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Lack of EV network in rural areas ‘putting the brakes on green motoring’

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A shortfall in the EV charging infrastructure means the Government will fail to meet its adoption target for electric vehicles, with gaps in rural areas proving a particular challenge, an industry expert has warned.

Geotab UK and Ireland vice president David Savage said the Government should adopt more realistic targets for the number of EVs on Irish roads, instead of its current goal of 950,000 vehicles by 2030.

“You can put a target out there — targets are great, but fantasy broadcasting doesn’t work for anyone,” Mr Savage said. 

Even if you do basic multiplication of EV adoption over the years in the Irish market, that figure was never going to be achieved.

The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) says that 1,866 new EVs were registered in Ireland last month, which is a 15.5% drop on the figure for February 2023. At the same time, some 5,968 new EVs have so far been registered this year, which is a 1.4% increase on the same time period as last year.

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Mr Savage believes the Government’s target of 950,000 EVs is impossible to achieve by 2030, and the objective instead should be increasing the ability to put a greater number of EVs on the road.

“This is a great opportunity to pause, reflect, and identify what the right steps for the Irish market are across both private and public sectors. [The infrastructure] needs more dedicated resources backed behind it and to bring in external expertise,” Mr Savage said.

Many businesses in Ireland are steering towards a ‘greener’ and more sustainable way of operating, but the lack of appropriate infrastructure in rural areas is proving a big obstacle, he said.

DPD fleet manager Mark McAuliffe and insurance executive Jamie Donoghue next to one of their new electric vans at their depot at Little Island in Cork in February. Mr McAuliffe says charging 32 vans with 10 charging stations is a challenge. Picture: Dan Linehan

DPD Ireland officially replaced all diesel vans with EVs in its Cork city fleet last year and has tested the water by using electric vehicles as far as Dunmanway in the county.

“It is safe to say that a lot of companies came out of the blocks to try and electrify their fleet and vehicles, some are more advanced than others.

“DPD are probably the ‘gold standard’ in terms of the way they have been doing it but the infrastructure is holding companies back in a rural setting,” Mr Savage said.

Both DPD fleets in Galway city and Limerick city are also 100% electric, making Cork City its third ‘green city.’ DPD has 32 EVs serving Cork City.

However, their Cork City depot, based in Little Island, is currently limited to just 10 charging stations, but there are plans to increase this number by 40 by the end of the summer. DPD Fleet Manager for Cork city Mark McAuliffe says charging 32 vans with 10 charging stations is a challenge.

“We are limited to other chargers around the city. We are working with the ESB and EasyGo to try to extend our range of charging facilities around Cork. Everywhere there is a charging point in the city we are utilising,” Mr McAuliffe said.

The implementation of 40 additional charging stations has been in the works for three years. Mr McAuliffe runs a series of tests to ensure an EV has the capacity to successfully complete a route and have the ability to return to the depot.

“I’ve been running trials to see how far I can send them. I start by sending a diesel van on the route for five days and I’ll monitor the tracker to get a rough estimation of how many kilometres per round trip,” he said.

After the data is recorded and studied, an EV would travel that exact route over a five-day period, and if no problems occur and appropriate charging stations exist along the route, the fleet for that specific journey would change from a diesel van to an EV.

“We have one EV that goes out to Kinsale every day and is fully electric,” Mr McAuliffe added. 

It goes out at about 190km on the van and comes back with 40km a day. That is the furthest we have sent one so far and it seems to be working.

Mr Savage believes both public and private sectors should continue to apply pressure on the Government to ensure the public infrastructure is keeping pace with the amount of EVs registered and driven.

“It is safe to say that infrastructure has been lagging behind electric vehicle adoption in rural areas.

“We saw the early adopters go and they have returned them, and the removal of incentives has impacted every aspect of electrification, whether that is businesses looking to transition to electric vans and trucks, consumers looking to make the switch and the infrastructure play that is causing nervousness within the market.

“Probably in the short to medium term there needs to be the infrastructure in place, so companies and businesses have greater confidence in buying EVs,” Mr Savage added.

Mr Savage believes businesses will have fully electric fleets in the future, but a more realistic plan must be in place.

“The end game is electric vehicles but getting there doesn’t have to be a mad rush. You need to phase things and do what is right for your business and to factor in the external parameters like infrastructure and vehicle availability,” he concluded.

Victor Balfry, commercial manager at EasyGo says it is important to introduce charging stations in rural areas.

“We’ve got to get chargers into more remote areas in the country including rural Cork, to support local businesses, tourism and communities, and overall incentivise and retain the move to EV.

“We are passionate about helping businesses make the move to an electrified fleet and are always available for a starter discussion on how to kickstart that process.” he said.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan launched a new €21m grant scheme to boost EV charging infrastructure in early February. The scheme aims to provide high-powered recharging pools every 60km along major roads such as motorways and dual carriageways.

“This will help ensure that we have pools of high-speed chargers at dependable distances along our road network,” the Green Party leader said when the scheme was launched.

Chris Kelly, CEO of EasyGo, at one of its public charging stations in the Republic of Ireland. The firm's commercial manager, Victor Balfry, said: 'We’ve got to get chargers into more remote areas in the country.'
Chris Kelly, CEO of EasyGo, at one of its public charging stations in the Republic of Ireland. The firm’s commercial manager, Victor Balfry, said: ‘We’ve got to get chargers into more remote areas in the country.’

The ESB’s Paul Hand says the company is “focused” on accelerating the number of charging stations across Ireland within the next decade.

“ESB’s focus over the next five to 10 years will be the accelerated delivery of additional high-power charging hubs at key geographic locations throughout Ireland.

“ESB will also be investing to double the size of the fast charging network nationally. These investments will provide sufficient charging capacity for the increasing volumes of EVs on Irish roads as we approach 2030,” Mr Hand said.

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