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Power trip

Alex Georgiev of building services company Polyteck argues that more action is needed to increase the uptake of electric vehicles among businesses and consumers

Electric vehicles offer an exciting future. More efficient, quieter, and a major part of the solution to the problem of poor air quality that we suffer in our cities, the advantages they offer are huge. So why don’t we see more of them? Currently, the number of consumers who own an electric or hybrid vehicle is very low. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the infrastructure needed to support them simply isn’t in place yet.

Recent analysis by Autotrader predicts 75 per cent of new cars sold in 2040 will be electrically powered. It also suggests that sales of electric or hybrid cars will overtake petrol and diesel by 2030 – yet will only account for 75 per cent of new sales a decade later.

In London, there are already positive moves to promote the adoption of electric vehicles, such as the recently introduced ultra-low emission zone. Drivers are charged to travel within the area unless their vehicles meet tight exhaust emission standards. But a lot more needs to be done. At present the infrastructure to make it work simply doesn’t exist. There is structural incoherence, and not enough charge points in the right locations to cope with the expected upswing in demand.

Approximately 20 providers run national or regional charger networks. Each requires a vehicle driver to register and have their own specific swipe card to use their charge points. Different networks operate different models. Connectors for the chargers are another issue, because different manufacturers use different types. There is no single car-charge adaptor that allows you to freely plug in anywhere. There are standard three-pin socket charge points available, but these are incredibly slow.

Another drawback is that the one place where you can be reasonably sure of finding charge points is in car parks. But to use them, you have to pay to park your car as well as the cost of charging it. That doesn’t make financial sense for a lot of consumers. At present, if you are able to plan your journey from A to B in advance, you can allow for charging your vehicle. But unplanned journeys are much more difficult.

As a consumer, your ability to use an electric vehicle is limited by where you live. Many blocks of flats don’t have nearby charging stations, and unfortunately a lot of newbuild developments are not planning to include such facilities because they don’t have to. Nor is the system well geared for commercial use. There may be charge points in shopping centres and car parks, but the infrastructure for commercial vehicles is more scarce.

So, what’s the answer? New legislation could play a major part. For instance, a law that requires developers to make provision for two-thirds of households in a new development having electric vehicles would go a long way to providing the infrastructure that the country needs.

In addition, the issue of how to make the electricity network capable of coping with the increased load needs to be addressed. Fast charging of vehicles requires more electricity, and providing this in densely populated areas, particularly flats, is challenging.

The good news for consumers is that providing a charge point for an electric vehicle is relatively cost effective. There are grants, both residential and commercial, which make them cheap to install, although the process for claiming these grants can be complicated. If you choose a charge point installer who is registered under the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS), they can make the process smoother by carrying out the installation and claiming the grant back on behalf of residents.

We’re on the cusp of an exciting future, but to make it work, we need more standardisation. That means one card provider that works with all charging schemes. We need more workplaces and petrol stations offering high-charge points to enable longer, more spontaneous journeys. And the government needs to introduce legislation that makes it obligatory for newbuild developments to incorporate charging schemes.

ROAD TO ZERO

A flurry of legislation over the last two years has seen the government talk a good game on sustainable transport. Under the 2017 Air Quality Plan, the UK committed to ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 (although the ban does not include hybrids). Last year, the government launched its ambitious Road to Zero strategy, which aims to see at least half of new cars being ultra-low emission by 2030. Road to Zero sets out several measures to support and encourage the uptake of electric vehicles as part of a plan to expand the UK’s green infrastructure. These include:

⇒ The launch of a £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund to help accelerate the roll-out of charging infrastructure by providing funding to new and existing companies that produce and install charge points

⇒ Creating a new £40 million programme to develop and trial innovative, low-cost wireless and on-street charging technology

⇒ An increase in the value of grants available to workplaces to install charge points so people can charge when they are at work

⇒ The launch of an Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce to bring together the energy and automotive industries to plan for the increase in demand on energy infrastructure that will result from a rise in the use of electric vehicles.

As part of the strategy, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 gives the government powers to boost consumer confidence by improving the availability of charge points. The new laws are designed to ensure that motorway services are upgraded with plenty of points, for example, and that public charge points are compatible with all vehicles. The government also intends to standardise the way charge points are paid for, and set standards for reliability.

About Sarah OBeirne

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