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EV owners pushed into charging vehicles at own peril, due to poor infrastructure

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A survey has revealed that owners of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK are pushed by scarce charging station coverage into questionable home-charging methods, notably using multi-socket extensions outdoors, even though they know it could be dangerous.

A lack of charging infrastructure across the UK means many owners are left to their own devices when it comes to finding a charging station. The route taken by many EV owners is to charge their vehicles simply and conveniently from home - something experts regard as highly controversial and potentially dangerous when done without caution.

Consumer protection charity Electrical Safety First found that in a survey of 1,500 EV car owners (including both electric and hybrids), of those respondents who reported charging their cars from home, three-quarters would do so using multiple extension leads plugged into one another to reach their car.

This would be highly disapproved of by electrical safety experts and under these questionable methods EV owners are needlessly risking their health.

Electrical Safety First, which conducted the survey together with a polling company, is calling on the government to commit to improving the infrastructure of public charging points.

The primary blame for dangerous charging practices lies with an inadequate infrastructure of public charge points.

Respondents surveyed said that the reason why they opted to charge from the mains at home using multi-socket extension leads not suitable for outdoor use is a lack of available charging stations near their home.

The growth rate of licensed plug-in vehicles is drastically outpacing the growth in the number of charging points available to EV owners (see chart above), resulting in more vehicles per charge point. 

Deloitte, a financial consultancy, estimates that the UK would need to spend around £1.6bn on 28,000 public EV charge points for the estimated seven million electric vehicles predicted to run on British roads in 2030.

The main issues that government and businesses need to find solutions for are not enough new locations for stations and the new investments required for maintaining and updating existing charging stations.

Many of the 13,747 existing charging point devices in 8,590 locations - amounting to around 1.6 devices per location - are expected to require replacement because of technological advances in the next decade, experts suggest.

Figures issued by charging-station finder app Zap Map also gives the impression that charging locations and charging devices are not growing at the same speed, with charging points added more quickly than new locations.

Putting higher emphasis on the latter instead of the former may help appease EV owners and reduce their ambition to resort to questionable home-charging methods. 

The paradox of the findings is that EV owners seem to be widely aware of the perils of careless home charging methods. 90 per cent of respondents were aware of the dangers that outdoor use of multi-socket extension leads entails.

Worryingly, 50 per cent of EV users who charge with the aid of an extension lead admitted to having left cables running to their vehicle when it has been raining.

The survey revealed that 75 per cent of those who charge using a domestic extension lead admit to ‘daisy-chaining’ extension leads - connecting multiple leads together - to reach their vehicle.

Daisy-chaining is advised against in all circumstances due to the heightened risk of electric shock and even fire that it can bring about.

Mark Coles, head of technical regulations at the IET noted that there is a potential clash between what wiring regulations dictate – the way to safely connect an EV to domestic supply – and what owners do in real life. "The Electricity, Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations would forbid the distributor, by law, from connecting the electrical supply to any metalwork in a caravan or boat," he said. "This would not apply to the user or operator of the equipment, including homeowners. Many caravan and motorhome owners who keep their vehicles on a driveway would plug them into a domestic supply, unaware of any risk. This is why there are special installation requirements for caravan sites, marinas and, now, electric vehicle charging installations." 

One in three electric vehicle owners surveyed said that the current accessibility of charging points in their area is "not adequate at all". 

In London, the number of additional electric vehicles has grown exponentially. 12,000 electric vehicles were registered in London, over ten times as many as in 2012, according to a report by London Assembly. In this regard, the government would help to subsidise off-street installation of charging points and EV owners would be able to apply for a grant of up to 75 per cent of the cost of the charging point, up to a maximum saving of £500.

A national list of approved installers and the GLA would be working towards a network of approved suppliers of home charging points.

An analysis by the BBC's Shared Data Unit showed that local authorities with the highest density of charging points included Milton Keynes with 138, followed by Westminster with 131 and Cornwall with 115. At the bottom of the list were Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly, North Dorset and Hinckley and Bosworth, with only a single charging point each.

The number of charging point locations ranges from 147 per 100km2 in London (and 2.6 per 10,000 residents) to 1.55 per 100km2 (1.03 per 10,000 residents) in Wales.

Electrical Safety First says that not only would this inconvenience EV users who live in areas with few charging points, but also creates problems for those driving to these areas for business or to visit friends or family. The charity’s consumer research suggests that nearly three quarters of respondents, when taking long journeys away from home or work, have been forced to use extension leads from a domestic mains socket to charge their vehicle at their destination, while 45 per cent have had to do this on more than one occasion.

The charity advices EV owners to never use domestic multi-socket extension leads when charging electric vehicles. Instead, a suitable outdoor option should be chosen, such as a reel cable. The dubious practice of 'daisy-chaining’ extension leads should be avoided.

European carmakers still encounter hurdles in producing electric cars, while the UK's car manufacturing industry has been hit amid negative business sentiment caused by Brexit. Car production plunged by nearly half in April 2019, as factories were reported to have shut down in order to prepare for a Brexit date that never occurred. 

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