Five things we learned from Everything EV 2019

Last week’s Everything EV conference in central London bought together representatives from across the e-mobility ecosystem to discuss the sector’s direction of travel.

The Current± editorial team was on hand to report from the event, and here are the five key takeaways from Everything EV 2019.

The government’s lack of ambition only risks holding the sector back

The UK government’s stated aim of banning the sale of conventional vehicles by 2040 has definitely jarred with the industry, not least because Scotland, where the policy is devolved, has been far more ambitious by setting its phase-out date at 2032.

That lack of ambition has been widely criticised, and it was no different at the Grange St Pauls Hotel last week.

Labour MP and member of the BEIS select committee Peter Kyle was forthright in his opinion that such a stated lack of ambition, coupled with the political gridlock Brexit has created in Westminster, could see the UK cede any potential leadership of the e-mobility industry to international rivals.

Kyle revealed it was the committee’s opinion that the date should be brought forward from 2040 to somewhere between Scotland’s 2032 and Norway’s phase-out date of 2025, around about the late-2020s. While setting such a date wouldn’t immediately hand the UK a leading role in the electrification of road transport across the world, it would certainly give it a headstart.

Associated technologies are critical to business models… for now

Utilisation rates have been a crucial factor in making EV charging infrastructure work from a commercial perspective, with investors perhaps uneasy to finance installations without the guarantee of them being used and, as a result, those installs securing revenue.

One panel during the event zeroed in on this particular issue, ultimately concluding that while revenue certainty remains a barrier, there are ample options to sidestep it.

One solution that is becoming increasingly viable is the addition of additional, associated technologies to installations in order to bolster revenue ‘stacks’. We heard from Gridserve chief executive Toddington Harper, who spoke of his company’s combination of renewable generation and large-scale battery storage plant to provide vital grid services.

Utilisation rates will of course gradually decrease as an issue the more EVs can penetrate the automotive market, however the event also heard confidence in the rapidly growing electrified fleets market to play a crucial role in seeing the sector through.

Interoperability must happen, and at scale

It’s no secret that charging an electric vehicle using public infrastructure can be a complex activity. There are a number of different apps, cards, and accounts needed to top up an EV. Interoperability is a word being banded around regularly, often cited as something that will need to be implemented if EV uptake is to increase.

The need for a simplified, uniform charging system was stressed by several industry members speaking at the event, with Dale Eynon, director of Defra Group Fleet Services at the Environment Agency saying that charging needs to be made consumer friendly. He suggested making it so all EV drivers are able to pay using their debit card alone. Eynon also said that interoperability wouldn’t prevent the creation of unique products.

The need for collaboration was also stated by head of strategy at Connected Kerb, Chris Pateman-Jones, saying that “the time of operating alone is over”.

The need for consumer education

One thing that repeatedly cropped up in discussions during the conference was the increasing need for more consumer education, with many in the room agreeing that more was needed if the uptake of electric vehicles is to increase. Most notably, and of frequent discussion by panellists and speakers alike, were anxieties surrounding the range of EVs and ease of charging.

Head of roads policy for the AA, Jack Cousens, said a survey of AA members showed that 8/10 of respondents were reluctant to purchase an EV because of a perceived lack of charging infrastructure. Cousens added that more needed to be done to “get the message across” that there are more charge points than is the public perception.

Cousens’ opinion was echoed by other attendees. Senior transport planner for Nottingham City Council, Mark Daly, said that there is a lot of myth-busting that needs to be done, although he also said he believed the tide is turning.

Co-founder and director of Abundance Investment, Louise Wilson, agreed that people now wanted to listen but more had to be done to “cut through our busy lives and create the means of education.”

Collaboration is key

Of all the themes, topics and trends discussed at the conference, one of the most prevalent however was collaboration. The event was attended by representatives from across the supply chain, from OEMs, technology and solutions providers, energy companies and end users alike.

And while there is of course competition between those companies to stake their claim in e-mobility, there is far greater clamour for the industry to collaborate and hold the discussions necessary to drive the sector forward.

National Grid’s Graeme Cooper was willing to bet with any of the 225+ delegates that if they don’t already own an electric vehicle nor currently plan for their next car to be electric, then the vehicle after that will certainly be electric. That will require a countrywide infrastructure network that provides an experience as seamless and intuitive as consumers currently get at the petrol pump.

The only way that’s likely to happen is with a sector-wide collaborative effort, and Everything EV provided a platform for such an effort to take hold.

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