There are over 200,000 electric cars and vans on the UK roads today that rely solely on a battery for power. Having ever growing volumes of BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) is really encouraging for our net zero ambitions. However, there is a constant question of understanding whether even now, EV charging infrastructure is big enough and in the right place – never mind in the future. So clearly we need to know where the BEVs are to work out what infrastructure they need. The challenge is – we don’t know where they are.
This really matters because a whole range of stakeholders from the DfT, councils, electricity providers, fuel retailers to EV charging providers need to invest huge sums to deliver this infrastructure. If they don’t know where the EVs actually are, this investment becomes an educated guess – and an expensive one.
Why don’t we know?
The simple question of where the EVs are belies a complex situation because vehicles are very often not driven and parked by the person or organisation that owns them. It’s because of this there is no definitive record of how many types of whatever vehicle are where.
What do we actually know?
All vehicles have a Keeper and the locations of all Keepers are registered with the DVLA. A registered Keeper is responsible for registering and taxing the vehicle – they do not necessarily own it or even drive it. For example:
An individual may be the Keeper but have a personal lease plan for a car and not own it.
A company car driver may drive the car, but the lease company may be the Keeper.
What this means is that many vehicles are not registered where they park, but at large remote leasing centres. This distortion particularly skews the BEV market as over half of all ULEVs (BEVS and other plug in vehicles) are registered by companies, not individuals (190k v 177k).
Why does this matter?
The Department for Transport publishes a data set called VEH0132 – Licensed ultra-low emission vehicles by local authority and this is the key dataset that many stakeholders are using to understand and predict BEV adoption and therefore, where to invest in infrastructure. So if this data is misleading, then much of this investment will be going in the wrong place. And it is.
As an example, according to the data Stockport has more ULEVs than any other council in the UK, quickly followed by Slough then Peterborough.
I have visited Stockport many times, so I know it is not the BEV hotspot of the UK. But what Stockport is, is the home of one of the largest lease processing centres in the UK.
This is where all those BEV keepers are. And it is because of this huge leasing centre distortion that we cannot just use the DVLA data to understand where the BEVs are.
So, what should we do?
Firstly, we need to recognize that there is a no golden record of where BEVs are located. The closest record is probably the OZEV grant data but this has not been released to date. So whatever we use, we need to accept that it will be an approximation.
What we can do is improve the DVLA data by making a number of assumptions. This will get us closer, but we have to recognise that these assumptions do not give us complete accuracy, instead they make the data less inaccurate and so any output will include some data that still needs interpretation.
What assumptions could we use?
VEH0132 includes a table that counts how many ULEVs are registered in each council area. We can use this data as a starting point.
First we should be careful of ULEV counts. ULEVs include BEVs that are totally reliant on EV charging, and Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs) that include company cars (only selected for a tax break) that often still have the untouched charger cable in its original wrapping. We really need to be counting BEVs not PHEVs but more on this later.
The data in table D of VEH0132 includes counts by council for ULEVS by Private Keepers and Company Keepers. The top 10 councils by Company Keeper can be seen below:
This distribution does not make sense, so we cannot assume that the Company Keeper data in the DVLA data is representative of where ULEVs are actually parked. We should not rely on it.
The top 20 councils by Private Keeper is a lot more credible. It has a much greater number of London councils (Purple) and includes the two biggest English cities outside of London. This makes sense from anecdotal evidence:
It’s also fair to assume sense that most private Keepers will register their vehicles where they park them, so this distribution makes even more sense. But be warned, there are still some leasing arrangements in this data that will and are distorting these figures.
Our next assumption is that where there are the most ULEV’s, there are likely to be a lot of BEVs. This is contentious, but it is reasonable. This assumption lets us extrapolate the ULEV count to the BEVs totals by deriving a percentage of the ULEV fleet by council and then applying this to the total fleet number of BEVs, which was roughly 205,694 at the end of 2020, to get a better view by council.
We have run this analysis for the UK as seen below. (Official No. BEVs – red, Derived No. BEVs – green)
Yes and No. It is a better answer than just relying on the raw DVLA data but there are still some anomalies, which need to be understood. But at least there is a methodology to highlight and explain and explain the data for those who want to use it.
What stakeholders should now do is compare this derived output against local knowledge to form an educated view. For example:
Peterborough – Official No. Bevs = 2,605. Derived No. BEVs = 348 The Derived number looks more accurate.
Glasgow – Official No. Bevs = 811. Derived No. BEVs = 623 Both the Official and the Derived numbers look low but the surrounding counties look high. So there is a bigger picture to see here.
Overall, we have moved forward and stakeholders can understand adoption in a more detailed fashion, but we are still some way from the “truth”.