Electric vehicle adoption: no longer an ‘if’, just a ‘when’

BV ‘s RICHARD THOMAS reports from Day Two of the EV Summit 2020

“OUR AIR will be cleaner, our children healthier, our contribution to climate change substantially diminished and our economy stronger.”

With these optimistic words, UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps welcomed the looming ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars in Britain. And he used the EV Summit 2020 to broadcast the government’s plans for £4bn in funding to remove barriers to uptake.

This included a pledge to have one of the most comprehensive charging networks in the world, with rapid hubs at every service station on England’s motorways and A-roads. Shapps has just taken delivery of a green number plate for his personal EV. The initial aim of the scheme is to raise awareness of the growing number of EVs on Britain’s roads. In future, it will provide benefits for owners, including free parking and unrestricted access to local emissions zones.

The global market value of EV charging infrastructure is forecast to grow by 24 percent to reach $40bn/year by 2030. There are currently around 10 million EVs on the road, including passenger vehicles, buses and commercial vehicles.

Mike Doucleff, head of Emobility at Schneider Electric, said charging points were needed in parking areas. “EV charging will have to be part of the planning of a building,” he said. “It has to be properly integrated into the electrical distribution system, safe and reliable. It has to be managed, in terms of access, uptime, and whether it is ‘fee or free’.”

Francesco Venturini, CEO of Italian energy company Enel X, said the main challenge in Italy was getting permission from all the small local authorities. “It’s a big issue, it takes too long, and the application process differs from town-to-town.”

Business has a major role to play in bringing EVs into the mainstream, believes Tom Jenkins of E.ON UK. “Over half of new vehicles sales are to businesses and fleets,” he said. “These decision makers are creating the pipeline for the second-hand market a few years down the line. If businesses wait for societal change, it will create a lag in availability.

“What we need to avoid is creation of car poverty where lower-income households are left behind and excluded from the benefits of car ownership.”

Onto is all-inclusive EV subscription service. Co-founder and CEO Rob Jolly said mass adoption of a new technology didn’t just rely on something being as good as its predecessor. “It has to be better,” he said. “It’s really scary to make a big change in your life, and … the crossover to an EV is a big change.” Onto’s solution is a fixed monthly fee for a car, 1,000 miles a month and free public charging, servicing and maintenance. There’s no upfront deposit, just a rolling one-month commitment. “Our challenge is managing supply and demand,” Jolly said. “Through 2019 we had waiting lists, but we’ve now unlocked partnerships with manufacturers to keep the supply free-flowing.”

Sam Clarke, Chief Vehicle Officer at GRIDSERVE Sustainable Energy Limited presented a concept for EV service stations with standard and rapid chargers, as well as Tesla chargers. The concept — one has already been built — includes a children’s play area, shop, restaurant and coffee and fast-food outlets. There is also an array of solar panels on the roof and — surprise — an exercise area with treadmills that feed generated energy back into the grid.

The electrification of van and truck fleets also has a bright future. Charlie Jardine, founder and CEO at EO Charging, said many companies were committing to all-electric fleets by 2030. Rob Fowler, CEO at Volta Trucks which makes a 16-tonne urban distribution EV, agreed. “People are reaching a point of understanding where the operational viability and the pricing are right for these vehicles.”

The bottom line from the conference: EVs are here and they work. If charged with renewable energy and recycled at end-of-life, zero emissions is an achievable target. Range anxiety will disappear with sufficient public charging infrastructure.

“In the 2010s we were talking about if emobility happens, but nobody is saying that any more. We’re talking about when and where,” said Colin McKerracher, head of Advanced Transport at Bloomberg.

* Next year’s event, Covid-permitting, will be held at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in September.