Embracing the challenges and opportunities of Electrical Vehicles and EV Charging

Tuesday, 2nd April 2019

Blog by Ilona Alcock, Sector Group Manager, pro-manchester

GM’s own EV charging network, GMEV, has been live since 2013, and TfGM is looking to expand and re-tender the network. Many other local authorities and commercial organisations such as garage operators and supermarkets are looking to install their own charging points. Those businesses involved in charging point manufacture, operation, or investing in what is a new asset class, are grappling with where the opportunities are, driven by enthusiasm from vehicle manufacturers, the public at large and of course Government policy in form of Road to Zero.

Our expert panel, chaired by Nick Helm – Partner, Squire Patton Boggs, discussed the opportunities and challenges:

• Peter Molyneux – Major Roads Director, Transport for the North
• Asif Ghafoor – Managing Director, Amey Investments
• Sophie Ogunbiyi – External Affairs Manager, Toyota Motor Europe
• Helen Boyle – DSO Engagement Manager, Electricity North West

Nick welcomed delegates and reiterated how topical the event is, particularly following the Greater Manchester Green Summit and Manchester’s commitment to become zero carbon by 2038 (10 years ahead of national targets). He invited each panellist to give a brief overview of their work in the electric vehicles market.

Asif explained how Amey Investments is working with a range of business to become more connected to people and environmental concerns. He sees any change as a business opportunity and in this is illustrated by the work being done around smart cities and solar grids.

Toyota has seen huge changes in the industry to collectively address environmental challenges and play a part in the zero carbon strategy. Sophie explained that consumers were slow to make the move to electric/hybrid vehicles, with it taking 10 years to sell first million, but the tipping point has been reached and growth is huge. Sophie also reminded delegates that hybrid vehicles offer a significant reduction in NOx emissions. They are affordable now and require no new infrastructure.

Helen is working within Electricity North West to connect all low carbon technologies and meet consumer demands. A new plan was launched at the Green Summit detailing how £63.5m will be invested over four years.

TfN firmly believe that transport is an economic enabler. As such, Peter calls for both more direction from government and a system that puts the customer at the heart of the system. With the 1.2bn cars in the world being parked an incredible 90% of the time, Peter believes we will quickly start moving to sharing cars rather than ownership.

Should EV charging networks be managed by the public or private sector? What does the ideal charging station look like?

Asif believes that public bodies should set policy and direction, especially in the early days, as we need a connected system. However, he argues that they are starting to operate in areas that should be private sector. By insisting on unlimited liabilities and harsh penalties, local authorities are in danger of limiting development. He noted that GM is quite forward thinking compared to other regions.

Helen agreed, saying that the regulated environment doesn’t allow energy providers to invest ahead of need. As the experts in the sector, and the organisations closest to consumers, they should be able to advise on likely developments. Sophie reiterated that the consumer is the key: policy and infrastructure mean nothing if people won’t buy the product.

What are the plans and aspirations for e-powered fleets of public transport e.g. buses across the North?
Peter is starting to see this happen, with Merseyside, for example, moving to hydrogen buses. He would like to see both civic and business leaders take a leap of faith to support a co-ordinated plan and better investment.

Shouldn’t there be more encouragement for home charging?

Helen argues we need mix of charging solutions and also a plan to reassure consumers that the demand can be met. Thanks to investments in GM infrastructure and the drive for energy efficiency, there is currently 20% headroom. Toyota is working towards multi-standard charging solution, and feedback from customers suggests home, street and workplace charging are most critical.

The first entry point for businesses, according to Asif, is on street rapid charging. These points offer 90% charge in just 8 minutes. He describes the current marketing as the “Wild West of charging”, with all providers different shapes and sizes. Further regulation is required to keep it simple for consumers.
A quick audience poll showed a few delegates have already moved to electric/hybrid vehicles, with most of the room planning to switch within the next three years. Nick is currently under pressure from his children (aged 8, 11 and 12) to switch as green issues are high on the agenda

Questions from the audience confirmed that the public needs to see more leadership – both public sector strategy and through private sector innovations – and further reassurance around range anxiety. Technical developments such as using graphene to make cars lighter, more efficient batteries and faster charging will all help move people and organisations towards electric vehicles. The current pressure on developers to install EV charging points may seem onerous, but by 2021/22 they will be expected by buyers.

The session finished with a reminder that Manchester is leading the way in the decarbonisation agenda which is not only the right thing to do for the environment – but a huge opportunity for businesses.