A quick glance at the long list of new models heading for the UK’s showrooms in 2021 underlines just how fast the EV market is developing.
It wasn’t that long ago that motorists looking to make the switch could only choose from a handful of models from early-mover manufacturers. This year most of the world’s major carmakers have at least one new launch, from Volvo’s first electric car to Tesla’s latest S Plaid, and from city cars to SUVs.
The new models highlight the rapid progress being made by manufacturers, moving EVs from something of a novelty to an option ever-more drivers are considering for their next vehicle.
The imminent launch of Toyota’s solid-state battery that could enable a full recharge in just 10 minutes and production of Tesla’s 4860 cells – claimed to offer five times the capacity of existing batteries – are seen as potential game-changers for the industry in terms of vehicle performance, driving range and refuelling time.
Complex challenge with many moving parts
Although there is much positive momentum, developing the EV market at the scale needed ahead of the UK’s 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars is a significant and complex challenge, not least the need to develop more charging infrastructure.
A recent report estimates the UK will need 400,000 EV charging points by that cut-off date, more than ten times the current level. A lack of chargepoints poses a major risk to the transition with two-thirds of UK drivers who are hesitant to switch to an EV citing charging infrastructure. There are also concerns that some parts of the country are at risk of being left behind in terms of provision in the same way some communities still suffer with poor broadband connections.
The transition to EVs isn’t just a transport issue, but also an energy one given the increased electricity demand it will lead to and the implications for net zero targets. Many different moving parts need to come together to deliver the rapid progress needed, fully harness the opportunities and enable everyone to benefit.
A clear, coherent and detailed strategy – and vision of what success would look like – is crucial to set out the path to developing a charging infrastructure that delivers for customers and investors.
Customer need confidence on charging experience
For many customers, the charging experience is also far from seamless. Having to download and register with multiple apps, working out the costs of different providers or finding stations out of service or difficult to use means even the most enthusiastic supporters of EVs are often left frustrated. Chargepoint anxiety is overtaking range anxiety as the key issue the industry needs to overcome to accelerate adoption.
Regulations are needed to provide confidence to consumers that the charging experience is fit for purpose and that suppliers are accountable for accurate billing for the services supplied. For example, rapid chargers should conform to DC metering and only charge for electricity that was actually supplied to the vehicle.
The strategy also needs to catalyse much closer working between the different players involved, from car manufacturers and infrastructure investors to the energy, telecoms and technology sectors as well as policy-makers and regulators. Silos can’t continue if we are to move at the speed now needed. Decisions needed to be made on technologies and their integration to enable scale-up.
Given the pace of change in areas such as digitisation and automation, a strategy also needs to anticipate what may be coming in the years ahead and start planning for it now to reap the benefits.
For example, intelligent transport networks will be able to predict demand and help motorists avoid disruption, making urban areas safer and more pleasant. Developments such as vehicle-to-grid technologies will enable motorists to play their part in enabling more renewable energy and reducing system costs.
Governance has important role in underpinning confidence
In what is still a nascent market, robust regulation would provide consumers and investors the confidence they need to embrace EVs.
Although there are a number of voluntary codes of conduct already in place, these should now have legislative underpinning within a coherent and joined-up governance regime.
A new licensing regime for public chargepoint operators would ensure health and safety compliance, set expected levels of service, and guarantee operational integration with the electricity grid.
Common standards on data sharing would help deliver a good experience for consumers, for example, to be able to quickly find out if a particular chargepoint is vacant and how much it will cost to use it.
Enhanced market regulations around the supply and storage of electricity to and from EVs would mitigate potential disruption to the grid, minimise system upgrade costs and help customers realise the value of flexibility.
Rigorous assessment and optimisation of business models to deliver the transition to EVs would ensure public confidence as well as a level playing field for all stakeholders.
Clearer complaint and redress arrangements – overseen by an ombudsman – and standards covering service levels, protection of vulnerable customers, maintenance downtime, charging point installation and upkeep would all help consumers be more willing to switch to EVs.
Energy regulator well-placed to lead
As the energy regulator, Ofgem is already playing an important role in paving the way to ensure the electricity system is able to support what could be as many as 11 million EVs on the road by 2030 and its latest price control for the local electricity networks set out its ambition to “help turn Britain’s streets green”.
However, the challenges posed by the scale-up of EVs and how they will integrate into an increasingly digital and connected society means there is now a need for Ofgem to step up and take on a wider role.
It is uniquely placed to understand the roles and interdependencies of the many stakeholders involved – from consumers, electricity suppliers and distribution companies to chargepoint operators and logistics firms – and to drive the cross-sector consensus and co-operation urgently needed.
Working with the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles – the team working across government to support the transition – to drive such an approach and bring a wider sphere of influence to bear would help shape a coherent strategy setting out the steps which need to be implemented over the decade ahead to ensure long-term success.
Although EVs have been around for many years, we are still at the early stages of a transition that will be a journey of 20 years or so.
At a time when consumer demand for EVs must rapidly gather pace to hit government decarbonisation targets, clarity on what we want the future to look like, a detailed route to get there and establishing the rules of the road is vital.