Current± caught up with electric vehicle (EV) charging company Alfen’s UK country manager Alex Earl about interoperability, the upcoming ban of ICE vehicles and the challenges facing the country in transitioning to EVs.
What is currently the biggest roadblock to the EV transition in the UK?
I prefer to think in terms of opportunities. There is an enormous opportunity for us to transition to zero emission transport in the UK and more broadly to a net zero emissions society. Clearly EV adoption is a key part of that.
For that to happen clearly we need a good supply of vehicles both in terms of volumes and type. We saw last year that EV registrations were largely flat year-on-year until the Tesla 3 arrived on our shores when they suddenly soared. If that’s what one model can do, imagine what will happen when other manufacturers introduce additional – and also more affordable – models at volume!
We also need government to play its part in ensuring there is consistency of policies and incentives over a number of years to encourage people into EVs and to give the industry the certainty it needs to help drive the transition.
And we need all parties to come together to ensure that the public is well-informed about the reality of driving EVs and the total cost of ownership – including potential cost-savings from smart charging- rather than just the ticket price of the vehicle. There are parties out there taking some great initiatives like Go Ultra Low, Fully Charged and the Electric Vehicle Approved scheme (for car dealerships), but collectively we need to do more.
What do you think the impact of the 2035 ban on hybrids, as well as ICE vehicles, will be on charging infrastructure and demand?
Clearly this will drive uptake of EVs not least because the residual value of ICE vehicles will most likely start to fall significantly as that date gets nearer. More EVs means more charge points, also because drivers will demand chargers at home, at work and ‘on the road’. This will then require smart, innovative solutions which provide optimal charging speeds while minimising the impact on the electricity system.
As battery sizes of EVs increase, we are seeing that drivers only need to charge around once a week rather than once every day or two – or they can charge small amounts regularly. Either way that opens up a lot of flexibility to the system. Accordingly chargers which offer smart functionality that can schedule charging based on power limitations, time of use tariffs, availability of (local) renewable energy, etc. will be critical.
Whilst we already know that charging an electric car can typically cost around a third of the equivalent petrol/diesel costs for an ICE vehicle, it is also important that we continue to minimise the overall costs of installing and using charging infrastructure. Smart charging in combination with a time of use tariff, for example, can reduce charging costs even further.
Equally I think we will start to see the prevalence of more innovative, software-based solutions that encourage the sharing of charge points at home and at work and we will see more locations, such as hotels and restaurants, using EV charging as a way of enticing customers, e.g. by including charging as part of loyalty schemes.
How important will interoperability be going forwards, and what steps are needed to achieve it?
As EV adoption moves to the early majority, drivers will just demand interoperability, as they will want to charge anywhere and have a similar, convenient charging experience wherever they charge. In other markets, like in The Netherlands, where Alfen is headquartered, the market was designed from the outset to support interoperability and we have seen that this has had a positive impact on the uptake of EVs and the experience of drivers.
The building blocks to support interoperability are largely already in place and we now see interoperability increasingly being embraced in the UK as various agreements are made between parties, either via central interoperability hubs or on a peer-to-peer basis.
Facilitating different payment methods, such as contactless, will also be important, as will pricing transparency, e.g. by showing the charging tariff and confirming the price of a transaction when drivers unplug on the screen of the charger, something which Alfen chargers support.
In time those parties that don’t support interoperability will be left behind: imagine a world where you can’t take money out of ATMs from other banks… or can’t call someone who’s on another mobile phone network... or can only refuel at one brand of petrol station!
How much of an impact will V2G and Smart Charging solutions have on customer charging experience and behaviour?
Controlling the speed of charging based on different inputs, like price, availability of renewable energy, power/grid limitations, etc. is already having an impact on customer experience and behaviour. I have an app from one of our partners linked to my home charger that I use to schedule charging my EV overnight when I pay 5p per kWh. That works out at being almost 10% the cost of refuelling an equivalent petrol car!
Increasingly we will see the integration of EV charging into the smart home as load of EV charging is balanced in conjunction with other household loads, such as heat pumps, as well as potentially with household generation, e.g. from solar PV.
Equally at commercial/industrial sites being able to balance charging demand across numerous vehicles – potentially in conjunction with the instantaneous power consumption of the local building – is becoming a more common requirement as this helps to avoid the costs of expensive grid upgrades.
V2G in principle is interesting, where cars are parked for an extended period of time. In reality there are still quite a few barriers to overcome such as the impact on the battery warranty, costs of V2G chargers, the market/business model and user experience. Ultimately though V2G can only really take off once car manufacturers are producing vehicles which support bi-directional charging in an open, standardised way.
Alfen is actively involved in the developments around V2G but believe it is more likely to have niche applications like depot charging at fleets, in the short term. In the meantime, as described above, much of the flexibility that V2G could offer can be also be provided by controlling charge speeds of EVs, something which is available now and is already providing value to drivers, charge point owners/operators and to the grid, so we expect to see that become increasingly commonplace.
How could private and public sector collaboration be improved to accelerate EV uptake and charging network expansion?
On a local level, authorities need to be able to deliver – or facilitate – the roll-out of charging infrastructure much quicker than they have to date. For that they need:
- Greater regulatory powers, like the power to experiment with and approve innovative charging solutions for on-street residential charging;
- The ability to fast-track internal processes e.g. traffic regulation orders;
- To streamline procurement and ordering processes and associated approvals;
- To be able to work with the DNOs to streamline the process to secure required grid connections;
- To share best practices with each other, e.g. to optimise project planning around EV charging installations;
In addition, they need to ensure that chargers have a minimum defect rate and maximum uptime which is effectively a combination of combining good quality, reliable and durable products with a robust service offering, as going forward, EV drivers will demand charging infrastructure they can depend on. For the local authorities themselves, chargers with a long life-times and optimal availability, also minimise the required investment over time.
Equally councils need to make sure that the research and data analysis is carried out to ensure that the right chargers are installed in the right places. For the same reason, it is also essential that they source future-proof chargers, which for example support open standards rather than closed protocols and with high levels of cyber security, to ensure they can be used by a maximum amount of people for as long as possible, whilst minimising operational risks.
Whilst most councils have very limited budgets, there are certainly ways they, in addition to the above, can encourage private sector investment which will also help increase the pace of charging infrastructure roll-out. Examples of this could be by sharing data around traffic, local developments/town planning, etc., collating and sharing public insights around EV charging and helping to educate the wider public about the realities and benefits of driving an EV.
When local authorities do work with the private sector, it is important that any agreement is a reasonable balance of effort, risk and reward. Equally it should include flexibility and clarity on how to switch operators, for which supporting open standards is also essential.
On a national level, government needs to also facilitate the above proposals and continue to work with industry to inform the public – such as building on the Go Ultra Low scheme – and facilitate infrastructure investment in the sector, e.g. with the EV Charging Infrastructure Investment fund, by enabling access to finance with a low cost of capital, a long-term investment horizon and a willingness to take on some of the inherent risk.
EV World Congress: 3-4 November. See here for more information on how to take part