The social impact of electric vehicle infrastructure was the subject of the recent Stantec Lunch & Learn. ADEPT CEO Hannah Bartram provides an overview.
Is the current transition to electric vehicles inclusive?
One of the many things that struck me from this session was described as the Grimsby-Guildford paradox. How two towns of parallel population density, but very different demographics are experiencing the transition to electric vehicles (EV).
Guildford is ranked 10th in the UK Prosperity Index  and has 18 rapid charging points. Contrast this with Grimsby, which as part of North East Lincolnshire is 354th in the ranking and has just four. This disparity, which is an example of the market response to demand, illustrates how the roll out of charging points can further social disparities. When looking through the lens of levelling up, the current approach is not enabling change or equality of opportunity.
But this also speaks to a wider question – are EVs the only answer? Do we really want to replace 37 million fossil fuel cars with 37 million electric and should we? Rather than looking at decarbonisation as different segments such as surface transport, we need to embrace whole emissions thinking. Manufacturing EVs at that scale in order to save emissions relating to surface transport will actually increase our national emissions overall. Not only that, allowing for the existing pressures on the grid, is it even possible?
Economics and spatial relationships of EV infrastructure
Given that rapid charging is perceived as an essential part of the EV infrastructure mix, we need to understand the economics. Tesla and other high end vehicles require 150/350KW power capacity. I50KW is the equivalent of instantaneous power for 75 homes. Understanding that is essential when deciding on the location for charging points – what else could it affect?
Understanding spatial relationships is critical. The move towards the electrification of heating and fourth industrial technology such as data centres, is power hungry, so we need to think holistically. Power infrastructure often runs in parallel to roads, so existing petrol stations, could offer a solution. Thinking in terms of movement infrastructure rather than destination infrastructure could be more effective in terms of delivery and not take power out of the system.
A new multi-modal transport world?
To truly decarbonise transport, we have to invest in alternative mobility solutions. One of the few benefits of COVID-19 is how we have accelerated other ways of working, of thinking about our communities and of planning. In a new, multi-modal world and there are different forms of transport we can offer, including micro transit, demand responsive transport, active travel – we also need to consider the size of EV vehicles that need charging so that we are covering the range.
The concept of a 15 minute community is gaining a lot of traction, but redesigning neighbourhoods needs to benefit every member of our communities. Reducing vehicle numbers on the road is a key aim, but we need to ensure changes are safe, sustainable and equitable. Understandably, disability groups have concerns over increasing micro-mobility, retailers fear reducing footfall and rural communities need to get around from place to place just as their urban counterparts. Could we expand the concept of transport hubs to create complete neighbourhoods? We need to take our communities with us and address understandable concerns. We need to show the entire customer journey, demonstrate how people stay longer in greener, pleasanter environments, and ensure we are engaging with all members of our community, both face to face and online.
To succeed in creating a truly inclusive transport infrastructure means pulling together each of these aspects – building the right economic model, designing for people, understanding the demands on the grid ensuring we adopt whole emissions thinking, engaging with our communities and ensuring we facilitate changes in behaviour for everyone, not just those who can afford to adopt new technology. No pressure then!
-  Legatum Institute, 2021: https://li.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/UK-Prosperity-Index-2021-web.pdf
- STANTEC is an ADEPT Corporate Partner, find put more about on the corporate partner webpage.
- ADEPT holds regular Lunch & Learn sessions with its corporate partners discussing ideas and concepts that are critical to local authorities, net zero and place. The next session on 22nd July will be hosted by WSP, keep an eye on the ADEPT events page for more details.