David Mitchell gathers different views on how the industry could create a more flexible grid
With politicians squabbling over key climate targets and critics pointing to a lack of clarity from the pledges of COP26, the battle to ensure a carbon-free future is drifting away.
The provision of accessible, affordable, and sustainable electric vehicles (EVs) is the cornerstone of these efforts, yet this also suffers from an acute lack of leadership. The so-called ‘Green Premium’ price of low carbon alternatives has dominated many high-level conversations. As campaigner Bill Gates points out, where the premium is high (as with EV adoption), innovation must close the price gap.
To do this and face down a matrix of additional roadblocks—charger capacity, range anxiety, hit-and-miss infrastructure—at the heart of stifled growth, EV innovators and entrepreneurs must step up. Drawing on conversations with some of emobility’s leading minds, here are four lessons they believe are required to unlock the road ahead.
Lesson #1: Create a local system that flexes
Claire Miller, Director of Technology & Innovation, Octopus Electric Vehicles
“Key players must work together to build a more flexible grid, with greater control at a local level. There’s concern that the government tends to favour blunt binary instruments that discourage the ecosystem from innovating and evolving together. Instead, we need to think about solutions such as community charging—an unsung segment of the market—whereby individuals can make their home charging stations available to visitors or those living nearby. Manufacturers should also think about how they can update their products over the air so that at-home EV equipment doesn’t become redundant in the face of rapid development.
Similarly, salary sacrifice is a really effective way of helping companies open up EVs to their employees. The idea is to offer a complete package which looks at the cost of the car, including fees such as maintenance and insurance, and bundling that into one payment that comes out of an employee’s pay packet before tax and national insurance are applied. And layering on solutions for charging at home and on the go, with energy tariffs and services designed for EVs.
The challenge is to create a menu of options and ideas, such as tax incentives or leasing, that makes EV adoption as easy, fun and accessible as possible. To smooth the transition, we need to provide the public with a wide range of self-service information that will allow them to picture what living in an EV world is really like.”
Lesson #2: Prioritise collaboration
Amrit Chandan, Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Aceleron Energy
“One way of accelerating EV adoption in the UK is to make the user experience as seamless as possible. And this can only happen with a razor-sharp focus on interoperability. We need strong partnerships that bring together disparate ecosystems in areas such as charger providers, payment options, and more sophisticated fleet tech.
We don’t want to be in a situation where local councils are investing in EV fleets only to covertly charge them on diesel generators—because they don’t have the infrastructure they need. Or to have multiple charging stations that are plugged into the grid, which is just not designed to support the incoming level of demand. In the UK, we have these centralised production plants which distribute energy all over the country, but in very small quantities on the endpoints. They simply cannot sustain 300 kilowatts of charging capability.
The need to decentralise energy production and make charging stations more self-sufficient is a fix that’s very much born through better partnerships. A charging station supported by second-life batteries from Kenya—or more solar, wind and tidal hydropower—is tapping into a circular economy.
True partnerships in EV should be like this: solving problems together rather than everyone for themselves. We need to focus on collaborations, like decentralised charging, that will have a net positive effect on everything we do in the wider EV landscape.”
Lesson #3: Zero in on consistency and ease of use
Rob Jolly, Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Onto
“We need greater consistency on EV incentives, including provisions for new disruptors and all types of customers as the market matures. While tax incentives for company cars and salary sacrifices are helpful for fleets, the removal of the plug-in car and home-charging grants means there is now no longer any support for the average driver who cannot get a car through their employer. As a result, it has become more expensive to move to an electric car. With both gasoline and energy prices increasing rapidly, it is important that there is support and communication on the total cost of ownership benefits of an EV.
There also needs to be long-term thinking on how we can make the transition to EVs as easy and consistent as possible for all drivers. In an industry that’s growing as fast as emobility, it’s tempting for companies and councils to fall into a land grab situation with charging stations—where growth comes before customer experience. But this kind of manoeuvring is often unsustainable, and it doesn’t help the wider ecosystem. We have to build consumer confidence to remove the fear of people trying EVs—or a poor initial experience that makes them want to switch back.
To transition the UK fully to electric vehicles, we need to think long-term and consistently, so that every decision leads towards a better experience for drivers than what they are used to with a gasoline or diesel car, with no compromises.”
Lesson #4: Drive mass-scale communication
Ian Johnston, Chief Executive, Osprey Charging
“There are some very basic myths that could be dispelled through a centralised communication campaign. Building trust in something so new is crucial. If the two-thirds of people with an off-street driveway started to believe that they could wake up every day and their car would be fully charged in the same way as their phone is, with over 200 miles as standard, that awareness alone would drive significant change.
The same goes for knowing that a 15-minute stop at a rapid charger is enough to continue your journey; rather than perceiving public charging as a long, inconvenient wait. So a huge piece of education is required, both at government level and within individual brands, particularly within areas such as home charging and the availability of super-fast charging hubs.
As we move from early adopters (who were very technically literate) toward a mass market for EVs, there will be less inherent knowledge of how to use public charging points, too. Others here have mentioned intuitive ease of use, but also that reassurance and trust that it will be alright—that’s critical to breaking down barriers as we make the collective leap to EV.”
Leadership at all levels
Having heard from those at the cutting-edge of EV development, it’s clear that industry blockers are large and complex. But with the right leadership in place, along with a mindset of ongoing collaboration, they’re not insurmountable.
With one in four UK households planning an EV purchase in the next five years, the UK now stands at a critical point on the road to net zero. As demand grows following this first summer of post-pandemic travel, the government needs to work alongside the private sector and the public at large in getting a series of crucial projects over the line.
Without a strong, cohesive structure in place, these issues will form a quagmire. But, by taking the lead from innovators at the top, there’s still time and space to move forwards toward net zero.
About the author: David Mitchell is Managing Director at digital innovation consultancy Futurice UK