Whatís the state of play with Irelandís electric-vehicle charging network?

 

How many electric car charging points are there in Ireland?

The short answer is no-one seems to have a precise figure.

The ESB, through its e-Cars programme, currently runs some 1,385 charging points around the country, varying from “slow” on-street chargers that can have as little as a 3.7kW output to as much as 22kW or even 43kW, to “fast” 50kW DC points, and “rapid” 150kW and 350kW chargers.

Added to them are the 400 chargers of the EasyGo group, and the six IONITY ultra-fast 350kW charging station, which can charge as few as two or as many as eight electric cars at once.

Tesla has a smattering of “destination” chargers, which charge at up to 6kW, and its “superchargers”, of which there are six locations, with three more on the way. Those are currently compatible with Teslas only, although the mercurial Elon Musk has recently said that there are plans to open up superchargers to other electric vehicle (EV) users. Don’t hold your breath, though.

That brings us to a rough total of 1,800 generally available charging points, plus a smattering of privately held ones, plus the 34 Tesla Superchargers. Let’s say 2,000 individual points, give or take.

More than 6,000 new electric cars have been sold in Ireland so far this year. OK, so not all of them are going to need public charging all at once, but anyone who’s tried to take an electric car on a long-ish journey around Ireland will be able to tell you that queues and waiting times have begun to stretch out.

A glance at a map of charging points pretty quickly tells you that you will find the densest clusters of them in the Dublin region (which is hardly a surprise) but rapid chargers - those that can charge at 100kW speeds and above, which with the rising capacity of car batteries should be considered something of a necessity - are really quite hard to find once you’re outside the Pale. So, the further away you get from Dublin, the longer the queue, and the longer you’ll have to spend charging to get a decent top-up.

Actually, on a per-capita basis, we’re not doing too bad, with around 40 chargers per 100,000 population - assuming you include Tesla Superchargers. That compares well with the UK average of 27 per 100,000, but that UK figure is skewed heavily by the figures for London, which has 57 public chargers for every 100,000 inhabitants. In France, the figure is closer to 69 per 100,000 population, on average, while in Norway it’s a whopping 350 chargers per 100,000 population.

According to environmental think-tank Transport & Environment (T&E), we’re going to need many, many more charging points if we want to get people out of their petrol and diesel cars and into EVs. T&E’s research shows that the EU will need 2.9 million public charging points by 2030, and Ireland will need close to 30,000 if the goals of decarbonising the transport system are to be met.

“We are way behind. More new DC chargers go live every month in the UK than exist overall in Ireland” Gerry Cash, from private charging point provider EasyGo told The Irish Times.

“We need to improve and support EV adoption to replace internal combustion vehicles. EV sales this year to-date already exceed the whole of 2019, as per SIMI’s latest numbers, despite the fact that we are still coming out of Covid. This growth is only going to increase, especially when you look at what is happening right across Europe in this regard.”

One of the problems, according to Cash, is actually one that was originally touted as an advantage for Ireland in setting up an EV ecosystem - the fact that the main energy supplier, the ESB, is partly state-owned.

“It is a little odd that Ireland, uniquely in Europe, has a state-owned distribution system monopoly, ESB Networks with an affiliate sate-owned company ESB eCars that is intending to roll out public chargers, using this very same distribution system. EU Directive 2019/944 specifically states that distribution system operators are not allowed to own, develop, manage or operate such EV chargers other than for their own use and a level playing field must apply for all market participants.”

State support to-date for public charging seems to be solely for state-owned rather than privately-owned entities, with funding recipients to-date being ESB and select local authorities and county councils. It is unclear to us why this is, given EU Directives that require the liberalisation and privatisation of the energy sector.

It is highly unusual for any public body to want to own and operate filling stations, yet County Councils are being offered grants for public chargers to do exactly this from an EV charging perspective, most of which have not been taken up. It is not clear to us why this approach is being used, when private and more experienced companies looking to install, own and operate chargers in these same areas as part of a national initiative cannot avail of such grants.”

While Cash may raise a good point, a glance at the UK market shows that having everything in the hands of individual private providers is not necessarily a good thing. While charging points are being rapidly installed, many EV users complain that they need a blizzard of phone apps and contactless cards to access charging points, and that not enough chargers have simple tap-and-pay facilities for credit or debit card payment.

That can lead to enormous frustration for the end-user, and that is ultimately what a public charging network is all about - if most people, as is expected, do most of their charging at home, then the primary job of the public network is to convince people that when they do need to take a longer journey, they will be able to easily and conveniently get a charge, where and when they need to.

The Government has recently come in for criticism for a big announcement of new charging points being rolled out, which actually only included an additional 29 points - around a one per cent increase in charging locations. The ESB has recently opened its first eight-bay rapid charging hub - featuring six 350kW connectors, and two 50kW hook-ups, at Mayfield in Co Kildare, just off the M7 motorway.

Marguerite Sayers, executive director, customer solutions at ESB, said: “The electrification of transport is a key component of ESB’s low carbon strategy for a brighter future. The first eight vehicle high power EV charging hub is a significant milestone as we work to meet the growing number of EVs on Ireland’s roads. This new 350kW high power charging hub, as part of our overall upgrade works, will significantly reduce charging time for EV users.

When you couple this with at-home charging, it really signifies a positive next step for current and future EV drivers in Ireland.”

It won’t have escaped your notice that this latest roll-out is once again rather Dublin-centric, but the ESB said that it has plans for 50 similar rapid-charge hubs, so other areas of the country should eventually benefit from one.

At least one part of the charging ecosystem does seem to be charging forward - home plug points. According to Robert Cazaciuc, programme executive for EV charging infrastructure at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), grant applications for home chargers - so crucial to efficient EV use - are racing ahead.

“For the first half of 2021 we have provided 5,829 new electric vehicle purchase grants. This represents an increase of 186 per cent for the same period in 2020. In the same period, we have provided 3,307 EV home charger grants. This represents an increase of 282 per cent for the same period in 2020. As of today, we have provided support to approximately 11,000 home charging points.

"In addition, we know that ESB offered, prior to 2018, approximately 2000 free home chargers. Support for another 1000 chargers was provided through other SEAI programmes” said Cazaciuc.

Source – The Irish Times