Questions raised about DfT's 'iconic' chargepoint

The latest news from the world of EVs

Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.

In today’s edition… more chargepoints due to be installed in new homes, National Highways is investing into battery storage, and questions raised over the new ‘iconic’ chargepoint.

As ever, if you have any questions or thoughts, please do contact me at tomrileylondon@gmail.com.

In the last week…

NEW LAW: While most people are probably going to remember the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI conference yesterday as to where he made car noises and talked about Peppa Pig, there was an important announcement. All new homes and buildings (including supermarkets and workplaces) in England will be required by law to install EV chargepoints from next year, the PM announced. According to No10, the move will see up to 145,000 chargepoints installed across the country each year. While a great headline there are two layers that are worth keeping in mind. Firstly, is this number real? I presume it might be based on the number of homes we build each year (according to the National House Building Council, in the UK we built 123,000 in 2020 but 160,000 in 2019). But, secondly, surely this is still leaving a real gap for the third of people who do not have a driveway.

Looking at the most recent statistics for EV chargepoint installations (from 11 November), while there were 61,339 OZEV backed devices installed in homes over the last year, only 144 on-street chargepoints were installed by local authorities in the last 3 months – that’s via the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme. This is not just abysmal, it’s surely neglectful. In essence, at the moment we have smart homeowners who can afford new EVs getting subsidised to increase the value of their homes. Meanwhile, inner cities where air pollution is worse are being let down by slow-acting local authorities. And if you think ‘oh he’s being dramatic’, may I remind you of the story last week where councils across Northern Ireland failed to put a claim in because they didn’t know who was responsible for pavement policy.

IS IT ICONIC? I have heard and read from multiple people over the last week that they have concerns about the new ‘iconic’ chargepoint design created for DfT by PA Consulting with the Royal College of Art. The first claim is that the new chargepoint design may not fit certain EVs such as the MG ZS EV, Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Peugeout e-208 or the Honda-E. This is because the 'O’ shaped handle on the design sticks out upwards, causing issues when putting it into cars where the charge port has a lid in the way or is submerged into the vehicle body. The design seems most suitable for EVs where the port is on the side of the car. However, this claim is yet to be validated.

Secondly, I’ve noted a suggestion that the new design may have breached international standards for EV connectors. Specifically, the International Electrotechnical Commission standard for type 2 connectors.  Previously, designs have followed what’s referred to as the 'Mennekes' connector design which has a flat top – this is what current designs follow. Again, I’m not an electrician so this needs to be validated.

Lastly, and for me, this is the most unfortunate claim, I’m told that the contract awarded by DfT was a ‘totally pointless’ exercise by someone close to the design industry. Apparently, when the government made the tender, they set a minimum and maximum contract fee (the max being £200,000). However, I’m informed PA Consulting put forward a proposal to do it for free and won on that basis. They did this to gain the positive PR of creating the chargepoint and, as a large business, they could afford to do so. However, this has annoyed smaller design agencies who put forward proposals but were turned down as they were unable to compete with doing something for nothing. So much for a ‘competition’ to find an iconic design! I will of course need to cross check these claims, so please take them with a pinch of salt but, in any case, it does certainly seem to have annoyed people.

NEW COMMERCE: According to a new report by Juniper Research, the market for in-vehicle payments is going to increase from $543 million today to $86 billion by 2025. That is some huge growth which is expected to be driven mostly by car owners paying for fuel directly through their car. However, payments for food and drink is still expected to rise from $12 million in 2020 to over $11 billion in 2025. Strikes me that there is a huge opportunity in there somewhere. Likewise, it’s a reminder that though for many of us cars are still cars, in fact, they could become so much more. Carmakers are always well aware of this potential trend. As an example, in September VW revealed the ID.Life. A concept car that boasts a cinema.

DARLING APPLE: When I read about Apple’s car plans, I feel like I’m part-way through a Jane Austen novel wondering if the young girl will ever be happily married to Mr Darcy. I know they will, but you have to go through endless pages to get there. And this is a very long way of saying that, yet again, there are rumours that Apple is building an EV and that it will be here by 2025. According to reports, the car Apple is developing will have an autonomous feature. To be honest, by this point I do wonder if Apple is just too frightened to make a move into this area. Read more.

BIG BATTERY: National Highways has announced that it is investing £11 million into building energy storage systems for service stations where the grid supply is not enough for rapid charging infrastructure. The storage systems will in essence be large battery packs. This is a clever move as it will help save money by charging the packs overnight and help when there are heavy grid loads. However, interestingly in the announcement, the government-owned organisation seems to admit that the grid is already under “pressure”. It says the storage systems “provide rapid high-power charging at busy times until those motorway services can obtain increased power directly from the grid for rapid charging themselves.” National Highways is currently discussing the move with prospective suppliers and plans to install the energy storage systems, which will connect to the motorway services operators’ charge points, within the next two years. Read more.

Similar note. I’m not a financial advisor so do ignore this. However, I recall that a couple of weeks ago the company Harmony Income Trust Plc, a British business with plans for 6 shovel-ready battery storage projects, had a popular IPO. Read more.

MORE COMPETITION: The Competition and Markets Authority has announced that it has gained two legally binding agreements from Gridserve, which own the Electric Highway network, which means we should see more competition at motorway services for rapid chargepoints. It comes as the CMA started investigating the Electric Highway network in July. Around the same time, Gridserve purchased Electric Highway from Ecotricity. Since then, Gridserve has been investing a lot of wonga into installing new chargers and fresh sites. Read more.

EV CONVERTER: Everrati, the English based EV converter of iconic classic cars, has given a nice interview to The Verge this week. The crux of the interview is that Everrati is launching its conversion service in the US and has long-term ambitions to build more affordable cars. At the moment, its cars can cost well over £200,000. If you don’t know much about Everrati, the video below by Fully Charged covers them pretty well. Read more.

ION RECYCLING: I’ve raised the topic of the need for battery recycling before and it’s pleasing to see more media outlets now covering it in great detail. This morning, Wired has published a feature on how we need to build up battery recycling in Europe and America. At the moment, most of our global capacity to recycle valuable materials from batteries, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, is all in China. The International Energy Agency believes by 2040 recycling could help meet 12% of our battery needs as EVs on the roads today are scrapped. Numerous companies in the ‘West’ are now moving into this space. Most notable is Redwood Materials, set up by a former co-founder of Tesla. Read more.

By Tom Riley