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There are significant differences in the level of charging infrastructure across Scotland’s islands. Larger islands all have some level of public electric vehicle infrastructure coverage, whilst many smaller islands still lack any public charging. A large part of this is because having a lower number of vehicles on these islands creates a lower demand for infrastructure.

Almost all properties on small Scottish islands are likely to have off-street parking allowing people to charge at home. The small size of such islands also means that drivers will rarely be covering distances beyond the range of an electric vehicle and so will rarely require top-up charges. These two factors contribute towards a lesser need for public charging infrastructure.

Our discussions with island stakeholders identified differences in the planning of public infrastructure between large and small islands. This is because the people using public charging infrastructure differs between large and small islands. Chargepoints on larger islands have a greater requirement to serve business and commercial activities. While on smaller islands, infrastructure primarily serves residents and tourists.

Options for linking charging with ferry use

A significant proportion of the early charging infrastructure on islands has been located at ferry terminals servicing entry and exit points, either on the island or the mainland side. This approach means that every vehicle is guaranteed to pass by at least one chargepoint when travelling to and from the islands. The combination of high volumes of passing traffic and prolonged dwell times mean these locations are well suited for charging infrastructure.

The size of ferry terminals, however, can vary greatly, with some lacking sufficient space to install chargepoints. At some smaller ferry terminals, chargepoint indicator lights can potentially interfere with ferry navigation. Measures to mitigate risk should be implemented at locations where this is identified.

A rapid charger installed at Stromness pier

Mini case studies from the low carbon travel and transport challenge fund

To find out more about specific island-based infrastructure projects, Energy Saving Trust engaged with Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust (IGHT) and Orkney Islands Council. Through these discussions we collected information on the low carbon travel and transport (LCTT) challenge fund projects that have been implemented on the islands.

  • The project on Gigha primarily involves the construction and upgrade of path networks across the island with a focus on connecting a range of active travel transport options and infrastructure. There are also plans for e-bikes and chargers. The project’s objective is to contribute towards the decarbonisation of the island community and to provide tourists with sustainable travel options.

    Although Gigha has a population of less than 200, it receives a significant number of tourists each year. Public charging availability is limited on the portion of the A83 running from Tarbert to Campbeltown, by which people approach Gigha. As such, the trust has plans to install an EV charger at the island’s hotel to support visitor charging requirements. However, discouraging vehicle use by tourists on the island is also a key priority of the LCTT project. Any conflict between these aims will need to be carefully managed.

  • There are opportunities to incorporate public electric vehicle charging infrastructure into wider ferry infrastructure projects. The shoreside development in Orkney, the Stromness multi modal low carbon and active travel hub, is an example of this. This project aims to create a low carbon transport solution that incorporates ferries, buses, cars, and bicycles.

    The main element of the project has been the installation of a shore power system. This system connects the MV Hamnavoe ferry to an external power source on the island. As part of the project, chargepoints have been installed at Stromness pier to support EV use on the island and future electrification of the Stromness to Kirkwall bus route.

On-board charging

As vehicles are stationary on the ferries themselves for long periods, some ferry operators, such as Irish ferries, have investigated the option of installing chargepoints on boats.

The ferry regulator, the maritime and coast guard agency, has recently released official guidance on this subject, which can be found here.

Key points to note:

  • Passengers on ferries wouldn’t be allowed to plug in vehicles themselves. Ferry staff would therefore need to plug in each vehicle. This would add to the workload of ferry staff who are already busy and time-constrained.
  • Fire risk profiles would need to be developed for charging of EVs on ferries. Policies developed in relation to this may require crews to follow a checklist before allowing a vehicle to charge, and stipulate that the ferry operator’s own charging cables must be used for this.
  • Scotland’s ferry fleet is predominately powered by marine fuel oil. Although efforts are underway to decarbonise ferries, this could take many years. If current ferries were to provide vehicle chargepoints, the electricity provided would be coming from fossil fuels, which would diminish carbon savings.

There may be a case for electric vehicle charging on certain longer ferry journeys with late arrival times such that onward journeys can be completed safely. This could include routes between Aberdeen and Kirkwall/Lerwick. However, further study and development of risk assessments is recommended.

The bigger picture

Where relevant, developments of regional EV charging strategies should consider EVs travelling by ferry routes. However, in many cases, a well-designed network of journey and destination charge points that provide sufficient charging options for drivers may reduce the need for ferry terminal or on-board ferry charging.