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Educate planning officers to boost charger rollout, says Fastned boss
The latest news from the world of EVs
Hello, I’m Tom Riley and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
Top stories in today’s bumper edition… Fastned’s UK boss Tom Hurst tells me how they are winning on reliability and how uninformed planners could be slowing down charger installations.
Elsewhere and further below, a huge 16 stories highlighting the latest EV news, including on the Budget, range in the cold, parking spaces, and much more.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do get in touch. My contact details are here or simply reply to this email.
Tom Hurst on why Fastned is no.1 for EV drivers
Background: Fastned is a manager of over 250 rapid charging hubs in Europe. The company was founded 11 years ago in Amsterdam and its stations cover Europe. Fastned’s ambition is to have 1,000 hubs in operation by 2030, and their rollout of stations has been increasing quickly. In the UK, they were early adopters, opening one of the first British ultra-rapid hubs in Sunderland back in 2019.
New site: As of today, Fastned operates 14 ultra-rapid hubs in the UK. The most recent was launched last Friday at Martlesham Park & Ride, outside Ipswich. Earlier this year, they opened one in Washington. While there are lots of companies opening new chargers, what makes Fastned a leader is something that’s become ever more crucial for EV drivers: reliability. In the two years I’ve been writing this newsletter, I’ve never once heard criticism of them. It’s no wonder in December users of Zap-Map rated them the UK’s best network. To learn more about how they do it, I spoke to Tom Hurst, Fastned’s UK Country Manager.
The first thing I want to know is, why are all Fastned stations so big, bright and yellow? Hurst explains they wanted to go above and beyond just plunking a charger down at the end of the parking bay. “We are making sure that you know, even before you're within 200 metres of our site, for example, you can see our canopy and your blood pressure decreases instantly because you recognise the brand and you know there's going to be a lot of chargers there. You know they're going to be working. You know payment will be simple. You can pay with a variety of apps, you can pay with our app, you can pay with contactless payment cards. Every part of the process is simple and straightforward.”
So why has Fastned made reliability such a central part of its operation? “We are a pure play charging operator and only make our money by selling electrons and doing that well,” explains Hurst. “For us, if a charger is down, for example, that's the ability to sell electrons completely knocked out. Downtime for us is lost revenue and downtime for a lot of our customers is lost revenue as well.” Hurst points out that many businesses, such as taxi drivers, use Fastned regularly so, if one of their chargers is broken, they have a real problem.
What does Fastned do to prevent or minimise downtime? “We've got in-house maintenance, we've got a dedicated warehouse with spares, we have active fault-finding, we’ve got proactive maintenance regimes, we've got CCTV cameras at our stations that make sure that we can identify issues before they spiral out of control, and we’ve got the ability to control chargers, to monitor them in-house, and to push updates of functionality to the chargers,” says Hurst. And that’s not all. As Fastned now has 11 years of information from running networks across Europe, it uses data insights to help them identify issues before they even occur.
Hurst recently complained grid connections were slowing their rollout down but is that the only barrier to more stations? “Planning applications are one of the areas where some of our sites can languish,” says Hurst. “The charge point industry is working to roll these chargers out as quickly as possible. And some councils are fantastic in how they approach this and how they evaluate our applications. Others, I guess, dwell on the need for charging in the first place, and it doesn't feel like it's aligned necessarily with national government policy.” Hurst adds that at Fastned the company had observed, “certain planning officers not being fully up to speed on the market or the industry or government policy as a whole.”
What’s the solution to poor planning? “There’s a real piece of education work to be done here to help upskill the planning officers of the UK,” believes Hurst. “We're also wondering whether or not reputable charge point operators, like Fastned, can be considered as trusted providers and be able to roll this out in a more committed development kind of way. And that’s something the government here and in Scotland are consulting on right now.”
While Fastned is still growing, which other networks does Tom trust for his own charging? “The ones I most rely on are MFG, Osprey, and Ionity. They’re the ones with good numbers of chargers, the chargers work, and they're in good locations. And that's exactly the same values that we follow.”
So what is the end goal for Fastned in Britain? “There's no official number at this point. The only official number we have is that there are a thousand stations that we're going to build across Europe. And, clearly, the UK is a key part of that,” Hurst explains. “We evaluate locations on the basis of our values. So it's accessibility, it's visibility. You know, can we build this in a place where you can see it and get to it easily? Is it scalable? Is passing traffic appropriate?” says Hurst before concluding, “in the UK we've got no intention of stopping anytime soon.”
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The latest EV news…
BUDGET EXPECTATIONS: Tomorrow the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will deliver his first Budget – the first proper one since October 2021. What can the EV industry expect? Despite some great campaigning by FairCharge to get the rate of VAT on charging equal between home (5%) versus public (20%), I personally cannot foresee this happening – though I’d love to be proved wrong. All in all, I imagine it’ll be quite a tame Budget, with the big announcements relating to supporting people’s bills, new investment for some tech industries (especially after the SVB wobble), and schemes to get retired folk back to work.
However… while tangible policies may be light on the ground, no doubt Hunt will provide several supportive nods to the green industry – especially since the recent BEIS split. It will be interesting to see how the sector reacts – in anticipation of the Budget, for example, SMMT published its idea of how to win the ‘race to zero’. See here.
FOLLOW US: Speaking of government, as the Labour Party continues to prepare for (probable) power, the Shadow Chancellor said over the weekend they’d deliver a US-style public-private investment scheme into green industries. This would be kicked off with £8bn from the state. Read more.
COLD MILEAGE: A big story from last week was the test by WhatCar? magazine that sought to answer: how far can EVs go in winter? The results were quite stark, with some models – like the Ora Funky Cat – losing some 30% of range in the cold. Meanwhile, the Nissan Aryia only lost 16%. Following the findings, the reaction from supporters has been quite defensive, while EV opponents have enjoyed their schadenfreude. Read more.
NEW MOTORS: According to new data obtained by The Times, the government has been on an EV buying spree by procuring 36 Jaguar i-Paces, 25 Nissan Leafs, four Tesla Model 3s, three Genesis GV60s, two Kia e-Niros – and a partridge in a pear treeeee. Read more.
FALLING BEHIND: Talking about the Jaguar i-Pace, the Guardian’s Jasper Jolly published a must-read about the diminishing industry position of Jaguar Land Rover as it tries to navigate an EV future. This includes the fact its owner, the Indian conglomerate Tata Motors, may opt for Spain to build a gigafactory over the UK if it can’t land funding support (thought to be £500m). Check it out here.
GIGA DELAY: On the topic of being behind, a report in The Sunday Times suggested the Department for Business and Trade is seriously considering a delay to new “rules of origin” on how much of batteries carmakers have to source from within the UK and the EU due to supply issues. Under current rules, 30% of batteries and 40% of EVs must contain material from within the UK-EU area. From January 1, this will rise to 45% for cars and up to 60% for batteries. Read more.
BREXIT BLAME: The Chinese carmaker BYD has ruled out the UK for its European factory citing Brexit, according to the FT. The company wants to become one of the top three EV brands in Europe. At the moment it’s relatively unknown to consumers, though that will change soon. For example, yesterday, Octopus EV ordered 5,000 over the next three years. Read more.
TRAINING SCHEME: A bit niche, but Essex Council is funding 50 new places at Harlow College for people to obtain ‘green’ industry qualifications in EV repair and maintenance. This is based on money from the Levelling up Funds. Hopefully, we’ll see many more colleges follow suit. Read more.
NO PARKING: Talking of local stories, in the Yorkshire town of Knaresborough – where yours truly passed his driving test – local businesses have been complaining about the council’s decision to allocate 10 parking spaces in the town solely to EVs. Apparently, they are very rarely occupied meaning traders are missing out on business. The council has defended itself, though I sense this is a story we’ll see in many other towns yet. What do you think? See here.
GET INVOLVED: The EV charger aggregator, Bonnet, officially opens its crowdfunding campaign today after pre-launching to users two weeks ago. The company has also revealed £3m of new investment from existing backers. Learn more.
BIG RAISE: Speaking of fundraising, Indra, a British EV charging and smart energy firm, has secured more than £20m in its Series B round to help roll out its bidirectional charging technology. Read more.
FREE DEVICE: Liberty Charge, an on-street charging network, has launched a ‘zero-cost’ installation service for businesses in partnership with its sister company Virgin Media O2. Businesses will also be supported with ongoing maintenance. Read more.
BROKEN CHARGE: A new piece of research by The Solar Centre has identified the best and worst cities to charge up by measuring the number of broken devices. The best were Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, and Darlington, County Durham – with virtually no broken points. And the worst were Londonderry, Worcester, and Ipswich. To note, I have absolutely no idea where this data comes from, so it could be BS. Read more.
E-FUELS: Despite raking in a huge 27% jump in profits, in part thanks to its EV model, Porsche’s CEO has joined the growing chorus in Europe that want ‘synthetic fuel’ exempted from bans on combustion engines. Read more (FT).
BIG DOLLAR: Arrival, the EV start-up founded in the UK, has announced it’s raised $300 million in new funding as it tries to slow its cash-burn rate and prepare for US production. Read more.
FORMULA AMI: Finally, before you go, if you’re an F1 fan or just want a laugh, check out this video of a Citroen Ami flipping over in Monaco at the Grand Hotel Hairpin.
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