It has been an exciting couple of weeks for the electric vehicle (EV) sector, punctuated with positive news from the Government and the right kind of response from drivers. First it was the revised timeframe to end the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles – bringing it forward to 2030, followed by the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan with an additional £800 million worth of funding earmarked for EV charging infrastructure, the Chancellor’s spending review, and the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, which spelt out its ambitions to support the ongoing rollout of EV infrastructure.
As someone deeply involved in the EV charging sector I have seen, and continue to see, its rapid development. While it is still a comparatively new market and one that is cited as a barrier to EV ownership, it is worth considering how far we have come in the past decade – and what the potential is for the next 10 years.
The new 2030 deadline, which is positive news for the UK’s net zero objectives, will significantly accelerate the number of petrol and diesel cars being replaced by battery models each year. Encouragingly, since this announcement the automotive sector has seen a marked increase in demand for EVs – the daily interest has gone from 300 to 1,679, that is an increase of more than 550%. This also follows news that the registrations for plug-in hybrids is on the up, accounting for 12.2% of October registrations.
In light of this, it is the charging infrastructure that is now finding itself in the spotlight. The Government attributes the limited availability of charging points to be a barrier to ownership for two thirds or people considering the switch.
In response to this, the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan included an additional £800 million worth of funding for EV charging infrastructure, taking the total investment up to £1.3 billion. It is hard to say whether this will be enough to kickstart his ‘green industrial revolution’ but Government funding has played a major part in where we are today so it can only continue to have a positive impact.
In terms of the specific EV announcements within the National Infrastructure Strategy, I was pleased to see £90 million being put towards local EV charging infrastructure. It is vital to support the roll out of larger, on-street-charging schemes and rapid hubs in England, and it is projects like this that will increase the visibility of charging options and make a real difference to making people believe that EV driving is viable. Hopefully the Government’s levelling up agenda will help to address the disparity we see in the provision of car-charging and make the whole country ready for electric cars, especially helping those 46 local authority areas that still have fewer than 10 public charging points per 100,000 residents.
The Government also reaffirmed its expectation that there will be a high-powered charging hub at every motorway service area in England by 2023. The private sector has potential help from the £500 million Rapid Charging Fund (that the Government announced at the 2020 Budget in March) to help finance the connection costs of high-powered chargers. But will this be enough? It is an important area that has the power to give Fleet operators and business drivers the confidence to transition to electric, and it is their road miles that will have the biggest impact on reaching the net zero target.
Looking beyond motorways what about other strategic locations? It was interesting that there was no mention of petrol forecourts and it is these sites – which drivers are most familiar with – that could undoubtedly make a real difference both in perception and reality.
But all too often it isn’t a problem of whether the private sector has the appetite to invest but rather a problem that comes down to the issue of power, and getting energy to the site which is creating a major bottle neck for many projects. It is something we see all too often – at would-be charging hubs, forecourts, and bus depots especially, and it can stop the projects in their tracks, completely ruining the business case and making them unfeasible.
We have been involved in many projects that have had to find new sites because of power issues. The result is that in some cases the drivers are being denied the best locations. But also it is creating major delays – sometimes up to six months – and we don’t have time for these kind of hold ups, not with the 2030 ban so close.
Along for the ride
The Spending Review confirmed £120 million to deliver an additional 500 zero emission buses in 2021-22. This builds on the c£50 million investment in the first All Electric Bus Town, which will be announced early next year and which is expected to deliver around 300 zero emission buses. But this is a drop in the ocean when you consider that there are in the region of 32,000 buses currently operating in the UK; 300 buses represents less than 1% of the total fleet!
Looking at other passenger transport, there is no mention of taxis in the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, but from our work with local authorities on a number of projects we have witnessed the positive impact that the Ultra-Low Emissions Taxi Infrastructure scheme is having. It would be good to see this extended and with more incentives for taxi operators.
London, for example, has the most substantial network to support taxi drivers and they are also benefiting from the Mayor of London’s delicensing fund, with grants of up to £10,000 for trading in older, dirtier vehicles. Taxi fleet operators across the UK need these kinds of financial incentives if they are to be persuaded to trade in their vehicles, especially if the finance on these vehicles has been paid off already.
Much of what the Government covers in its National Infrastructure Strategy relates to growing the provision of car-charging and making it more substantial so that drivers can charge their vehicles where they need. But drivers also have to be able to charge them when they need. Charge points have to be reliable. No driver wants to stop at a charge point and find that it is not working. If we are to instil the confidence for people to transition to EVs, it is the responsibility of EV infrastructure suppliers to meet the basic needs of drivers by ensuring that the equipment is working - at all times.
Beyond this, the EV charging infrastructure has to be simple. The UK does not need any more restrictive schemes that will only accept one RFID card, for example. This is a huge frustration for EV drivers. They should be able to drive to a site and seamlessly start a charging session.
The Government is making the right noises about consulting on regulations to improve the consumer experience at public chargepoints, and will hopefully look at payment methods, payment roaming, opening up changepoint data, and ensuring pricing transparency. But the sooner this happens, and real action is taken, the sooner the existing charging infrastructure can work at its best and be built on, ready for 2030.
EV driving and EV charging has unquestionably come a long way in the past 10 years. But the next 10 years – as we travel towards the 2030 ban – could be the most exciting. The scale of it is, for the most part, unfathomable but the potential for the 2020’s to have the most significant impact on the 2050 net zero objectives is incredibly exciting. While there may still be questions on how funding will be dealt out and what local impact it will have, we look forward to supporting both the public and private sectors as we continue to help shape the UK's EV electric future.