptake, and national governments are increasingly committing finance and policy efforts to improve the coverage of EV charge points. Indeed, the UK government committed £1.6bn ($2bn) to expand the UK’s charging network as part of its 2022 Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy. However, a year into this strategy, questions remain over how EV users, especially those without access to off-street parking, will be able to access charging points and whether the country’s EV charging infrastructure might perpetuate broader socioeconomic inequalities.
EV charge point inequality
EV charging access is uneven. Early EV adopters typically live in wealthier areas and are more likely to have residential charging access. Conversely, the British Household Survey reveals that 30% of UK households cannot access off-street parking. EV charging provision in the UK is also geographically skewed towards the capital, with London hosting one-third of the UK’s public EV charging stations.
This unevenness is not trivial. In the US, reports have shown that EV charger implementation is complicit in disadvantaging socioeconomic minorities. EV charging stations tend to be absent in poor, Black neighbourhoods, and where they are implemented, they often drive ‘green gentrification’ (the implementation of supposedly environmentally-friendly policies that overlook local needs, raise land and property prices, and displace lower-income households). EV charge points often come with a host of these green policies, ultimately worsening socioeconomic disadvantages.
The development of charging infrastructure in global cities is often as much a question of local governance as technological innovation. For example, in the UK, where big players in the automotive industry are concerned about EV uptake and what it means for returns on their infrastructural investments, municipalities incentivise EV infrastructure construction. However, national EV charging policies can deepen charge point disadvantages. Notably, UK government funding remains targeted at London and focuses on rolling out rapid charging stations on motorways. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the UK’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy budget is dedicated to innovating and implementing rapid EV charge points for long-distance drivers. The prioritisation of hyper-mobile and London-based car owners means the domestic charging needs of marginalised communities in underserved urban areas tend to be overlooked.
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Achieving a green and just future
A recent EV charging pilot in Seattle revealed the importance of community consultation to ensure equitability. Instead of receiving feedback post-implementation, municipal utility Seattle City Light allowed its customers to plan where 30 public EV chargers would be implemented. This programme was celebrated by local transport experts for improving marginalised communities’ access to EVs and for responding to community transport needs.
While it prioritises long-distance drivers, the UK’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy does promise some improvements in EV equitability. As part of its Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure fund, it awarded £450m ($570m) in grants to facilitate collaboration between local authorities and industry experts on EV charging infrastructure. This offers scope for local areas to experiment with EV charging infrastructure in ways that meet local needs, an effective model for EV charging implementation worldwide.
If the EV industry is to achieve its market share, and the promised EV future is to be equitable and green, EV development must seek comprehensive charger coverage and, most importantly, commit to delivering on local community needs.