For the UK to meet its climate goals, it will need to see a mass uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). Over half of the cars on the UK’s roads need to be EVs by 2032, according to the government’s climate advisors, up from just one per cent today,
There are many reasons some people still prefer to buy conventional combustion engine cars: range anxiety, the upfront cost and the lack of cheap second hand electric cars are among those most often mentioned. But costs are coming down and more and more second hand cars will soon be on the market as fleets bought today age. The distance you can travel on a single charge also continues to increase, charging is getting faster, and the UK is making a significant effort to expand its public charging network.
Still, Joel Teague, chief executive of startup Co Charger, sees another, often less discussed barrier to EV take-up: that many people simply don’t have the space to install an electric car charger in their homes.
There are some 300,000 private EV chargers in UK homes, compared to around 42,000 public charging points. However, while the government expects the majority of EV charging to take place at home, around 40 percent of households have no access to off-street parking to install a charger. While many of these households are also less likely to own a car in any case, there is a sizeable number of people who do own cars but simply have nowhere at home to charge an electric version.
Co Charger thinks it has the solution. Its app encourages people with home electric car chargers to share them with their neighbours. The firm argues that having just a small fraction of people with home chargers share them with others could revolutionise EV uptake.
“There are plenty of chargers out there. There isn’t actually a problem if we just share the chargers we’ve got,” says Teague. “A host only needs a charger once a week at most. So you’ve got six nights and seven days a week when you’re not using it.”
Teague had the idea several years ago when he bought his own electric car, which arrived with a note saying the charger would not be delivered for another six weeks. With no nearby public chargers, he ended up charging his car at his neighbour’s house once a week. “We had an arrangement where once a week on the way home from work I just stopped in his driveway, plugged into his charger, put a five pound note through his door, and walked home,” says Joel. “I’d leave it there until the morning and come back and unplug it and drive to work. It just worked really well.”
The Co Charger app launched in December 2020 and now reports having around 3,000 users and 1,400 chargers available for rent. While other apps already allow people to share chargers, Co Charger claims to be the only purpose-built “community charging” app which supports people to regularly share their home charger with neighbours.
Co Charger users can book either one off or regular slots, and pay a fee to plug in their car at their neighbours. Teague says charger owners with around four people using their charger regularly could make over a thousand pounds over a year of renting it out. Meanwhile, the neighbours who rent it out get access to a cheaper and more convenient charger.
“The whole objective is to enable someone to buy their first EV,” says Teague. “It’s just there to help those people ditch the diesel, ditch the petrol car, get in an EV and be able to live with it properly, because it’s not easy without a base charging option.”
But others are more sceptical about the potential for home charger sharing to significantly affect EV uptake. “I’m not convinced myself,” says Rachel Lee, a clean energy consultant and doctoral student at the University of Sheffield researching human behaviour and EVs. “I think it will probably have a kind of niche role. But I can’t quite see lots of people being willing to say to other people ‘come and plug your car into my charger’. I think it’s just the nature of people, really.”