8th January 2019
How the UK’s landscape for potential EV adopters is increasingly making the switch more feasible
A growing symphony of voices from environmental campaign groups and infrastructure providers to car manufacturers and the government with its now-EV-only Plug-in Car Grant is clearly urging UK motorists and fleets to adopt electric vehicles without delay. UK plc has a lot of work to do to catch countries like Norway1 up, though, where plug-in models enjoy a 57.5% market share and accounted for 49.1% of new car registrations during 2018 in a 17% year-on-year increase.
While ultra-favourable taxation, abundant subsidies plus other incentives such as free parking and charging points are much more conducive2 to EV adoption in Norway, a steady stream of unarguably positive developments are, though, always being announced here in the UK, where EVs’ market share is typically cited as between 2.4%3,4 and 8%6.
It was admittedly disappointing that the government essentially ended incentives6 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) via the Plug-in Car Grant changes announced in October, but it’s fair to say that fully-electric adoption is the real desire behind the plethora of campaigns and developments out there – and appreciably so.
In terms of actual electric cars themselves, the new models being introduced are unsurprisingly much more useable every day than the original pioneers. From the fully-electric Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro and latest Nissan LEAF that are available now and offer between around 168 and 2507 WLTP miles of battery range, to the forthcoming MINI Electric plus the more prestigious Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-PACE et al, there is now an abundance of EVs for private motorists and company car fleet managers to shortlist at various price-points.
Q4 2018 saw Dennis Publishing launch Driving Electric8, a website and accompanying publication completely devoted to electric cars, providing independent, useful advice to current and prospective EV adopters. It is certainly encouraging to see specialist information and support sources like this materialising, because making the jump from a combustion engine to an electric car still understandably feels daunting for many.
Even for ardent EV advocates who extol the technology’s benefits at every opportunity, the UK’s charging infrastructure has typically been described as inadequate by a range of organisations along with drivers themselves. A report from Emu Analytics9 last summer asserted that, based on an estimate of one million EVs driving on the UK’s roads by 2020, at least 100,000 charging points will be needed in order to facilitate them – but just 16,500 were provided at the time.
Supermarkets are in many ways ideal locations for siting electric car charge points, with rapid chargers naturally especially desirable for many drivers. Emu’s report identified discounter store Lidl as offering the highest number of rapid chargers out of all UK supermarkets, with Tesco reportedly providing any kind of chargers at just 0.4% of its stores. The close of November 2018, however, saw Tesco and Volkswagen10 announce in partnership the roll-out of over 2,400 Pod Point charging bays and points across 600 stores within the next few years, including both standard 7kW fast chargers and 50kW rapid chargers, which came as very welcome news.
Irresponsible use of charge bays has long been a bugbear of plug-in drivers with a keen desire to clean up the environment, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the RAC Foundation’s ‘Development of the UK Public Chargepoint Network’ report11 published in December called for public charge points to be restricted to pure EVs, sometimes referred to as battery electric vehicles (BEVs). A key factor behind this assertion is that PHEVs generally take much longer to charge, typically only able to accept up to 3.7kW rather than 50kW, which is what many rapid-charged full EVs will accept.
To address misuse and abuse of charging bays, South Tyneside Council12, for example, introduced penalty charge notices or fines for non-plug-in vehicles parking in bays reserved for charging. It’s also possible to fairly quickly find information on the internet relating to plug-in drivers legally parking in such bays but not actually connecting their cars, some voices levelling the notion that such vehicles were likely purchased or leased for tax efficiency reasons rather than environmental and used mainly as conventionally fuelled cars. Additionally, the RAC Foundation’s report provided encouragement for prospective EV adopters with the news that ‘out of service’ public charger occurrences have fallen from 14.8% to 8.3%.
Charging infrastructure announcements with customer convenience in mind are now being made thick and fast, with, for example, Total Gas & Power13 having partnered with ChargePoint to offer wall units specifically to business customers. BP, another household name in fuel forecourts, has recently bought Charge Master, which is news that will be embraced by PHEV and EV drivers who have one of the retailer’s forecourts near their localities or on their regular routes, because ultra-fast chargers will begin appearing alongside the more familiar black and green nozzles.
Home charging naturally has a significant allure and, during December as a step towards its Road to Zero strategy, the Department for Transport set out plans for every one of the home charge points that it funds from July 2019 onwards to be ‘smart’15 in order for a more manageable dynamic between electricity grids and electric car users to be achieved.
Meanwhile, Enel X subsidiary eMotorWerks has freshly teamed up16 with EO Charging, manufacturers of domestic and fleet EV charge points, to promote what they describe as the smartest charger on the market thanks to the former’s JuiceNet cloud-based aggregator facilitating responsible energy usage amongst homeowners and businesses that are increasingly conscious of their impact on the grid.
Electric car adopters who have perhaps in some cases tentatively invested in home-charging technology are now even able to recoup some income by offering their vacant driveways and domestic chargers to needy PHEV/EV drivers via YourParkingSpace, whose pre-bookable spaces can now be arranged via Zap-Map in a symbiotic relationship17. This is undoubtedly a positive development for drivers of plug-in cars who commute to work in particular but struggle to find any available on-site parking spaces during the day, let alone ones with charge points.
Car-sharing is an even more significant way in which personal motorists and business drivers are able to lower their carbon footprints and reduce congestion while MaaS providers deliver convenient mobility to those for whom cars may ordinarily be inaccessible. Combining car-sharing’s many advantages with the growing number of green vehicles on the UK’s roads, Zoom EV is the first and only car sharing platform focussed on low emission vehicles.
Zoom EV founder Greg Fairbotham comments: “Mobility is fundamentally changing and while it’s a difficult and challenging space for auto manufacturers it’s incredibly exciting in the sense that the market is evolving. At Zoom our focus is to help drive the low emission agenda and have an impact on carbon emissions by sharing low emission vehicles and also by making key services more cost effective through partnerships. It’s no secret that pure EVs fit incredibly well within the car sharing landscape and we intend to lead this charge.”
The final inclusion in our latest snapshot of emerging EV trends, products and services is Volkswagen’s significant announcement that, during H1 2019, the OEM will be trialling in its home city of Wolfsburg, Germany, mobile EV charging stations that effectively work similarly to smartphone powerbanks. Up to fifteen EVs, four at a time if required, will reportedly be able to take power from each mobile station’s 360 kWh charging capacity and benefit from recharging in as little as 17 minutes. Riders of e-bikes will also be able to use VW’s mobile charging stations, which will be geographically redeployed on a swift basis to match demand. It’s conceivable that mobile car-charging solutions including and similar to VW’s will soon start appearing in the UK, a notable leader being FreeWire, whose technology has been trialled by BP and also Westminster City Council along with Zipcar20.
“They can be set up anywhere as required – with or without connection to the power supply. This flexibility enables a completely new approach for the rapid expansion of the charging infrastructure”, comments Thomas Schmall, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Group Components. We can certainly see how the company believes that the provision of efficient, plentiful and flexible charging facilities will inspire more and more drivers to join the electric revolution.
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