28th March 2017
Could the UK cope with a surge in EVs?
Several major European cities have laudably been playing the clean air tune for some time and now a growing number of voices here in the UK including London Mayor Sadiq Khan1, Go Ultra Low2 plus the BVRLA3 and its rental and leasing members are increasingly ratcheting up the case for ditching diesel in favour of less polluting vehicles.
Unfortunately not an April Fool’s joke, the first day of next month will see VED rates shaken up whereby only pure electric vehicles will now be able to enjoy free road tax. Ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEV) have long been a halfway house between conventionally-fuelled and priced petrol and diesel vehicles and traditionally much pricier EVs, but it’s fair to say that few if any ULEV models are emotional choices. The Ampera, CT200h and Prius, for example, are hardly stunners. This is reflected by a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the SMMT, finding that 46% of motorists would consider ULEV models based primarily on their cheap or free car tax status – which will soon be a thing of the past.
The costs of switching to EVs
Skipping over the affordability of pure EVs for private and corporate retail and leasing customers, the basic ability of the UK’s infrastructure to be able to cope with a surge in EV take-up is increasingly being questioned. Just a few weeks ago, a headline in The Times4 exclaimed rather gloomily that “electric cars will mean huge strain on power network”, based on figures from Transport for London. Calor’s Paul Blacklock told The Times that “everyone is saying that we need to go to a wholly electric vehicle future, but they aren’t being honest about what the possible cost of this will be”, whilst the AA’s Edmund King5 cited: ‘The three key barriers to electric car ownership are lack of public charging points, insufficient battery range and high initial vehicle cost.”
EV custodianship is far from simple
The Guardian6 recently investigated the UK’s preparedness for an EV revolution and described our domestic EV charging infrastructure as “disjointed and short-sighted”, pointing to Boris Johnson’s sale of London’s charging network to a French firm that now charges for charging as decidedly unhelpful, as indeed are the trend for councils in London and further afield to make their own independent EV-charging arrangements, and the way that the nation’s charging network is fragmented confusingly into umpteen different providers.
Charging times still a barrier
Sentiments like these certainly make it sound like much more investment is required to facilitate the hoped rise in EV adoption. An obvious starting point would be to rapidly expand the UK’s 11,000 existing charging points, but we agree with certain voices who say that there’s little point in out-of-town retail stores, for example, rushing into installing fee-incurring charging points when few customers will stick around for the four hours required for a typical charge.
Which charging network(s)?
People’s wallets, purses and pockets are crammed to the hilt with all kinds of gubbins nowadays, so the last thing a fleet or private EV driver wants is to have to carry around several different membership cards, one for each network they may end up having to use depending on their location or remaining range. From Polar, Charge Your Car (CYC), ecotricity and POD Point, to GeniePoint, Zeronet and Tesla superchargers7, there is a bewildering amount of information for EV adopters to digest, and for some it may simply prove off-putting.
Even if lugging various charging cards around doesn’t bother someone, Arval’s David Watts points out that “the payment model itself makes little sense, with some charging on a fixed-cost, per-use basis rather than in pence per kWh used”. Revealing another ‘first world problem’ associated with EV ownership, he then explains how this “inadvertently leads to ‘charger hogging’ with drivers taking their complete time allocation rather than simply what they need to get to their home or office.” This is something we experienced at the Tesla supercharger in Stretton near Warrington during our week testing a Model S, whereby a gentleman had left his car connected to one of only two superchargers while he went to play 18 holes of golf. Judging by various forum threads8, this is a common occurrence for Tesla drivers at this charging location and others.
Which charger and cable?
It’s also quite conceivable that the variety of different charging types and connections could easily baffle prospective EV converts, having to absorb information on slow, fast, rapid and rapid DC9 charging, along with a plethora of home chargers of varying speeds, plus cables and electricity tariffs to grapple with.
Predicting electricity demand
The Electric Nation project is doing good things with the aim of compiling charging data to aid electricity distribution companies to better manage demand to cope with the onset of EVs, providing between 500-700 eligible owners of new EVs with a free smart charger in return for their input in the trials10.
Investment pledges seem to be working
At the end of last year, transport minister, John Hayes, announced a £7.5 million workplace charging scheme11 with the purpose of rapidly growing the availability of EV charging points at all manner of locations, to reduce range anxiety and increase EV take-up.
Following the Government’s more recent Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which involves heightened investment from the automotive industry, exchequer and oil companies, Venson Automotive Solutions12 reports that 85% of respondents to their recent poll say they are now “more seriously” considering buying or leasing an electric vehicle.
EV charging is becoming a money-spinner
We welcome initiatives such as EV Driver13, which incentivises retail and hospitality businesses, public sector organisations and other private enterprises to become ‘hosts’ and to install EV charging points in order to generate additional revenue, to keep paying customers and visitors on their premises for longer, to meet CSR objectives and to put themselves on the increasingly important EV map. To emphasise the bitty growth of the UK’s EV network, though, it’s got to be pointed out that EV Driver is currently only found in the east of England, although seven new charging points in East Anglia have just been announced14, which is of course welcome news.
Could lamppost chargers be a key answer?
Councils were told they’d be given an extra £2.5 million to install charging points on streets where residents don’t have access to off-street parking, and this has since been bolstered by news that various UK councils and private companies are working on turning lampposts into EV charging points15. The need for reliable off-street charging facilities has traditionally proved a barrier to EV adoption, especially for private motorists, so such ‘front door’ solutions could prove to be a real game-changer.
While it’s clear to see that the world of electric vehicles will still present itself as rather confusing to some private motorists and perhaps too expensive for many fleets to contemplate switching to until vehicle prices reduce and battery ranges increase, it’s apparent that new initiatives, investment, funding and R&D are continuously springing up with the aim of enabling the UK to more practically embrace EVs. Despite concerns over how EV batteries are actually produced, this trend has got to be a positive thing, at least in the short to medium term.
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