Coordination is key to accelerate EV take-up

Joachim Brandt, Head of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles at Gemserv, argues that a more joined-up approach is needed to encourage motorists to move away from fossil fuels.

Bans on the horizon for the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles should ensure the long-term future on the roads will be electric, but sales of EVs still remain in the slow lane.

Given EVs have been around for well over a decade and the generous financial incentives on offer to encourage motorists to make the switch, it is perhaps surprising that their fossil-fuel counterparts still dominate to such an extent. Although recent figures show rapid percentage gains for EVs sales, it is still from a very low base in terms of the overall market.

However, there are encouraging signs for the future. I was one of the speakers at the 2020 Electric Vehicle Summit in Dublin recently where politicians and industry leaders gathered (virtually of course!) to discuss the many exciting developments underway across the sector.

There’s certainly no shortage of political ambition behind the shift to EVs. The Irish government has a target for a million electric vehicles to be on the roads by 2030, and in the UK a ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars has recently been brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest.

The charging conundrum

Lack of charging infrastructure has long been cited as a barrier to greater take-up of EVs by motorists, but there has been much progress on the development of public charging points in recent years. In fact, data shows that across both Ireland and the UK there are now as many if not more charging stations as there are petrol stations.

But delve deeper and it becomes clear that these charging stations are actually meeting the needs of less than 1% of total travel demand. Such low utilisation poses a major challenge in terms of commercial viability of future investments.

For most drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles, a traditional filling station is also the only way for them to refuel whereas EV charging is a much more fragmented market.

If say 60 to 70% of charging could be done by EV users in their driveways at home and perhaps another 20 or 30% at work,  then you’re potentially building a lot of infrastructure that may actually service only a very small percentage of charging needs.  That means a lot of uncertainty in terms of investing in infrastructure, which in turn creates uncertainty around uptake of electric vehicles.

If we’re looking at banning the sale of fossil fuel vehicles in 2030 or 2035 ahead of going all-electric in 2050, then we really need to take a step back and look at how can we scale up the infrastructure needed in a commercially viable way.

Integration across sectors

Effective integration of an electricity system – which needs to power a whole economy – with all the new demand from EVs and the charging infrastructure required is also vital to ensure motorists enjoy a consumer-friendly charging experience and that the power grid is able to manage demand.

This requires co-operation and an understanding of how different sectors can work together to deliver a solution that scales effectively. The electricity system needs to understand where to invest to ensure there’s enough capacity for charging, and the infrastructure providers need to understand how to integrate their charging points with the grid. Charging infrastructure also needs to integrate with the digital systems required to provide the service to the end consumer, as well inter-operability with the technology the car manufacturers are going to put into their vehicles. If future models are being designed with wireless charging capability for example, the infrastructure planners need to know this.

Only if we all work together will we be able to remove the barriers facing what is a fragmented market and come up with solutions that are scalable, investable and provide confidence to consumers to make the switch to EVs.

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