Did lockdown drive us to EV?

By Dee Humphries, Managing Director of EV Solutions, EQUANS UK & Ireland

Net Hero Podcast

At a time when COP26 and the fight against global warming is dominating headlines, together with the recent fuel crisis, the world of transport has never been under more scrutiny.

But among the negativity and understandable criticisms of the sector, there are some signs of significant underlying change in the automotive industry that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Even before the pandemic, petrol and diesel cars were experiencing a decline in sales; but COVID-19 seems to have accelerated this, with car registrations down 29% from 2019 to 2020.

By contrast the EV market hasn’t only survived, it has thrived – with sales of electric vehicles climbing 140% in the same period.

Has lockdown led to greater consciousness and consideration for environmental and sustainability issues, leading to a step change in the appetite for electric vehicles?

As expected, we witnessed a decline in usage for EQUANS’ GeniePoint public charging network at the start of lockdown.  But as restrictions lifted, the bounce back has been remarkable. Despite the pandemic, we experienced continued growth, with energy usage on our network up 170% from 2019 to 2020, and we’ve seen accelerating growth through 2021 so expect to stay on this upward trajectory.

Public attitudes toward sustainability have changed: with a recent study by the Economist and the World Wildlife Federation finding there has been a 71% rise in the popularity of searches for sustainable goods over the past five years. Social behaviour has also changed: successive waves of lockdown have ensured that people have stayed local for most things, including shopping, socialising, and even holidaying. And finally, lockdown appears to have changed working life in important ways: a significant proportion of the UK’s workforce has gone from commuting to a more flexible home / office hybrid model, in which shorter journeys have become the new norm.

In these circumstances it’s only natural that people should start to reconsider the types of vehicles that best suit their needs. Electric vehicles, which release no harmful greenhouse gas emissions at tail pipe, and which are much cheaper to run over shorter journeys, fit the bill perfectly.

One of the most significant findings we have found from analysing the GeniePoint data over the last two years is the increase in charger utilisation by fleet vehicle drivers. Between 2019 to 2020 – energy dispensed from the GeniePoint network was up a massive 3468%. This is not only encouraging from an environmental standpointbut it demonstrates a positive – and long-term – commitment from organisations with fleets and how they plan to support the UK’s net zero carbon ambitions.

With transport accounting for 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, if the EV sector continues to thrive in the wake of lockdown, it will go a long way in supporting the country’s net zero carbon ambitions.

If we are to avoid hitting those pre-lockdown emission figures, then businesses can play an integral role in driving behavioural change for the better.  By continuing to offer increased flexibility on workplace arrangements, there will be fewer drivers on the road.  Similarly, employers could offer further support by providing the infrastructure for EV charging, to support those who are still commuting to work to transition to EV.

With new products and services for EV drivers and fleet operators coming to market all the time, it is becoming easier every day for businesses to support the switch to EV.