Will electric charging stations outnumber fuel stations by 2020?

It’s less than 100 years since the first fuel station opened in the UK, at Aldermaston in Berkshire. But records suggest fuel station numbers peaked a long time ago and could soon be outnumbered by electric car charging locations.

Nissan EV charging station
Nissan e-NV200 and Nissan Leaf electric vehicles at a charging station.

Over the last 40 years, 75% of the UK’s fuel stations have closed. Whereas most villages used to have a small fuel station, ever-slimmer profit margins and the rise of supermarket fuel stations have pushed most out of business. At the end of 2015, there were just 8,472 fuel stations in the UK, down from 37,539 in 1970.

Figures put together by Nissan — a leading seller of electric cars — suggest that by August 2020 fuel station numbers will fall to less than 7,870 (to find the cheapest fuel near you, click here). In contrast, the number of public electric vehicle charging locations is expected to reach 7,900 by the same point in time. However, the accelerating adoption of electric vehicles means this crossover could happen a lot sooner.

Rising electric car sales?

Go Ultra Low, the joint government and car industry campaign, is projecting strong growth in electric car sales. It believes electric car sales could reach 1.3m per year by 2027. If true, that could mean that in just eleven years electric power could become the dominant form of propulsion for all new cars sold in the UK.

The campaign says that more than 115 electric cars were registered every day in the first quarter of 2016, equivalent to one every 13 minutes. However, I believe these figures need to be seen in context. During the first six months of this year, a total of 4.6 cars were registered every minute, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Most of these had internal combustion engines.

It’s clear to me that electric car sales are still limited, despite recent growth.

Battery life and charging times are key

Nissan believes we are approaching a tipping point for electric car sales. The firm may be right, although I’m not sure how close we are at the moment. Recent consumer research by What Car? suggested that environmental concerns remain low on car buyers’ lists of priorities.

Range limitations remain a valid concern too, although as the number of electric car charging locations increases, this will become less of an issue. Rapid charging points are increasingly widely available at motorway services. According to Nissan, some of these can charge a Nissan Leaf’s battery to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes.

Given that the Leaf has a range of up to 155 miles, it’s becoming clear to me that an electric car could soon be a viable everyday option for many motorists.

I’d suggest that once a car can be charged while travelling in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee and go to the toilet, electric car range anxiety could become a thing of the past!

Nissan Leaf charging connector
The charging connector on a Nissan Leaf

I also agree strongly with Edward Jones, EV Manager for Nissan Motor (GB) about the potential for explosive growth in electric car sales at some point in the not-too-distant future:

“As electric vehicle sales take off, the charging infrastructure is keeping pace and paving the way for convenient all-electric driving. Combine that with constant improvements in our battery performance and we believe the tipping point for mass EV uptake is upon us.

As with similar breakthrough technologies, the adoption of electric vehicles should follow an ‘S-curve’ of demand. A gradual uptake from early adopters accelerates to a groundswell of consumers buying electric vehicles just as they would any other powertrain.”

Nissan was the first manufacturer to introduce a mass-produced electric vehicle and has sold more EVs than any other car brand worldwide. The company has also been a strong advocate of supporting a convenient charging infrastructure – even so far as to partner with Ecotricity last year, calling on the UK government to introduce official EV charging point road signage.

Nissan believes electric cars can play an increasingly important role in helping major cities like London reduce harmful emissions. It took just eight days for London to breach its annual pollution limits in 2016 with pollution levels reaching 3.5x the legal limit in some of the Capital’s black spots.

Clearly something needs to change. I firmly believe electric power is one part of the solution, but measures will also be required to reduce congestion and increase renewable electricity generation.

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