Workshops point to a multi-million-pound opportunity for electric vehicle charging innovation

Posted on: 14/05/2018

The government wants to accelerate take-up of electric vehicles, which will require new on-street charging solutions, reports Tim Watt.

Parking is already a highly-charged issue for local authorities. To avoid potential overload, new solutions are needed to help support them in the transition to zero carbon emission vehicles across their communities.

The government wants to accelerate electric vehicle (EV) take-up as, in addition to producing zero carbon tailpipe emissions, these vehicles emit none of the unhealthy emissions produced by petrol or diesel vehicles on our streets.

However, unless new EV charging solutions are developed, this transition is at political risk, as the result could be discriminatory allocations of the resulting costs and benefits.

The costs may fall disproportionally to urban-based authorities, as residents in these, more densely populated, areas tend to be exposed to higher levels of emissions from today’s vehicles. These residents are also less likely to have access to the cheaper and more convenient choice of off-street EV charging than council-tax payers in rural or suburban areas.

In its Industrial Strategy, the government backed the UK to be a world-leader in development, manufacture and use of zero-emission vehicles. Recognising that around 40,000 deaths a year may be caused by localised air quality issues, it further raised the stakes by imposing a deadline for every car and van sold by 2040 to be zero carbon, and almost every vehicle on the road to comply with this standard a decade later.

Total government investment to support the transition is set at nearly £1.5 billion until 2020/21, including the Plug-in Car Grant, and other schemes that incentivise installation of charging facilities at homes and workplaces.

Significant funding was awarded to a number of cities to out schemes to encourage switching, but it’s still uncertain whether local authorities are placed to develop bespoke solutions, not least from a cost perspective.



Multi-million pound research into EV charging technologies

Following an election commitment, the Autumn 2017 budget contained a £540 million package for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles, including £40 million of match funding for research and development into on-street and wireless charging technologies.

Implementation of this pledge is being worked out by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), the body that coordinates government R&D into ultra-low emission vehicles, working with Innovate UK, its delivery partner.

Some or all of this research support is expected to be announced in the next two or three months, allocated through innovation funding competitions.

KTN hosted a series of scoping workshops this month in Manchester, Bristol and London to help OLEV and Innovate UK make sure this can best meet the needs of industry, local authorities, and EV users.

The workshops captured the views of industry, innovators and local authorities working to bring about this transition, and provided early insight into the objectives of this forthcoming multi-million-pound research opportunity

The problem

The government wants the benefits of EVs to be for everyone, not just for those with off-street parking, but, as officials at the workshops reported, current technologies have high installation costs, and in a lot of areas residents have mixed views about the aesthetics of these solutions.

OLEV said there’s now around 12,500 public charging points in the UK, plus about 85,000 home installations.

An additional 30,000 public charge points may be needed to meet forecast demand by 2030 as the EV fleet grows.

But, for drivers without access to off-street parking, the lack of availability and dependability of charging facilities is perceived as a barrier to EV sales growth.

In England, for instance, at least 30% of households don’t have access to off-street charging, a figure rising to 44% in London.

Ensuring priority access for EV drivers to street parking spaces with dedicated charging facilities is difficult, and cobbled-together DIY charging solutions are advised against, for practical and health and safety reasons.

The real need, as OLEV sees it, is for improved technologies and urban designs that reduce costs and deliver stable, attractive solutions capable of deployment across entire streets.

Another line of research OLEV is looking to support is wireless charging. Such solutions could, it’s thought, transform the business and environmental cases for electric vehicles, especially for commercial vehicles and taxis.

Creative thinking needed

The message from Innovate UK’s Mark Thompson at the London workshop on 3 May was that EV charging infrastructure is as much an urban design challenge as a technology or energy challenge.

“We’re hoping to see solutions offering a better experience, new business opportunities, and since the EV transition is global, export opportunities too if we take the lead now.”

In an ideal world the charging structure would be attractive and discreet; convenient; accessible; cost-effective; future-proof; scaleable; effective, dynamic and flexible in the use of the electricity supply; optimises the use of space; and minimises installation time and disruption.

Photo galleries are not available for content from the previous KTN website: we apologise for this.

Natalia Peralta Silverstone of Pod Point, photo by Tim Watt

Really complicated challenges

Two companies with experience of working with Innovate UK opened up a debate for the London workshop.

From charging operator’s perspective, Natalia Peralta Silverstone of Pod Point encouraged a ‘holistic approach’.

“EVs currently form only about 2% of new car sales, hindered by cited objections of range, choice, cost and lack of charging facilities. However, we’re now seeing 200-mile real-world range, choices are on offer, and upfront cost is likely to reach parity in around five years. Social pressures will also help with this transition: people will start to ask ‘why are you driving petrol or diesel around me, polluting my air,’ like we saw with smoking”.

“Charging is an ecosystem, and that‘s where it becomes difficult. The right charging solutions are needed in the right places and on-street is very complicated. No one organisation can do it alone. We need to develop a viable business model and technology, and bring a consortium of organisations across public and private sector together to make it happen. We also need to think about how we make the most of our existing off-street public parking in urban areas.”

Natalia also thought driverless cars would, “change everything when we’re talking about on-street”, and that car ownership trends will also have an impact.

Lucy Stewart, speaking for service design agency Snook, suggested a focus on service excellence. “Great service design puts people first”, she said, “… by designing from the perspective of the customer”.

Euan Mills, Urban Futures Team Lead at Future Cities Catapult, cited examples of technologies and use of data evolving the economies of cities; influences he forecast will grow rapidly as more urban areas could be created in the next 15 years than the last 9000 years of city building.

Joined up thinking

KTN’s Ian Stock, who chaired the workshops, characterised the opportunities as broader than EV charging, potentially involving new types of energy use in the public realm.

OLEV also seemed mindful that new ideas should simplify the lives of EV drivers, ideally while not disrupting other drivers, plus the best innovations could arise from new business models rather than disruptive technologies.

The workshops were asked to consider new technology and urban design approaches, and types of business models that could be trialled to deliver value to drivers and operators in urban areas.

Summing up, Mark Thompson thanked attendees for their contributions, claiming he felt ‘really positive’ about what he’d heard in the workshops.

“I think we’ve captured stuff we can really do something in from both domains. We’ve seen valuable contributions over all three workshops this week and I’m confident we’re going to get a really interesting set of competition scopes out of this in the next two or three months or so.”

To support the competition, briefings and networking events will likely be organised. Full details will be announced here in due course.

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