James May sounds warning over electric car chargers: 'We need millions'

James May has warned that millions of electric car chargers will be needed in the UK. (Yahoo)
James May has warned that millions of electric car chargers will be needed in the UK. (Yahoo)

The UK needs millions of electric car chargers due to the slow speeds of charging a vehicle, motoring expert James May warned.

May, who presents The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime, said that while he owns and drives an electric vehicle, he is “not blind to their shortcomings”.

The government has committed to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 and has said that all new vehicles must be fully zero-emission by 2035.

However, speaking during a debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today Debate, May said that battery technology is “not good enough for what we’re expecting of the electric car”.

He claimed there would need to be substantially more chargers than “tens or hundreds of thousands” – adding that the time spent on charging cars fully was to blame.

London, UK - October 20th, 2018: Smart electric car charging in the London Street st night.
Millions of car chargers are needed in the UK, a motoring expert has claimed. (Getty)

He said: “You can go to a petrol station and can be there for two or two and a half minutes and that can give a range of 400-600 miles.

“An electric car… will charge to 80% in 20 minutes – thats still 10 times as long.

“I think we would need, given current technology, millions of chargers – not tens or hundreds of thousands.”

Professor Julia King, who chairs the Carbon Trust, disputed May’s claims, saying they were “too pessimistic” – and that drivers would not need to drive hundreds of miles at a time before charging.

She said: “I drive an electric car and we have a usable range of 250 miles on it. I don’t drive 250 miles without stopping. To me it doesn’t bother me that I should stop for 20 minutes and have a coffee [while the car charges].”

She added: “We certainly don’t need millions of chargers.

“But we do need to see our charging network much better than it is now and much better maintained and we do need to make sure everyone is fully connected to it so you can genuinely tell a charger will be available.”

Yahoo News UK has contacted Charge UK, an organisation aiming to double the size of the charging network through 2023, for a response.

May's comments are a reflection of some concerns that, with only a handful of years until the transition, there is still plenty of work to be done. Indeed, earlier this month, motorway services boss Ken McMeikan (the CEO of Moto Hospitality) warned a lack of power capacity was also a concern, meaning some chargers on the motorway network are "sitting there with no power".

How many chargers are there in the UK?

There were 44,020 public electric chargers available in the UK at the start of July, according to official government figures.

However, this figure increased to 45,737 by the end of July, according to charging point mappers ZapMap.

These chargers were spread across 26,805 charging locations in the country.

The figures represent a 40% increase in the total number of charging devices since July last year.

Density of EV chargers by local authority across the Uk. (Department for Transport)
Density of EV chargers by local authority across the Uk. (Department for Transport)

The map above shows the density of charging devices by local authority – from the bottom 20% of local authorities (the ones with the lowest number of devices) in pale yellow, and the top 20% in dark blue.

The map below shows all of the electric charging points across the UK – both home and public chargers – with search options available on ZapMap to help drivers navigate to their nearest one.

A map showing the location of electric chargers across the UK. (ZapMap)
A map showing the location of electric chargers across the UK. (ZapMap)

In May, one council in Worcester warned it would need hundreds more chargers to keep up with demand.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

There is no set time for how long it takes to charge an electric vehicle, with timings dependant on factors including the model of car, the health of the battery and how fast the charger is.

According to motoring site CarWow, it can take as little as 30 minutes or as long as 48 hours to charge a car up.

The rate of charge is usually slower once the battery gets close to being 100% charged, while extreme heat or cold can also slow the rate.

Two cars plugged into the same unit may also increase the charging time.

Barrow in Furness united kingdom June 18 2022 Electrical cars charging battery at station
The time it takes to fully charge an electric car varies. (Getty)

Rapid chargers – most commonly found at public charging stations at motorway services – can charge most electric vehicles full in 30 minutes to an hour.

Fast charging stations, commonly found at public car parks, will take longer to reach 100% – from between four to six hours.

However, cars do not need to be fully charged before using and the first 80% is quicker to charge.

How easy is it to charge an electric car?

Loch Lomond, Scotland - July 25th 2021: Red Audi e-tron electric vehicle charging at a station in a car park
The government is making it easier to pay for electric car charging. (Getty)

Motorists are currently forced to use multiple smartphone apps or membership cards to access different charging networks.

But electric car drivers will only need one app to pay for public chargepoints operated by different companies, under legislation laid in Parliament.

Mandating so-called payment roaming is among new Department for Transport (DfT) regulations aimed at encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles by making it easier, cheaper and more convenient to charge them across the UK.

Operators will be required to accept contactless payments at newly installed chargepoints at eight kilowatts and above, and at existing rapid chargepoints.

A standardised pence per kilowatt hour price will be mandated to enable drivers to compare the cost of using different networks.

Rapid chargepoint networks will be required to function for 99% of the time during a calendar year, and a new helpline will be launched to support motorists when something goes wrong with electric vehicle charging.

Chargepoint data will also be opened up to make it easier for drivers to check their availability.

What else has been promised?

Electric car charging point on street
The government has announced plans to increase EV charging points across the UK by 2030. (PA)

Last year the government announced a tenfold increase in EV charge points by 2030.

The Department for Transport said that the policy will support those who don’t have access to off-street parking for personal chargers.

Around 300,000 public chargers are expected to be available by 2030 – around five times the number of fuel pumps available on UK roads currently.

At least 6,000 rapid chargers will be rolled out across England’s motorways by 2035, while local authority red tape will be cut to allow private companies to provide their own points quicker.

Current plans will see an extra 15,000 rapid charge points across England, and over 100,000 on-street charge points, by 2025.

Warnings about EV chargers

Electric Car Charging station and notice
Moto Hospitality boss Ken McMeikan warned of a lack of EV charger capacity. (PA)

As the plan to stop the production of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 moves ever closer, a motorway services boss previously warned of a lack of capacity.

Ken McMeikan, chief executive of Moto Hospitality, which operates motorway service stations across the UK, said the lack of power capacity for charge points is a "major problem" facing the electric vehicle industry.

McMeikan revealed that charge points at four Moto locations are “sitting there with no power”, leaving EV drivers unable to use them.

He said unless targets are set for power companies to provide enough power for charging points across the country, it will simply not be possible.

ChargeUK – a group of companies who install and operate EV charging points – has also warned that billions of pounds, thousands of jobs and the supply of second-hand electric cars are at risk if the government waters down its pledge to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Read more:

Demand for electric cars

Slough, Berkshire, UK. 15th August, 2023. An openreach 100% electric vehicle on charge at electric vehicle rapid charging points next to the Greggs Drive Thru in Slough, Berkshire. Credit: Maureen McLean/Alamy Live News
Demand for electric cars has increased in the UK. (Alamy)

Last month, the Times reported that tax breaks are to be extended to second-hand electric cars in a bid to make them more attractive to motorists.

The scheme would see full-electric available for less than £300 per month, including all running costs.

Meanwhile, AutoTrader's Road to 2030 Report – which tracks the progress of electric vehicle (EV) adoption – said that greater choice around second-hand EVs had “stimulated further demand, with levels in March increasing 23% year-on-year”.

However, a study from Juniper Research, published in July, found that lack of public infrastructure is severely limiting EV adoption in urban environments.

In particular, as flat and apartment owners typically cannot have home chargers fitted, the lack of public infrastructure is a stumbling block to EV adoption in urban environments.