16 Apr 2024

Beyond cities

A look at the role mapping technologies can play in reducing rural EV charging anxiety

By Drew Meehan, Senior Product Manager for Electric Vehicles at TomTom

16 miles – that is the average distance between electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the UK countryside, compared to just one mile in Greater London. In fact, research from the County Councils Network (CCN) shows London alone contains more public charging points (7,865) than the entirety of England’s counties, home to almost half of the country’s population.

Clearly, the lack of access to public EV charging infrastructure is holding up nationwide progress towards a more sustainable future. Those who already own an EV may face lengthy queues or waits for their nearest public charging station to become available, while those considering the transition are likely put off by fears of running out of power and the changes to their lifestyle that charging would require. Yet, the need to reduce transport-related emissions is more urgent than ever, with our Traffic Index data revealing that rush hour CO² emissions across large UK cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, and Edinburgh increased annually in 2022. To inspire more sustainable travel, Government, local authorities and charging and tech providers must work together to find a solution. This should not only increase the number of charging points available in rural areas of the UK, but also position them strategically to minimise charging anxiety, which requires accurate decision-making based on in-depth mapping data.

Let’s explore the huge role that geolocation and mapping data will play in bridging the rural-urban EV charging divide.

Connecting the dots with mapping data
Rural drivers exhibit unique driving patterns, far different to how people drive in cities, towns, and even fringe urban areas. For instance, UK Government data shows that the average total distances travelled are 33% higher for people living in rural villages, hamlets, and isolated dwellings, likely due to less public transport and distant amenities.

Geospatial tracking of these vehicle movements and routes has long been used in tools like Sat Navs to help drivers avoid traffic and take faster, shorter and more fuel-efficient journeys, and to find nearby service stations, in real-time. Charging providers can also use this live, ultra-accurate information to discover and plan the ideal locations for new and upgraded infrastructure.

For example, mapping data can reveal the most popular rural routes in each county and help highlight potential locations for charging points along these routes. It can also plot the furthest distances between chargers and advise on new infrastructure to be set up at optimal locations in between. Mapping insights could even inform on which level of charger should be installed depending on potential demand and available funds. For instance, will a cost-effective 22kW public charger suffice, or is a faster but more expensive 50kW or even 350kW charger required? Above all, once EV charging infrastructure is more effective and widely available, this will spark a newfound interest in sustainable electric travel for rural drivers.

Creating an everywhere charging network
Not all EV charging stations are created equal, however. Alongside the different levels of kW power, chargers can be either static or mobile. As the name suggests, static chargers are permanently fixed in a single location, and drivers travel out of their way towards them to charge their cars. Static chargers are the most common type in the UK and are often found in public locations like car parks, offices and service stations.

A larger network of slow-charging, static public infrastructure will play a vital role in encouraging mainstream EV adoption. Enabling individuals to maximise more cost-effective slow-charging opportunities when doing everyday tasks, like being in the office or doing the weekly shop, for example, would democratise the cost of driving an EV versus an ICE vehicle.

However, static-only charging infrastructure should be supplemented with flexibility for those in more rural locations. The main limitation of static chargers is clear—they cannot be moved. If rural EV traffic or demand changes, the chargers may then be stuck in ineffective locations, failing to meet their original purpose of easing charging anxiety and encouraging EV uptake. Fortunately, mobile infrastructure is now growing in accessibility.

Mobile chargers are portable, pop-up stations that can be either self-contained or integrated with existing power infrastructure. They offer excellent flexibility because they don’t need to take up permanent residence in areas where space is at a premium, can move around to wherever demand is highest, and can simply bring power to a car, rather than the other way around. They also bring huge benefits to providers. Mobile charging providers armed with geolocation data can spot evolving trends and then relocate their charging stations to maximise usage.

If we are to encourage greater EV adoption, the flexibility of mobile charging is a must. The goal is to create an everywhere network in which more cost-effective slow-charging options are available and fit with the convenience of everyday life, not the other way around.

Looking ahead
The final piece of the rural EV puzzle is greater collaboration between public and private stakeholders. A perfect example of this is Norway. The country leads Europe for EV adoption, with 80% of vehicles sold now electric. This adoption is, in large amounts, down to its nationwide deployment of EV charging stations through huge cooperation between the public and private sectors. Government-funded initiatives and finance bridges have helped to spark increased private investment in EV infrastructure, making electric-powered driving far more accessible for both urban and rural citizens.

The UK must follow Norway’s lead. In fact, the Climate Change Committee no longer ranks the UK as a world leader in sustainability, and this can partly be attributed to a lesser commitment to sustainable transport. From geolocation data to advanced mapping, we already have the tools available to install effective EV infrastructure across even the most remote areas of the country. We just need to begin using them.