Supporting the switch to electric vehicle uptake

East Lothian Council’s ‘Climate Change Strategy 2020–2025’, commits us to making all services net zero carbon as soon as practically possible, and embeds the principles of climate justice, aiming to ensure that the most vulnerable in society will not be disproportionately impacted by climate change.

The Strategy includes an ambitious target of stimulating and supporting a 15% switch to electric vehicle uptake by 2023. In support of this, by 2022, East Lothian already had the highest number of chargers per head of population in mainland Scotland and was recently ranked 12th in the UK and 5th outside central London.

It is well-recognised that car chargers are easily installed at homes with driveways, and therefore those residents are readily able to charge their vehicles off-road, in a safe manner, from their household electricity supply at often favourable rates. However, in East Lothian, around 30% of dwellings don’t have a safe place to park and charge, and will therefore require easy and affordable access to public chargepoints.

In East Lothian, over the last four years, we have secured large amounts of external funding for Destination and Journey style chargers in town centres, and High-Powered chargers at Wallyford Journey Hub, but we expect that ‘On-Street Residential Bollard-style Chargers’ will soon make up the majority of our chargers. By the end of 2022, we intend that all residents will live within a short walk of at least one public charging site, and preferably a choice of several of different styles – allowing us to stimulate and support early adoption amongst the county’s diverse driving population.

East Lothian is working to ensure that our charging network continues to expand and remains fit for purpose for years to come

All council-owned chargepoints to date have been installed entirely via funding secured from Transport Scotland, Energy Savings Trust and the UK’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV). We are currently bidding for funding from OZEV for a 5th year in a row, using our own capital match-funding.

Our focus on equitably distributing small but effective charging sites has allowed us to reduce our electrical grid connection costs yet still create a capacious and resilient network whose individual sites can be reinforced with additional chargers at low future cost, in line with increasing demand. Keeping our grid connections small also allows us to avoid punitive capacity charges – the effective cost to ELC to dispense a kWh of energy via a charger at the large Wallyford Journey Hub is far greater than at a similar type of charger at a smaller town-centre site in Tranent, for example.

Despite having built one of the largest and most powerful public charging sites in the country (at Wallyford) we view the development of High-Powered charger sites as something best done by commercial operators. Therefore, we welcome discussions with commercial operators around new charging sites on land that we control (for example at Wallyford), should alternative privately-owned land designated for transport infrastructure in our Local Development Plan not be available. This will allow us to stimulate and support a mature, flourishing & equitable EV charging ecosystem.

One of the most important steps towards this was us being clear about our future role as solely a “provider of last resort” of charging infrastructure. It is only due to the long and risky Return-on-Investment on private charging infrastructure that we have been required to step in and install the chargers our county needs to stimulate adoption. We do not intend to compete with commercial businesses should they be able to offer users comparable solutions that emphasise social equity and behaviour change towards active travel and public transport. It will remain important for us to stimulate and support early adoption of electric vehicles by keeping tariff rates as low as reasonably practicable so that those without a safe place to park and charge from home are not over-spending, and this must be achieved without locking the Council into restrictive and lengthy contracts.

We keep our charging tariffs under continuous review, particularly as we have access to lower energy rates than many commercial operators (who typically pay un-capped business energy rates). When last revised our per kWh rate for Journey chargers was 1p above the median price charged by commercial operators in East Lothian while we deliberately kept our Destination and On-Street charger tariffs (segments where there are still no significant commercial operators in East Lothian) as low as practicable, given our energy and operating costs. EVA Scotland described our tariffs as “Well designed” and “fair, proportionate, and reflective of the current high energy costs faced in the UK, while continuing to provide flexible, affordable charging across the range of charge points offered”.

While we need to ensure that the council is not left out of pocket, we do not seek to generate a surplus to cover future warranty extension and maintenance costs, nor the eventual replacement costs of our assets at the end of their useful lives. Instead, we are looking to work with carefully selected partners to leverage the revenue-generating value of our existing estate to facilitate an easy and low-cost increase in On-Street and Destination public chargers at our existing sites, while we ourselves secure any remaining central government grant funding to significantly offset the costs of forming additional sites. This is so that we may continue to expand the charging ecosystem in East Lothian without having to increase tariff rates to the levels necessary to directly operate and eventually replace our estate ourselves

Unlike more rural areas of Scotland, East Lothian has many areas where chargers are heavily used throughout the year (such as along the A1 corridor, within tourist locations and hot-spots of on-street households where electric vehicle adoption is already significant) and revenues from these offset many of costs in offering chargers in other areas.  The geography of our county does not require too many 50kW+ Journey chargers (which are expensive to install, maintain and replace) to allow people to easily move about and through our county easily. These chargers therefore do not also become a burden on our On-Street and Destination estate (which are relatively inexpensive to install, maintain and replace).  

Cllr John McMillan, East Lothian’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Economic Development and Tourism said: “East Lothian is working to ensure that our charging network continues to expand and remains fit for purpose for years to come. We intend to work alongside, rather than compete with, commercial operators who are able to offer charging solutions which emphasise social equity, support active travel and public transport, and also lower the carbon footprint of car charging.

We keep our charging tariffs under continuous review, particularly as we have access to lower energy rates than many commercial operators, and look to ensure that we are not unfairly undercutting existing or potential commercial operators.”

Parties interesting in working in partnership with ELC should monitor Public Contracts Scotland for future opportunities and be prepared to fully demonstrate:

  • Inclusive design
  • Innovative approaches to ensuring positive customer experience, including tariff models that incentive optimal use of available infrastructure and renewable grid energy, live and projected availability information, bay availability and ICE’ing sensors, queue management at Journey chargers at the busiest times
  • Innovative technologies such as inductive charging and battery swapping
  • Services that promote social equity and behaviour change towards Active and Shared transport and lower carbon footprint of any necessary car charging
Published: Wednesday, 30th November 2022