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What lies ahead for the home charger?
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Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter. I’m your host, Tom Riley.
In today’s bumper edition… as the home charger grant falls away next month, I take an in-depth look at the future for this key part of the EV transition. Elsewhere, Instavolt is acquired, SMMT unveils a seven-point plan for public charging, and an EV named after ice cream.
If you have any questions, tips or comments, please do drop me an email email@example.com.
What lies ahead for the home charger?
On Thursday 31 March this year, the government has said it will close its charger grant for homeowners who live in single-occupant properties such as bungalows, detached, semi-detached or terraced housing. This means the £350 subsidy will vanish for most families.
The impact of this move could mean the cost is off-loaded onto consumers or swallowed by manufacturers. In either situation, it’s not going to be good news for someone’s bank account. However, given the astounding pace of EV growth in the UK, I can’t imagine the demand is going to be hit that much, nor that manufacturers will be too concerned. In fact, most of them are booming – three of the largest makers in the UK, Pod Point, EO and myenergi (who make the Zappi) are either listed or set to list on the stock market.
And perhaps the millions their founders will make is richly deserved. After all, for about two-thirds of the population, charging on the driveway will be people’s no.1 refuelling spot when they switch to an EV. Already in the UK, there are thought to be up over 300,000 EV chargers installed at people’s homes – more than 10 times the number of publicly available devices.
The market itself also continues to be an area of huge development. Only in the last year, we’ve seen companies bring forward smarter devices, ones that offer vehicle-to-grid, and even superfast 3-phase chargers that can deliver rapid speeds at home.
However, there’s a slight snag to all this growth and innovation. Home chargers, much like the EVs they’re juicing up, are not exactly cheap. In fact, a basic smart charger still comes in at around £600 with installation included. But they can rise well over £1,000 and beyond depending on what extras you include, such as connecting it to solar panels, getting it tethered, or even what it looks like.
While some of us in the EV world may have become normalised to these sums, for most people having to spend over £600 on a plug socket might not be popular. And it’s not like people will have a choice either, as earlier this year the government introduced a law mandating all private chargers need to be ‘smart’ from 30 June 2022.
According to the government’s own consultation on this mandate, “the legislation may increase the purchase price of a chargepoint which could create a barrier for households that are less financially secure.” However, they argued this was ok because “the chargepoint is only a small proportion of the cost of an electric vehicle itself and smart charging will help offset costs and reduce overall systems costs in the long run.”
The government, therefore, concluded that the requirements wouldn’t discriminate against those who are less well off. To me, there are definitely great benefits but, perhaps, the impact of the initial cost for those on lower incomes is underestimated.
However, this is where a growing number of savvy entrepreneurs and businesses are spying an opportunity…
New pricing models
Much like with anything expensive these days, such as our homes, phones and cars, most of us won’t end up buying them outright. Instead, we’ll get a lease, buy second-hand, or hunt for deals - anything that can make purchasing more amendable to our wallets. And it’s this insight that will likely guide the home charger market in the coming years.
Already in 2022, we’ve seen the launch of ‘Egg’, the UK’s first chargepoint subscription scheme. The business, founded by Liberty Global, allows people to get a smart EV charger installed at their home for £30 a month. The chargepoint they get is a top-of-the-line Indra Smart Pro (ranked no.1 on Top Charger) which normally retails at about £800 with installation.
The scheme provides a cheap way to get a charger alongside dedicated support should it break. People can also cancel at any time. Presumably, Egg is banking on the fact that given these chargers are easy to maintain, they can get many years of service out of them.
I don’t expect Egg to be the last version of this and have no doubt other businesses will pop up with copycat products soon. One business that might be considering their chargepoint offer in the future is Octopus Electric Vehicles.
The company, which is part of Octopus Group, currently focuses on getting people into EVs. As part of their salary sacrifice offer, they provide a free charger to customers. They are not the only people who draw in customers with this benefit, it’s common across the motoring industry, though given the direction of the grant scheme, surely one that won’t survive?
Octopus disagrees. “Chargers that are provided as part of a bundle offering, similar to what we provide, will likely continue to be common even as grants fall away,” a spokesman for Octopus Electric Vehicles told me.
Though on the wider industry, he noted: “Where we may see some change in the future is in the payment schemes for chargers outside of these bundles. We will likely see chargepoint companies and installers offer monthly payment plans or subscriptions for new chargers, as they look to lower the upfront cost of making the switch to an EV.”
Pile it high!
While at the moment the home charger industry is occupied by specialist manufacturers, it would be wise to remember that most of us buy food from supermarkets, furniture at IKEA, clothes from places like ASOS, and household goods from Argos. And these are all companies that follow the popular business mantra of Tesco’s founder, Sir Jack Cohen, to “pile it high, sell it cheap”.
Ultimately, while there will always be demand for chargepoints that can link to solar panels, handle vehicle-to-grid and be app-controlled, many more people just want something that ‘does the job’. And I suspect once we see even more people buying EVs this year, it won’t be long until major companies use their economies of scale to offer cut-price smart chargers – the Amazon charger, you heard it here first!
Some businesses in the EV space have already caught onto this potential demand. The eCommerce store evonestop.co.uk offers a £225 home charger called the QUBEV – apparently the cheapest on sale in the UK – albeit it’s not ‘smart’.
One area that I don’t believe anyone has really thought about yet is the growth we could see in people selling pre-owned chargers.
Naturally, this practice has been pretty non-existent to date because people are, by in large, only just getting EVs in the first place. However, if you look at eBay or Gumtree, it’s evident some of the early EV adopters are now starting to shift some older charging devices.
The devices on sale are often second-hand Pod Point, BP Chargemaster and Rolec devices – the three chargers that have probably been around longest. Many are being sold for anywhere between £100 and £300.
To understand why these chargers were being sold, I spent a lot of last week asking people why they were selling them. Many of the responses I got suggested people’s old charger was making way for one that came with a “new car agreement”.
However, I also discovered a couple of individuals who seemed to be regular traders of chargers. To learn more, I spoke to a lovely chap called Steve whose side business is buying, selling and repairing used chargers.
“Sometimes they go on the same day and sometimes people are waiting for the right charger,” Steve says when I ask what the interest is like, “I’ve sold hundreds.”
Steve began selling chargers a few years ago when he came across a £90 BP Chargemaster that he was convinced he could sell for a higher price. His girlfriend of the time wasn’t convinced saying it seemed a hassle. They’ve since split up. But not before Steve was able to get his enterprise going.
“I just started tinkering… my father was an electrician; wires are in my blood.” Steve tells me that often he buys old chargers online or from trade-in sites. He’ll then test the charger is in working order. In the past, he’s converted type 1 devices to type 2 and has also imported parts to improve old chargers.
In my head, chargers have always seemed a mystery. However, Steve says it’s not complicated, “it’s just three wires; a live, neutral and earth. Like in a plug socket, only more powerful!” Steve believes some of the smart chargers on offer today are “overcomplicating” matters. He believes that people just want a “cheap way of charging at home without spending a fortune.”
Given Steve isn’t a professional installer or affiliated with any manufacturer, I wonder if anyone ever asks about the safety of the devices he sells. Steve explains that he is “honest with people” and in the past has taken back or replaced chargers that turned out to be faulty. His aim is to have “them out there charging their EVs”. He adds that ultimately it is “down to the user if they want to buy a second-hand piece of electric equipment”.
To me, this sounds like a great business. Why shouldn’t people be able to sell their chargepoints? Much like how we will ultimately need a strong used electric car market that people can access, it seems right second-hand chargers should be in the mix too. However, Steve expresses trepidation about the future.
“Some of the manufacturers require the charger to be commissioned by them,” he explains. This means, even if Steve sells someone a charger at a low price, that buyer will likely then need to pay to get a professional manufacturer authorised installer to turn on the switch – otherwise the device won’t work in some cases. Steve doesn’t see why this needs to happen for a “glorified socket” and sees it as a way for manufacturers to keep their foot in the door.
Whatever the case may be, for the time being, the business seems to be going well. Though Steve has noticed an increase in competition recently.
I guess we’ll wait to see what the rest of 2022 holds for home charging, though it certainly appears like the central objective will be making them more affordable in the face of the grant falling away and impending ‘smart’ mandate. If my conversation with Steve is anything to go by, the demand is certainly already here.
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Latest EV news…
EV STRATEGY: The last week has seen a few more details and expectations around the government’s promised EV Infrastructure Strategy. This is the document that will be published alongside a roadmap of how we can have a healthy, happy and positive EV nation by 2030. Based on reporting, it seems that much of the strategy is written and will be revealed imminently. While many details are unknown, according to the Financial Times the strategy won’t include specific targets for numbers of chargepoints. A source close to the paper also suggested the strategy wasn’t going to solve all people’s problems and that we should accept the transition is “going to be stressful, and there will be teething problems.” Getting in with their view early – or perhaps jumping the gun on proposals they’d seen in private – the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed last week its seven-point plan to improve charging. This included calling for a new ‘Ofcharge’ (Office of Charging) regulator to govern targets and ensure every region has accessible chargers. Read the full plan here.
NAUGHTY BOY: As we know, Elon Musk likes to stir the pot online every now and then. However, he may have pushed it a little bit too far last week by comparing Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler. Musk did this by posting a meme, presumably as a joke, in response to an article about Bitcoin. He has since deleted the tweet and now faced an outpouring of criticism, including from the Auschwitz Memorial which said it was “sad and disturbing.” It comes at a difficult time for Tesla who, though in the UK have just successfully launched the Model Y, are facing challenges on many fronts. From having to recall 500,000 cars for a ‘boombox’ feature to a multitude of lawsuits (such as racism and SEC breaches). Leading isn’t always smooth sailing.
SLIGHT BUZZ: Many years after the concept was first revealed, the long-awaited VW ID. Buzz (based on the original VW Camper) is finally on the road…almost! VW this week have let the nation’s motoring press try out the very nearly finished model. It’s expected that the Buzz will go into production this Summer with it being on UK roads properly in Autumn. The top-line detail is that it will likely cost up to £50,000 and come with a range of 250 miles. Read more. Watch a review.
99 FLAKE: Speaking of cars with ostentatious names, the always great read EV Universe newsletter, written by fellow EV nerd Jaan Juurikas, highlighted last week that the Chinese carmaker Chery Auto has unveiled their challenge to the Wuling Mini EV. It’s a cheap as chips car called the ‘Ice Cream’. Much like the Wuling, it’s tiny, laughable and will no doubt be very popular. However, what I love about this car is the trims on offer. You can get the Pudding, Ice Cream Cone, or the Sundae.
FOR INFO: On Thursday this week (24 Feb), the Department for Transport will publish its latest EV chargepoint figures. I’ll of course highlight them next week but if you can’t wait, save the date.
GOING PUBLIC: Norfolk’s son, the British carmaker Lotus, is allegedly getting ready to list on the stock market. It’s not known where this might be, but the UK hasn’t been ruled out yet. The listing could come as soon as next year. The result of an IPO will mean Lotus can invest heavily into its EV future and aim for an ambitious 100,000 of sales by 2030. Read more.
NEW PRICES: Even though we’re all getting increasingly distracted with Ukraine and Russia, one thing that isn’t going away is the continued energy pinch. As prices have kept rising, Instavolt - for the second time this Winter - has had to increase its prices. From today, it will cost 50p per kWh across the network, up from 45p previously (and 40p in November). In a statement, Adrian Keen, CEO of InstaVolt, called on the government to ease the increase by bringing the VAT on public charging (20%) in line with VAT on charging at home (5%). Read more.
BREAKING NEWS: Speaking of Instavolt, this morning it’s been announced they are being acquired by EQT Infrastructure. As part of the deal, EQT have committed to investing significantly in boosting the network from 700 chargers to 10,000 by 2031. Read more.
INDUCTIVE CHARGE: Autocar has published an interesting article on the prospects for wireless charging. It’s a good summary of where the various technologies in this space are. As long-time readers will know, I believe wireless charging could ultimately become a useful way for people to charge in certain ‘slow charge’ settings. The challenge, as Autocar point out, is ensuring energy isn’t lost in the transfer. Though it seems some companies are already on the case using charging robots! Read more.
EV CYCLE: Redwood Materials, the battery and EV material recycling start-up founded by ex-Tesla guru, JB Staubel, has announced a new EV recycling programme in California with Ford and Volvo. This will mean those companies will retrieve and transport old EV batteries from customers to Redwood’s plant in Nevada. Why is this of interest to Brits? Well, Redwood has previously spoken of creating a European base and Volvo is a pretty big European brand. So maybe not long until we see similar schemes in the UK. Read more.
By Tom Riley