Commitment to more electric car chargers will still take time

Rollout of chargers every 60km on major roads still has to go through planning processes

The announcement by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that rapid charging points are to be set up at 60km intervals along major motorway routes will be welcome news to Ireland’s electric car drivers, who still too often can set off on a given journey and not be 100 per cent certain that they will be able to get enough charge when they need it.

The plan — which follows EU regulations — will see fast charging points mandated at that 60km interval along major routes, but there had been a question mark over its effectiveness. Many had asked if charging providers and motorway service stations could meet the letter, rather than the spirit, of the regulations by simply installing a single charging point, something that might be apt to cause more hassle and frustration than having no charging point at all. Indeed this has already happened, with AppleGreen installing single-point chargers at its locations on the M1 motorway.

However, that should not be the case. “We are designing this around having 1,200kW of power at each location,” Aoife O’Grady said. O’Grady is the principal officer for ZEVI, or Zero Emissions Vehicles Ireland (ZEVI), the interdepartmental office which is overseeing the roll-out of the national charging strategy.

“So that requirement can be met in various ways. It can be divided up between two sides of a motorway services service area, or all in one if there’s a services that covers both sides of the motorway. We are mandating a minimum of four 150kW chargers for each location.”


That is at least reassuring, but charging providers have previously told The Irish Times that while plans can be made for charging hubs, it can still be difficult getting sufficient power to those hubs.

For instance, Sean O’Callaghan, SSE’s project development manager for Ireland, told The Irish Times that when it came to establishing the company’s flagship new charging hub in Lough Sheever, near Mullingar: “At the moment we have five 150kW chargers, serving ten connectors. We do have a full power grid connection to support that, so there won’t be any curtailment, but the caveat to that is that the reason we didn’t go larger in terms of power was that we could only get 800kVa power to the site at that time.” He said they will be looking to upgrade the site and move to providing 360kW chargers as soon as power is available for a reasonable price.

ZEVI’s O’Grady said: “Grid capacity is an issue, especially with very high power chargers, but we are working with ESB Networks on this. They’re one of the stakeholders, and we meet with them monthly. They’re aware of the requirements, and have been for 18 months to two years now, so while there may be some sites at which it’s easier to provide sufficient power immediately, ESB Networks should be in a position, we hope, to provide most of that power in the medium term.”

That medium term currently runs out to the end of 2025, when this phase of the electric car charging network rollout is supposed to be finished. The Irish Times asked if there were any penalties in place for stakeholders, such as the ESB, who failed to provide what was necessary in the timeframe, but the response was that the only penalties are tied into the provision of funding for the sites involved.

Equally, the end of 2025 is some 18 months away and electric car sales are slumping right now. A recent trip across France showed that the French charging network is so far ahead of Ireland that the two ought not to even be considered in the same breath — ten and 12-bay chargers at closer than 60km intervals, all offering charging speeds of up to 300kW and even 350kW. Why then is Ireland still at the planning phase, and still putting out to public submission plans for more local slow-to-medium-speed chargers?

“France is definitely a leader in Europe in this area, particularly when it comes to motorway charging,” said O’Grady. “All I can say is that ZEVI was established two years ago, and it does take a while from being established, to working out what you need to do, to working out how to do it. We will have those charging hubs in place, and the locations will be announced this summer, and we should have delivery beginning then. From being established to getting chargers on the ground, everything has to go through a planning process, not least where electrical infrastructure is concerned. But what I would say is that we have now moved from a process where it was led by the charge point operators, to one where while it’s not quite Government-led, there are now Government incentives to ensure that the infrastructure is more frequent, and that there’s more of it, so that we don’t see so much queuing and that people can rely on it.”

Nonetheless, 18 months is still 18 months, and with electric car sales slipping dramatically in Ireland so far this year, does the continued long-finger rollout of a proper, visible, and reliable national charging network inevitably mean that fewer and fewer Irish car buyers will feel confident to make the switch to electric power?

“I don’t think the drop in EV sales is due solely to infrastructure,” O’Grady said. “I think that there are a number of different factors in there. In the previous two years, we saw significant EV uptake in Ireland, and that was long before we announced any of the current plans. So a lot of that early sales increase was with less infrastructure and without the announced Government plans. And this isn’t just an Irish problem — we’re seeing reductions or softening in EV sales across Europe. Price instability is a huge challenge. I think once you’ve saturated the early-adopter market, you do have to do more work to persuade the majority of people that it’s actually worth looking at, that it works for them rather than just being the right thing to do.”

Surely, having a visible and reliable national charging infrastructure would be a key part of that work, though? And that if we’d done the groundwork when EVs were becoming more popular we might not have hit the sales buffers quite so hard?

“It is a factor, absolutely,” said O’Grady. “And that’s one of the reasons why we need to get this rolled out as quickly as possible. I would say again, we had really, really significant increases in the past two years without any of this infrastructure being announced, or coming on stream. So the fact that there has been a slow-down or a plateauing on EV sales this year. I don’t think that’s solely down to infrastructure.”

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring