If the UK is to reach NetZero by 2050, there are a number of challenges to overcome. Moving the transport industry away from fossil fuels is right at the forefront.
While the increasing market share of electric vehicles (EVs) is encouraging, the lack of charging infrastructure in the UK is often cited as a reason for not purchasing of an EV. Therefore, to drive forward the transition to transport electrification and ensure consumer confidence, the development of the right types of charging infrastructure - in the right places - is vital.
Local authorities will play a critical part in the development and growth of EVCI, and there are already a number of schemes being developed in partnership with private developers which will see a mix of rapid, fast and street-lamp charge points installed in municipal areas. This public-private model allows the local authority to meet its net zero goals and provide charging infrastructure without the capital cost.
Another key growth area is the development of EV charging stations along major transport routes. Following on from Ecotricity’s pioneering electric highway concept, which launched in 2011, we are seeing the development of EV charging station models such as GRIDSERVE’s Electric Forecourts® concept – the first of which is due to open in Braintree later this year.
The retail and leisure sector has begun to recognise the commercial opportunity offered by ‘destination charging’, where consumers are encouraged to shop, eat, drink and browse while enjoying the convenience of on-site EV charging. The destination charging model not only responds to consumer demand, but can have the added benefit of increasing dwell times.
There has already been considerable activity in this area; retailer Morrisons partnered with developer ChargePoint to rollout a network of 100 50kW,chargers; Pod Point partnered with Tesco to install 2,400 chargers at 600 sites over the next three-years; and others such as Sainsbury’s, Heathrow, Kia and the National Trust also have similar plans, and we expect to see an uplift in activity in this area.
However, the destination charging model will require careful consideration of the commercial opportunity and consumer market behaviours.
The government has recently invested hundreds of millions of pounds into UK charging infrastructure, but it’s widely recognised that more charge points are required. Indeed, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles allocated £20m of funding for 2020/21 for eligible on-street residential projects, with its On-street Residential Charge Point Scheme inviting local authorities to apply for funding of up to 75% of the capital cost.
Local authorities have a key role to play in the rollout of EVCI. They can help meet growing consumer demand through the installation of grant-funded chargepoints, updating planning policies to include EVCI in new developments, and through partnerships with chargepoint operators to gain additional investment.
However, as many public authorities lack capital and technological expertise to deploy charging infrastructure at scale, mass rollout will depend on private sector collaboration and partnership.
As public and government focus intensifies on air quality standards, it is becoming increasingly unviable for many commercial operators to run diesel vehicles.
One of the major concerns of commercial fleet operators when considering the switch to EV is vehicle downtime. Commercial operators do not have the luxury of allowing their drivers to stop and wait while the vehicle recharges, especially if their business depends on driving hundreds of miles a day to a tightly prescribed schedule.
However, thanks to improvements in battery capacity and increased range, fleet electrification can now be considered a genuine alternative.
Companies such as Amazon, Royal Mail and Sainsbury’s have already started to deploy EVs as part of their fleet, but it’s the development of ‘EVCI + battery’ solutions – which can negate grid constraints and allow fleet operators to scale their EV adoption incrementally – that will help increase commercial fleet adoption. The pairing of EVCI with battery storage can provide a cost effective alternative to expensive grid upgrades.
For businesses, the switch to EV need not be limited to traditional fleet – company car schemes should be considered as part of the mix. By exploring a wider range of mobility options, businesses will be able to demonstrate green credentials while also increasing employee satisfaction. Indeed, the government is using the tax regime to encourage employers to embrace electric.
Solutions to improve EV consumers’ experience - such as ultra-fast chargers and wireless charging - are being developed, establishing EV ownership a genuine alternative to ICE vehicles. Increasing charging options for public use, including chargepoints at leisure and retail destinations and developments in roadside infrastructure, will substantially incentivise the transition to electric.
Alongside continued improvements to battery technology, there are also exciting developments in hydrogen technology, which may provide the answer for commercial fleet operators. Fuel cell vehicles have a greater range than battery electric vehicles, however there are still a number of challenges to be overcome to realise the potential of this resource, including significant investment in the necessary infrastructure.
While company investment in fleet has stalled this year as businesses seek to reduce their expenditure and prioritise other investments in the wake of COVID-19, as battery technology improves and the cost of EVs and the associated technology fall, we expect businesses to embrace the possibilities of green mobility.
While there are challenges to overcome – not least the effect of increased demand on the electricity network - it’s easy to see the opportunities available for vehicle electrification. Negating impact on the electricity network by looking to bring together of technologies such as storage and EVCI, and increased collaboration between public and private entities, surely puts us on the right path to drive forward our transition to transport electrification.
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