Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
My sincere apologies for not sharing an edition last week – especially given how much EV related news there was – unfortunately I was knocked out by the dreaded Covid-19.
Business as usual today, though. In this morning’s edition… a lot on the EV infrastructure strategy, car conferencing, electric buses and Elon Musk dancing.
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.
In the last week…
EV STRATEGY: The big news from last week was that, after about a month's delay, the government finally published its electric vehicle infrastructure strategy. I’ve highlighted below my top 10 EV strategy takeaways. But, in short, I was pleasantly surprised by the scale and honesty of the document. DfT evidently recognises that making this a success is going to be demanding, and it’s great that consumer rights are finally being recognised with new laws to boost usability. However, it's going to take a lot more than a billion pounds, some new laws and a vision. As we have seen following the war in Ukraine, surging fuel and gas prices have brought into sharp focus that we need to move up several gears, not just on allowing a smooth rollout of EVs, but with the energy that supplies them. If you hadn’t seen the government’s EV strategy yet, you can read DfT’s press release here, the full strategy here, or check out the UK automotive roadmap here. Or read the bottom of this email for my top 10 takeaways.
BP PULSE: One item that did leave me speechless in the EV strategy news was how, in the government press release, an announcement from BP to spend £1 billion on developing charging infrastructure across the country was featured. Who the hell is doing their PR, because they need a raise! The chutzpah of their marketing team. I seriously hope they begin spending this new money on fixing their embarrassment of a network ASAP. Read more.
FUEL DUTY: It would be amiss of me not to mention the cut to fuel duty by the Chancellor during last week’s Spring Statement by 5p per litre. As I’ve said before, my heart really does go out to families being hit by rising fuel prices, and this cut by the Chancellor is evidently not going to cover it at all. The impact will likely mean further demand for EVs in the future as people look to cut their bills. It’s timely then that the EV strategy finally arrived, to lay the groundwork for the vast numbers of people likely to buy one. However, what does it mean for our economy? This is something the Office of Budget Responsibility, a watchdog that publishes a report alongside fiscal events, decided to highlight last week. What they suggested is that the “take-up of EVs has moved onto a steeper part of the ‘S-curve’ that many new technologies follow” and as such revised their estimate of the share of EVs in new sales from 29% to 59% by 2027. That’s a huge increase, seeing as they only published their previous estimate 6 months ago.
Based on these revisions, the OBR has now also revised down expected tax receipts – coming from vehicle and fuel duty – to £2.1 billion by 2026-7. As a Financial Times editorial noted ‘this poses a headache for the exchequer’ given vehicle and fuel duty contribute annually about £35 billion. For the time being, it’s likely that nothing will have to happen, but it seems all but certain that one day we’ll see a new road user charging scheme. Much like the one recently proposed by Sadiq Khan for London, though that was abandoned. One thing is for sure now, though, the Chancellor’s fuel duty cut has caused more problems than answers. You can read the OBR report here (page 114 for anyone interested in the EV deep dive).
ELECTRIC BUSES: Busy times for Transport policy, DFT yesterday published a fresh public consultation seeking comments on new proposals to end the sale of new non-zero emission buses at a point between 2025 and 2032. Alongside the consultation, DfT also announced it has allocated £200 million in funding for nearly 1,000 clean buses. Read more.
NEW CEO: In case you missed it, at the start of last week the EV Association for England appointed James Court as its first CEO. James has previously worked at the Cabinet Office on the UK’s COP26 transport policy and before that was the Director of Policy and Communications at the Renewable Energy Association. James will need to work to elevate the EV Association and what it’s delivering for owners, as elsewhere the Society of Motor and Manufacturers has been taking a much more consumer-focussed role on electrification, most recently calling for a new charging watchdog. Hopefully, we’ll get to hear more from James soon. Read more.
SAFE CHARGING: Speaking of advocacy, I’ve only just learned of the genius initiative called ChargeSafe. It was set up by a former myenergi staffer, Kate Tyrrell, to lobby and help public charging networks build stations that are safe and easily accessible. It followed a worrying experience Kate had having to charge late at night in a car park in an industrial area. As anyone who has driven an EV knows, a lot of chargers are in poorly lit, peculiar locations. A great idea. You can read an interview with Kate here.
OPEN FACTORY: After many months of waiting patiently for approval, Tesla last week were able to open their new gigafactory in Berlin. Tesla expects the factory to produce up to 500,000 cars annually which will help it further entrench itself in Europe. At the launch, Elon Musk seemed enthralled at the unveiling and even started dancing.
CAR CONFERENCE: Last week Ford announced that it established a partnership with Cisco to design a ‘secure and immersive collaboration experience’ inside their EVs using WebEx. As Darren Palmer, their VP for EVs put it in a statement, “We don’t see why people wouldn’t be using their vehicles as a fantastic quality office, to be able to collaborate together.” Now, in some ways, this makes perfect sense. Hands-free calls in cars are incredibly popular – I wonder how many did calls from the car during the pandemic. But, at the same time, it feels weird to think about. Read more.
My top 10 takeaways from the EV infrastructure strategy
1. Challenge accepted
The first thing I noted in the new EV strategy was that the government was quite honest to acknowledge that the rollout of chargepoints had been slow and “not at a pace consistent with what is needed for a wholly zero-emission new car fleet in 2035”. Given EVs have now been a key ambition for this government since 2019, it was an interesting admission that perhaps the ground had moved away from them.
2. Big commitment
One of the most reported stats from the EV strategy publication was the Transport Secretary’s expectation of around 300,000 public chargepoints at a minimum by 2030. This could really come back to bite them, should they still be in power, as it would mean a ten-fold increase in eight years. Given it’s taking the UK about 7 years to go from 6,500 to 30,000 it will be a big feat to achieve – even if they had all the money in the world.
3. Don’t have all the money in the world
The EV strategy was released just a day after the Spring Statement where the Chancellor talked to us about pressure on the public purse. This was evident in that the strategy came with limited amounts of new funding attached – in total the government has only pledged £1.6 billion to EV infrastructure. That might not be enough to take us to 2030. The biggest reveal to support the grand ambitions seemed to be a new Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure fund, that has £450 million attached to it, that will be used to build new EV hubs and on-street charging.
4. Welcome rules
Nobody likes rules, but the government’s decision to introduce new laws that will bolster the ease of usability and reliability at EV chargers is supremely welcome. The regulations are set to include:
A rule that all publicly available rapid chargers of 50kW and over will have to meet 99% minimum reliability standards by the end of 2023.
People will be able to compare prices for charging across networks quickly using a new ‘single payment metric’.
Standardising the payment methods for charging, so people don’t have to use a multitude of apps.
If people have problems at a chargepoint, they will be able to get help and support.
All chargepoint data will be open, meaning people will be able to locate them more easily.
According to the strategy, laws could be introduced as soon as this Summer.
5. Private leadership
Throughout the strategy, and quite clear given the feature of BP’s £1 billion charger announcement in the launch, the government sees private business as its weapon to address infrastructure. Throughout the document, the phrase ‘market-led rollout’ appear numerous times. Under their vision, DfT is quite direct saying the private sector will deliver the chargepoint rollout. For the avoidance of any doubt, the government writes in an annexe of the strategy, titled ‘roles and responsibilities’, that “Delivering the vision set out in this strategy requires a shift in how government at all levels plans, delivers and works with the private sector, researchers, and civil society to deliver EV charging infrastructure. The Government’s policy is for a market-led rollout. Government will provide an enabling national legislative and regulatory framework and targeted funding to address market failures to ensure no areas or demographics get left behind.” To me, this could be a rather laidback approach. If we step backwards, to date, private enterprise has been in the driving seat for chargepoint delivery. Some networks have over-delivered while others have gotten lazy and left their chargers to fester. With the government bringing in new tighter consumer protections for EV charging, will this make operators want to speed up delivery or go for better quality – and potentially dissuade pace.
6. Trusting locals
We’ve heard levelling-up get talked about a lot by the government, and I thought it was interesting how prominently ‘local engagement’ featured in the EV strategy. A key part of this is the new £450m Local EV Infrastructure Fund to help local authorities dramatically scale up infrastructure provision across the country. This will include engaging local leaders and people to step up their charging rollouts. A pilot for this work worth £10 million has already been launched and could involve funding staff to tackle local challenges.
7. Home, Sweet Home
The government predicts that 75% of EV charging will be residential, however, they used the strategy to say they will be looking to end all subsidy support for home charging. Instead, money will be refocussed on people living in flats or without off-street parking. Though, worth remembering that the government is bringing in new rules for home charging from June. The new requirements will mean all new homes should have home charging by default and that all newly bought home chargers will have to be ‘smart’.
Small note, the Office of Budget Responsibility suggests 72% of people can access off-street parking, whereas the RAC suggest it’s 66%, and DfT suggests in their strategy it’s 70%. Can we all just stick to ‘two thirds’ to make it simpler?
8. Challenge ahead
DfT predicts that there could be ‘10 million electric cars and vans’ that are regularly parked on streets overnight by 2050. They have acknowledged that they will all need to access charging that is convenient and affordable but that, as of yet, they are not sure what the right mix of solutions should be for this. It seems they would prefer a solution that would favour charging overnight, off-peak. However, they say it is “not yet clear if there is a sustainable commercial model to deliver this” and that there are “potentially tricky interactions with local parking policies and street clutter.” Again, DfT makes a rather bold claim here saying they are ‘committed to ensuring’ there is no unnecessary penalty in terms of cost or convenience for EV owners. That could be a high bar to meet.
9. Solutions proposed
It’s not all doom and gloom for those without off-street parking. Hidden away in the EV strategy, the government did propose some innovative solutions. The two ideas suggested by the government include using peer-to-peer charging networks (they namedrop Co-Charger and JustPark) and also pavement adaptions. The latter idea, which might include building gullies through pavements to hold charging cables, has been knocking around for a long time – they’ve previously trialled their use in Oxford. But this seems to be the first time the government has given tangible support to them. They say “cables will not be allowed to trail across the pavement unless adaptive infrastructure is provided to accommodate them safely (e.g. gullies).” This would be very interesting, though I wonder how local authorities would act - it can take months to drop a kerb, how long would building a gully take?
10. Peak problem
If figuring out how we’re all going to charge our cars is a challenge, the government might really have a task to solve when it comes to what time we all recharge. On page 121 of the strategy is a graph of total daily energy demand in Great Britain in Winter and Summer (image below). What it confirms is that the hours of 5pm and 8pm are the most in-demand hours across the grid. Here then the government acknowledges a ‘risk’ that if people end their day and plug-in at home this could ‘exacerbate the existing sharp peak’. At homes, the government sees smart charging capability as the solution, likewise the ability to do ‘vehicle-to-grid’ to support the load requirements. This will be important as DfT predict transport could represent 15% of all electricity demand by 2050, compared to 1% today. Smart charging is all well and good. But, not mentioned is the impact of the 10 million without driveways. If you flip back to where the government shared concerns about this group, they acknowledge there could be an impact on the electricity system without the right solution in place. This is why they say “even in 2050 there will be a clear need to (a) shift as much charging activity as possible into the off-peak to minimise the burden on the electricity system, and (b) to offer access to the lowest cost charging tariffs to consumers.” Perhaps the subtle shift in this strategy from homes to streets then is that, if we don’t solve this problem, our grid could suffer.
Bonus: Tax gap
As a final bonus point of interest, and sadly it was something not included in the strategy but in commentary around the launch, I saw on Electrfying.com that the EV Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, confirmed the government is looking at the VAT disparity between domestic (5%) and public (20%) charging. Whether anything will come of this, who knows. However, after the recent Spring Statement, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for changes soon.
By Tom Riley