Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
In this morning’s edition… carmakers considering mining, chargers showing x-rated websites, and hybrid thinking from Honda. Before that, I also wonder if it’s time to get tougher as chargepoint rollout remains slow.
As ever, if you have any questions or comments, please do drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply reply to this email.
Do we need an EV charger mandate?
Last week, the government revealed a very important consultation for the automotive industry in the UK. It’s a call for comments on the proposed ‘ZEV mandate’. This will set parameters for how many zero-emission cars manufacturers should sell to consumers as we push towards 2035 – the UK’s target for ending all sales of ICE vehicles.
In the consultation, the government has proposed introducing a mandate from 2024 that will require 22% of all vehicles to be zero-emission. This will rise year on year thereafter. The Department for Transport, who published the consultation, has suggested they have set ambitious targets and noted that demand may in fact beat these figures – certainly looking at recent Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data, you could agree.
However, there will be some manufacturers who cannot meet the 2024 deadline, and then in the years afterwards, some may be unable to sell that many battery electrics. To solve this, the government wants to create a ‘ZEV certificate’ trading scheme. This will mean carmakers are eligible for certificates based on the cars and vans they are selling in the UK – criteria will vary but likely that cars with long-range and efficiency will score high points. The thinking is those carmakers with a surplus of certificates (aka, the number they have puts them over the mandate requirement) can trade them with manufacturers who haven’t.
In response to the consultation, SMMT called it the “most ambitious of any major market in the world.” However, only two weeks after the publication of the EV infrastructure strategy, SMMT also warned that “regulation must encourage consumers to purchase, not just compel manufacturers to produce.” And this is a critical point in this chicken and egg problem. It’s all very well the UK setting legal targets to have EVs on the road, but is enough being done to grow the network supporting it?
The government’s ambition is that we have more than 300,000 chargepoints by 2030. By my maths, that means each quarter we need to be adding over 8,500 chargers to reach that target. However, based on official figures, we’ve never added more than 2,500 in a single quarter (see graph below). So at what point will we see this uptick in chargepoint growth required?
As per the published strategy, many hundreds of millions are being pumped into growing the networks. Likewise, dozens of private companies have made large pledges to grow the number of chargers – especially for the rapid charging market. Many of these were highlighted in the EV infrastructure strategy. However, how do we know these are more than words?
Using past data from DfT and the most recently published data by Zap-Map up to 31 March, it seems that the number of rapid chargers being installed is slowing. Over the past six months, the UK has only added 574 rapids to its network. That’s less than the six months before it (664). And even fewer still than the six before that (729). It’s true that we will need fewer rapid chargers than slow ones in future, though, when we have an estimated 10 million EV motorists by 2030, we may need a lot more than this current pace will provide.
One of my concerns about the strategy has been that the government is relying too much on a “market-led rollout”. Yes, it’s superb that they will be bolstering the consumer experience from this summer with new regulations, but perhaps the UK needs to get more robust with the networks.
Companies like BP and Shell, who have made gigantic commitments to electrification while also straddling their fuel businesses, have got a lot of work ahead to meet their targets. BP especially, which runs the second-largest rapid network, said recently they were going to triple the number of their chargers. It certainly sounds fab, and despite bagging some PR alongside the Secretary of State, their network is rated one of the worst – we need someone to call networks out if they don’t deliver.
Manufacturers are obviously concerned about the delivery of chargers too. Only today, Honda’s CEO has poured cold water on its battery-electric plans suggesting the ‘living environments’ need to improve. Again, the fact that SMMT, the lobbying group for carmakers, is calling for regulation in this area is indicative of high concerns.
The government acknowledged in its EV strategy that the charger rollout needed to accelerate and that it remained a key challenge. Their approach to helping is to use a carrot. Aka, making connecting to the grid easier and to leverage local engagement.
Much like with ZEV mandate, perhaps the government needs to consider using a stick (such as a ‘charger mandate’). It could certainly ease people’s views on range/charge anxiety in future. I saw this week that lawmakers in Vancouver are suggesting a policy where petrol stations and car parks that fail to provide EV chargers will have to pay $10,000 per year. The idea is it will incentivise action. Especially considering the government’s recent Energy Security Strategy, maybe soon we will need to get tougher on networks to ensure the pace of rollout picks up.
Also in the last week…
NO SIGNAL: According to a report produced by the RAC, on behalf of the government, it seems our nation’s poor signal is causing some people charging difficulties. The problems come from the fact that many chargers these days require using a phone app, meaning if you don’t have a signal, you will find connecting up difficult. I experienced this problem often while charging up in Somerset last Summer and it’s beyond frustrating. The study was completed for the UK’s EV energy task force and checked whether motorists were able to use their phones to turn on and pay for charging via an app. The RAC discovered problems on 20% of the length of A roads and B roads in 22 local authorities. In response, the task force has urged Ofcom, the mobile network regulator, to publish maps that can inform people when chargers are in ‘black spots’. Albeit, the key thing to solve instead would be to just make all chargers accept contactless payments – something the government has promised to put into law. Read the full report in Sunday Times or a short version in The Sun.
MOTO MAKEOVER: On behalf of all EV drivers in the UK, well done to Gridserve who last week finished upgrading all 300 legacy devices in the Electric Highway charging network. The upgraded devices are now supported with 24/7 help and enable contactless payments. As long time EV owners will know these chargers, which had originally been run by Ecotricity, were diabolical and caused serious issues for people. Hats off to Gridserve for taking them on and delivering on their promise to upgrade. Elsewhere in recent weeks, the company has also opened three new charging hubs. Read more.
PRICE HIKE: Perhaps it was only a matter of time given the rising energy costs but, last week, the UK’s largest charging network, Ubitricity, raised its prices by a third (from 24p per kWh to 32p). They have also introduced a connection fee of 35p. Ubitricity has led the way in rolling out chargepoints via lampposts in urban areas – a great solution for people without off-street parking. They currently have around 5,100 chargers and were bought out by Shell in 2021. On the increase, Ubitricity: “We’ve avoided increasing prices for as long as possible, but we can no longer absorb all of the extra costs, so we have had to change our pricing to reflect wholesale prices.” Given the fluctuation of costs, I do wonder when we might see a charging network bring out ‘live prices’ much like we see with petrol stations. Read more.
SKY HIGH: On the topic of increasing prices, the rising cost of lithium (and other essential rare Earth metals) seems to be providing a fresh challenge for the EV industry. Since January 2020, lithium prices have increased by over 700%, nickel by 250%, cobalt and manganese by 100%, and graphite by over 25%. This has put pressure on EV margins, and now with lots of geopolitics at play – and soaring competition to feed EV demand – it seems many manufacturers are now considering the question: how do we safeguard our supply chain? Many executives will also be keen to avoid the issues brought on by the semiconductor shortage. For many, the answer seems to be: we need to start digging. VW announced a few weeks ago that it wants to begin nickel and cobalt refining in China, and this month General Motors has committed $400m to build cathode material in Canada. Elsewhere, in response to the prices, Elon Musk tweeted on Friday “Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale, unless costs improve.” There are many start-ups operating in this area to try and solve the supply problems (here in the UK we have a couple, such as Cornish Lithium). However, these are many years away, meanwhile, China continues to hoover up most of the supply. One lithium producer has warned without confronting the problem – or China’s dominance in this area – may likely lead to deficits at factories as soon as this year. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence has written a good summary on these rises here.
PARKING FINE: Weird story in the media last week about a ‘businessman’ who was fined £100 for charging up at an InstaVolt in a McDonald’s car park. The fine came about as the man had stayed parked up for more than 90 minutes – triggering an enforcement notice. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of people being hit by parking fines for charging up – I’m currently resisting a fine I got last August at a Tesco slow charger – but, on the other hand, is this guy an idiot? InstaVolt chargers are rapid, so you defo don’t need more than 90 minutes. In his defence, apparently, the charger was already occupied when he arrived, so he ate first before plugging in. But, still, 90 minutes man? Read more.
RED FACED: It sounds like residents of the Isle of Wight got a shock recently as several chargepoints in a council car park were hacked to display naughty websites. In response, the council deployed people to the chargers to cover them up. They also said in a statement: “We are saddened to learn that a third-party web address displayed on our electric vehicle (EV) signage appears to have been hacked.” I wonder what the motivation behind the hacking was, as it’s quite a specific target. Maybe a driver was just bored by the wait time? Read more.
EV TRAINING: A college in Harrogate is launching new technical courses to support the EV sector from September. The college has even bought a chargepoint that can be used as part of training. The news is timely for Harrogate as it prepares to host the Fully Charged Show in May 2023. Read more.
UBER CAR: TechCrunch has revealed that Arrival, the UK electric vehicle start-up, will reveal the prototype of their car specifically designed for ride hailing. The EV has been developed in partnership with Uber – we’ve already got a first glimpse of the potential designs – but the company will use a session with TechCrunch on 18 May to reveal their progress. The design has apparently involved taking on board the input of Uber drivers - which will be interesting. The unveiled car is due to be put in production from Q3 2023 – though seeing as Arrival is yet to produce anything, that should be taken with a pinch of salt. Read more.
CYBERTRUCK: At the opening of a new plant in Texas, Elon Musk confirmed the Tesla Cybertruck would be delivered in 2023 – after it was meant to be delivered last year. Despite it looking absurdly American, you put down a deposit for a Cybertruck in the UK for just £100. Read more.
HYBRID THINKING: This morning Honda has announced its setting aside $40 billion to invest in electrification over the next 10 years – resulting in 30 EV models on the road. However, Honda isn’t going full battery electric. Instead, their CEO has said: “We are ending conventional engines but we will still focus on hybrids, and it will be our strength in 2030 or even in 2035.” The reason is that Honda has concerns about the “living environment”, aka charging networks. At the moment, Honda only has its little ‘e’ car in production. Previously, Honda set aside 2040 as when it would sell only pure electrics. Read more.
SOLID PLAN: Maybe a bit niche but an important slice of news from Nissan last week, the carmaker has just committed to producing an EV with a solid-state battery by 2028. This will involve a lot more R&D work but would be a real game-changer if they pull it off. Solid-state batteries would be able to charge faster and offer roughly twice the density of existing lithium-ion batteries, potentially delivering greater range, reduced weight and shorter recharging times. Not only technologically better, but solid-state batteries could also bring down the overall cost of EVs, as they require fewer rare metals. Read more.
By Tom Riley
The story about the parking fine has been mis-reported in the press. If you look closely at the fine notice, the driver was parked for almost 4 hours which contradicts his account. Most papers conveniently cropped the times out of the photos.