Electric Vehicles and the Infrastructure


In 2022, there were over 26 million electric light-duty vehicles the world over.  Almost 14 million of these vehicles were in China, followed by Europe and the USA at approximately 8 million and 3 million respectively.  According to the International Energy Agency1, there will be more than 350 million electric vehicles around the globe by 2030.

The European Commission2 reports that road transportation produces around 15% of the CO2 emissions in the European Union.  Electric vehicles (all-inclusive of their production, batteries, and fuel) produce fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil-fuelled vehicles3.  While the world is becoming more environmentally conscious and in trend with a green future, the support of governments in providing legislation, education, rebates, and incentives is facilitating the required seismic change in the mass adoption of electric vehicles.

Just like any developing technology, there are admittedly teething challenges associated with electric cars, but it will be remiss not to consider the environmental impact of one’s next vehicle purchase.   And it is only diligent to carry out a total cost of ownership analysis to inform one’s decision.  Electric vehicles have high upfront costs that include the cost of the vehicle, home charging point and insurance but they benefit from tax rebates and incentives, as well as lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Several factors feed into the decision of the car one is going to drive, among them the type, model, brand, and price.  With no shortage of choices on the market, the decision can be daunting.  If buying outright, as opposed to leasing, a car is a huge investment and an asset for years.  Rather than get confused with the plentiful options, start by looking at one’s particular requirements.

And here is what I mean: I am the only driver in my carbon-conscious household.  When it came to renewing our vehicle, and as a contribution to the green energy transition, we chose a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with a range in the neighbourhood of 40 miles.  This was a safe choice because my daily commute to work is 15 miles one way.  I could recharge the vehicle overnight at home or during the day at work. The gas-powered engine is engaged on those long family trips, thereby eliminating any range anxiety.  Once we had considered the commute, driving habits and family needs, the choices were reduced to a handful that could easily be resolved by our available finances and personal taste such as performance and appearance.

Owning an electric vehicle is a personal choice but the provision of the supporting infrastructure such as public charging stations is out of the individual’s control.  The installation of these public charging points, especially in low socio-economic communities, will give drivers the confidence to switch to electric vehicles.

Before discussing the above further, below is a brief step back into the history of the electric vehicles.

History of the electric vehicle

Electric vehicles have been in existence for nearly two centuries, at one point sharing the road with both steam and gas-powered vehicles.  The battery’s cost and weight in the early days made the use of an electric vehicle prohibitive.  Rechargeable batteries came in the late 19th century, followed by several automakers adopting electric cars across Europe, and then the USA.  Despite this development, electric vehicles were still reserved for the elite because of the high cost involved. 4

The replacement of the crank system (by an electric starter) in the gas-powered vehicle around 1912 slowed down the development of electric vehicles to almost a standstill. This, coupled with the exorbitant cost and limited range of the electric vehicle, meant that the gas-powered vehicle would take centre stage for a century.  The shortages and subsequent soaring price of gas at times brought electric vehicles back on the table but the uptake was never adequately serious.

Until 2006, when Tesla was born!  Love it or hate it, Tesla has revolutionised and provided a resurgence in the adoption of electric cars.  Every automaker has been spurred, willingly or under economic duress, into manufacturing electric vehicles.  Telsa [Figure 1] owns about 60% of the electric vehicle market at present and has recently been reducing its sale prices, forcing other automakers to follow suit and make electric vehicles even more affordable for the general public.

Types of electric vehicles

Up until this section, the term electric vehicle has been all-encompassing, and acronyms were deliberately avoided.  For simplicity, electric vehicles are grouped into three categories5:

  • Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV): An HEV uses both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine (ICE), either in tandem or separately. The battery is self-charged via the regenerative braking system of the vehicle, hence there is no external power source involved.  For short and low-power errands, the car uses the electric motor whilst the ICE kicks in for longer distances and high speeds.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): This operates like the HEV except that the battery is slightly larger and can be charged by periodically plugging it to an external power source. Due to the higher battery capacity, the range in the electric mode is higher than for an HEV.  Consequently, a PHEV is more costly to buy than a standard HEV.
  • Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): This refers to a car that runs solely on an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. The onboard battery is plugged into an external power source for recharge. This type of car is interchangeably referred to as a full-electric or simply electric vehicle (EV).

The hybrids are there to provide comfort in range by engaging the ICE when necessary.  However, this implies no benefit from the reduced maintenance of a BEV as there is still a complete fossil-fuelled engine involved.  As such, hybrids are a halfway house, providing an interim solution while the BEV industry is getting its infrastructure in place.  In the UK, the sale of new ICE and hybrid vehicles will be banned from 2030 and 2035 respectively6.

In this paper, EV will henceforth refer to the full-electric BEV and any comparison with gas-powered vehicles will imply BEV versus ICE.

Pros and Cons of an EV

The table below lists the current advantages and disadvantages of an electric-sipping EV in comparison with a gas-guzzling ICE:

Advantages Disadvantages
Zero tailpipe emissions, contributing to cleaner air, better health, and global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions The purchase price and higher initial costs for an EV are still prohibitive for many
Quieter and reduced noise pollution EVs are heavy due to battery weight, presenting challenges to existing infrastructure
Reduced purchase price for new buyers due to tax incentives and government grants Driving range limited compared to available charging infrastructure
Less maintenance and running costs due to fewer moving parts.  The regenerative braking system prolongs the lifespan of the actual brakes Charging station locations are few and far between, the ecosystem is still fragmented
Smoother driving experience as EV can start and accelerate very quickly Charging time is still long, even for direct current fast chargers
Savings on fuel cost. Increased fuel economy owing to very little power required when coasting in traffic or once stopped. Ideal for short, inner-city errands Battery longevity is limited and requires liquid coolant to be monitored regularly
Road tax and congestion charges can be exempted in some jurisdictions Public education on EV adoption is still limited
Authorisation to use reserved driving lanes and parking bays Driver confidence (in low electricity cost in the long term) is low, the pricing model is not simple for drivers to understand easily
Rebates are available for installing home EV charging points.  Buyers offered credit to charge at the manufacturer’s charging stations Current battery warranty is between 8 and 10 years (although life expectancy is between 10-20 years) or less than 100,000 miles, making used EVs less attractive
Battery mount centrally under the vehicle floor, providing a low centre of gravity and improved stability Demand on natural resources required for battery manufacture

Factors to consider when choosing an EV

There is a great amount of choice of EVs today, over 500 models to be more precise, with almost every traditional manufacturer having a model on the market.  In addition, there have been automakers barely known or non-existent a decade ago that are making their first foray into the EV business and punching above their weight.  The demand for EVs is rising rapidly, thanks to government legislation and subsidies.

Once personal requirements are established, the next step in the dance is to master the basic EV language!  Car dealers always speak their own jargon such as horsepower, top speed, and battery range.  Take a moment to figure out the utility of all that horsepower or top speed before any commitment is made.

Below are some of the main factors that one needs to consider when choosing the best EV for oneself.

a)    Exterior look

All things being equal, everyone has a personal preference on the type of car they would rather drive.  That taste is largely based on its external appearance and, perhaps, experience.  However, the reality is that there are other factors such as affordability, availability and functionality that get in the way.

Today, EVs come in all forms and shapes, from sedans to SUVs, as well as luxury sports and pickup trucks in some countries.  Modern external features range widely from a large panoramic sunroof to even choosing a personal colour preference for the vehicle, although this often comes at an additional cost.  Start with one’s non-negotiables to whittle down the options when it gets to the exterior look.

b)    Interior appeal

Every automaker is making huge improvements in the internal space of EVs, which essentially mirrors the prevailing smart technology.  So, it fundamentally boils down to personal preference yet again.

As an extension of their sustainability considerations, several manufacturers now use vegan-friendly upholstery and reclaimed materials for internal finishes.   Others have enlarged their vehicle sizes to make more internal room and larger cargo areas.  There are futuristic features on the dashboard, with gauge cluster and infotainment ranging from simple and small to large and multiple touchscreens.

Leading tech includes a heads-up display on the windshield, mobile wireless charging, Wi-Fi hot spot and over-the-air updates.  Some of the embedded software can predictively locate nearby charging points and their availability. The elaborate models have a semi-autonomous driving system, remote parking using a smartphone and driver facial recognition features.  The list is staggering, noting that some of these features come at an extra cost to the base sale price.

c)     Performance

The battery sizes for EVs stretch from 30 -210 kWh although the majority of the models are within the range of 60 -100 kWh.  In general terms, the smaller the battery capacity, the lower the EV range.  On the lower end, the EV is only meant for short inner-city travel, with a maximum range of 100 miles before needing a recharge. The higher end is mainly for heavy vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, thus increased battery capacity is required more for horsepower than the EV range.  The miles per equivalent gallon (MPGe) of EVs vary from 65 to 135 (33.7 kWh of energy is considered to be the equivalent of a gallon of gas fuel4). The battery life fluctuates with driving behaviours but, since EVs perform efficiently below 90 mph speeds, the MPGe is better in the city than on motorways.

The horsepower of the EV is derived from the electric motors.  The smaller models normally have a single motor, which forms a rear or front-wheel drive powertrain. For the same wheelbase, almost every make has a model with dual motors, one on each axle, to power an all-wheel drive configuration.  For enhanced power, a few models have adopted as many as 4 motors, one for each wheel.  Depending on the battery capacity and motor configuration, the combined horsepower range from as low as 150 to well over 1000 in some vehicles.  Almost all the automakers claim their vehicles can go from 0 – 60 mph in less than 10 seconds, with the most powerful EVs boasting a hair-raising acceleration of 60 mph in 2 seconds!

The estimated EV range (distance travelled before needing a recharge) varies from as low as 100 miles for the smaller cars to as much as 420 miles for the more powerful models, with the majority varying between 200 and 300 miles.  Roughly, 80% of the battery capacity is available for the range, with the remainder of the power used to run the vehicle, such as for heating and air-conditioning.  Consequently, EVs with similar size battery packs could have different ranges owing to variances in performance and handling.  Furthermore, batteries do not perform efficiently in cold weather or hilly terrain and, as the torque and horsepower increase, there is a trade-off with a marginal reduction in range.

d)    Purchase price

For brand new EVs, the least pricey are circa £20,000 while the lavish versions can stretch well over £100,000.  Certain equipment may come as a standard issue in one EV model but as optional in another.  On luxurious vehicles, the optional equipment package alone can easily cost more than the standard lower-priced EV.  Particular automakers include larger battery packs as optional while others are leasing the battery to their buyers for a regular charge, with the pledge of replacing it when there is a marked degradation.

Notwithstanding the high purchase price, the majority of EVs qualify for government tax credits.  In recent months, some automakers have reduced the price of their vehicles to attract more consumers and maintain their sales share. Furthermore, several EV manufacturers are selling directly to customers, cutting out the additional markups associated with the dealership system.

e)    Charging experience

In reality, EV batteries charge fastest roughly between 20% and 80% capacity5.  The extreme ends are slower to charge, hence the reason why automakers often quote a charge rate linked to 80% battery capacity.

There are three types of charging points best described as Level 1, 2 and 3:

  • Level 1 (slow charger): This is the 110 to 120-volt household outlet. It is the equivalent of a standard socket at home providing up to 3 kW of power and takes the longest to charge.  The high-capacity batteries can take days to fully charge.  Ideally, one can leave the EV charging overnight at home or during the day at work.
  • Level 2 (fast charger): This is the common 208 to 240-volt setup readily available at public charging stations at present and can also be installed as a home charging point. A Level 2 charger produces as much as 22 kW of power and, depending on the EV battery capacity, can take between 4 and 15 hours to charge an EV to full capacity.
  • Level 3 (rapid charger): Also referred to as direct current fast charger (DCFC), this uses direct current to charge EV at 480 volts. Level 3 charger has a power rating above 22 kW and up to 350 kW [see Figure 2].  Using this method, most automakers claim less than half an hour to charge their EV to 80% capacity. Tesla currently has a majority market share of these Level 3 chargers, referred to as superchargers, which it is beginning to open up to other automakers.

While credit cards are now widely accepted, using a mobile application is the only way to pay for recharge at particular sites.  These apps often assist drivers to locate nearby charging stations and their availability.  The cost per kWh varies with jurisdictions but it is generally more costly to use the fast chargers (the higher the level of charging, the more costly it is).  Charging at home during off-peak hours is the cheapest as you would not be exposed to some of the taxes associated with public charging stations.

Although the landscape is changing rapidly for the better, the charging network is still fragmented, and driver experience is inconsistent across charging sites.  Therefore, journeys still need to be planned carefully, including recharging well before running out of power. Pick sites that have a few available charging points in case some are out of use or incompatible.  Indeed, Level 3 charging is more convenient to avoid waiting too long on one’s journey, but Level 2 charging still works if adequate breaks are factored in.

Numerous EVs employ intelligent regenerative braking systems where the energy produced to slow down the car is used to recharge the battery pack.  This has led to the introduction of single-pedal driving in some vehicles.  A few automakers have adopted EV rooftop solar panels for supplementary charging while other innovations involve EVs storing energy as generators or offering Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) capabilities.


Charging stations are few and far between and the maintenance is sporadic on several existing sites, making drivers anxious and the EV uptake slow. Transportation electrification, leading to the availability of a reliable charging ecosystem, will accelerate EV adoption1.

In the UK, there are more than 43,000 public charging points at present7.  The government is channelling its Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund into local governments to enhance the network and increase this number to 300,000 by 20306.   Emphasis is being placed on the equitable distribution of these charging points, especially across underserved communities.

Consequently, EV infrastructure is now an important part of environmental plans for UK cities. London is leading the way with its EV infrastructure strategy and looking to increase the current 13,000 charging points up to 60,000 by 20308.

In the US, there are roughly 150,000 charging stations and this number is projected to rise to 500,000 by 20304.  This is being realised through federal legislation and grants, with the support of state governments and private energy utilities.  Although the majority of current owners charge their EVs at home or work, expanding the public charging stations will encourage EV adoption for those drivers that do not have access to off-street parking.

The bold disruption brought about by the EV industry has been a wellspring for employment in the built environment.  Figure 3 shows some of the equipment, for both To the Meter (TTM – Utility side) and Behind the Meter (BTM – Site host side), required for an EV charging station.

For design work, there are roads and drainage by civil engineers, support structures and buildings by structural engineers, switchgears and transformers by electrical engineers and the EV Supply Equipment (EVSE) by mechanical engineers.  Then there is land development for architects to plan, a supply chain for project managers to run, as well as the physical infrastructure for contractors to build and contract managers to administer.  Not to mention the associated investment in mining, battery manufacturing, setting up the legal framework necessary for grid enhancement and software development for the applications.

It is much easier to install charging stations in a rural setting and on motorway surface parks.  Owing to a lack of space in inner cities, kerb-side charging is getting innovative through bollards and lampposts [Figure 4].

Existing car parks are also an obvious choice to implement the charging infrastructure in the cities, at the expense of losing some of the parking space.  In some car parks, the EV equipment ends up being squeezed at the end of the parking bays, making it almost impossible to park safely.

Then there is the issue of the battery weight – EVs are still heavier than their fossil-fuelled sister, putting a strain on existing infrastructure such as multi-storey car parks and suspended car showrooms.  It is always advisable for owners to engage professionals to perform structural appraisals of their properties but, rather than carry out expensive strengthening works, impose weight restrictions at least for the time being while monitoring the trend in EV development.  Some of the current EV technology may soon be non-existent through advancement, consolidation, and standardisation. Listed below are just a handful out of a multitude of credible improvements currently under research by automakers and associated industries:

  • development of long-range batteries from different and lighter materials;
  • development of batteries that can be charged in a few minutes via Wi-Fi, over the air and with other materials and that do not degrade;
  • The construction of an electric road system (ERS) that charges moving vehicles. Sweden is already building a 13-mile road which, arguably could lead to a 70% reduction in the current EV battery sizes.  This innovation reduces the range anxiety of drivers, the demand for raw materials used in battery manufacturing and the overall EV cost (the battery is a large part of the EV capital cost)9.

The EV industry has taken the limelight in the decarbonisation of cities and the transportation sector.  With EV technology in its infancy and still evolving rapidly, and while the development of the next generation of batteries is underway, how can engineers contribute meaningfully and be part of the solution?  Can engineers design and build an infrastructure that meets current requirements but is adequately adaptable for the future?  Engineers have done so over centuries by diligently applying safety factors, designing for interchangeable use and disassembly, and selecting reusable materials.  Engineers can also ensure that the infrastructure is well-planned and serving the intended communities, as well as educate the public on the EV technology that is here to stay.


The range and efficiency challenges of yesteryear have largely been resolved by the current EV fleet.  Numerous EVs have a range of over 400 miles with maximum speed exceeding 200 mph.  Affordability challenges have also been fixed to a large extent, judging by the number of EVs in the world today.  This list of EV models is endless and there is bound to be one that meets each individual’s needs.

With government legislation and support, the EV sector is still growing at a fast pace.  Engineers ought to educate themselves and lead from the front as EV advocates.  And as professionals in the built environment, engineers can support transportation electrification by facilitating a structured process for the implementation of the EV infrastructure.

Yes, the EV industry has be audaciously disruptive!  Unfortunately, change is the only constant nowadays but, unsettling as it may seem, with challenges come opportunities. Engineers have to buckle up because, as Justin Trudeau once said, “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”


  1. International Energy Agency (2023) Electric car sales break new records with momentum expected to continue through 2023, [Online] Available at:  https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2023/executive-summary/ (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  2. European Commission (2023) Environmental aspects of the automotive industry, [Online] Available at: https://single-market-economy.ec.europa.eu/sectors/automotive-industry/environmental-protection_en#:~:text=Protection%20of%20the%20environment%20and,NO2%20and%20particulate%20matter (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  3. The International Council on Clean Transportation (2018) Effects of battery manufacturing on electric vehicle life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, [Online] Available at: https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/EV-life-cycle-GHG_ICCT-Briefing_09022018_vF.pdf (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  4. Centennial Spotlight (2023) The complete guide to electric cars, April 2023
  5. co.uk (2023) Electric Car Buying Guide, [Online] Available at:  https://news.motors.co.uk/electric-car-buyers-guide/ (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  6. Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (2023) Quick off the spark: electric vehicle sales continue to soar in green revolution, [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-for-zero-emission-vehicles (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  7. Zapmap (2023) EV charging statistics 2023, [Online] Available at: How many EV charging points are there in the UK – Zapmap (zap-map.com) (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  8. Smart Cities World (2023) London on track for more than 40,000 charge points by 2030, [Online] Available at: Smart Cities World – Electric vehicles – London on track for more than 40,000 charge points by 2030 (Accessed: 17 June 2023)
  9. Shoman W, Karlsson S and Yeh S (2022) Benefits of an Electric Road System for Battery Electric Vehicles, World Electric Vehicle Journal, 2022, 13, 197, [Online] Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2032-6653/13/11/197  (Accessed: 17 June 2023)

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