2011 was quite a memorable year. It was the year of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami; the year of the London riots and, for the Royalists out there, the celebrations of a Royal wedding. It was also the year that we set up Zero Carbon Futures in response to the closure of One North East.

With only one project in hand (Plugged in Places) and complete uncertainty about what would come next, it really was a step in the dark. However five years later, Zero Carbon Futures is still going strong. With our fifth birthday here this month, it has got me thinking that we really had no idea about what the future looked like for the industry so here’s my top five things that we didn’t know in 2011.

Whether these electric vehicles would actually take off as a product

The marketplace was a completely different place back then. With a choice between the Mitsubishi iMiev / Peugeot iOn or the Nissan LEAF, consumers weren’t exactly spoilt. And since at that point, neither models were being made in Europe getting your hands on one took a little more effort. The first Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) trials started in the region around this time which helped place 44 electric cars on the roads (some of those are still going strong today as we continue to drive three of those original Nissan LEAF on a daily basis) but the market has grown significantly with 30 makes and models now available.

Was anyone going to use these charge points?

In the early days when we were installing charge points in the North East, there were the inevitable rumblings from the local media about how there was no one to use them. We’ll never forget a particular news broadcast staged at a once-underused charge point in Newcastle upon Tyne with a ticking clock. Nowadays, try getting a charge point through the day in any of our City Centres – they are very much in demand. And at the last count in June 2016, those Plugged in Places charge points have infact been used 188,310 times.

Would we always have to sit for hours to make it back to the office?

Back in 2011, we were developing a network predominantly made up of 3kW charge points – because that was the standard at the time. Even now it’s hard to imagine having to charge your car for 8 hours to get a full charge but I do recall a time when one of the team ran out of charge and had to spend two hours on a charge point in Durham – just to make it back to Sunderland. Now the industry is eagerly awaiting the launch of 150kW rapids with talk of even 350kWh.

What was the political appetite for electric vehicles?

It was due to changing Governments that we found ourselves in need of setting up the company, and with a changing Government always comes a change in policy. However, the current Government has thankfully consistently supported the electric vehicle agenda with a range of initiatives to continue to push the increase of electric cars on the road.

What would the future of our business be?

I admit to thinking that our days of charging infrastructure projects would end with Plugged in Places. But although I’m not often wrong, I was this time as the team have continued to successfully develop electric vehicle charging networks up and down the country and we’re still advising others how to do the same. We are, of course, looking to the future and are involved in some battery development and energy storage projects, but I think we still have a few years of infrastructure left in us.

So that was the last five years, we’ll be taking a look at the next five years in our next blog later this week to anticipate what life at Zero Carbon Futures will be like in 2021.

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