Towards 2014, we undoubtedly witnessed a turning point for both electric vehicle sales and charging infrastructure development. New entries into the market by BMW and VW joining established models from Nissan and others really supported this shift, and changed people’s perceptions from ambivalence through to curiosity and now genuine enthusiasm. Talking to both consumers and businesses in my region certainly throws up a general sense that there are high levels of understanding by both businesses and the public about the benefits of going electric as the vehicles head from niche to the mainstream.
2014 was a successful year for the industry as a whole. Initial fears that the end of Plugged in Places would see charge point installation cease was unfounded with further infrastructure grants launched by OLEV which saw local authorities across the country continuing to build the networks. The number of rapid charge points also grew through this programme as well as the dedication of companies such as Ecotricity in developing their electric highway.
But I still believe – as I predicted back in 2012 – that 2015 will be the real tipping point for electric vehicle sales. These are my predictions for the year ahead.
It’s a slow burn not an explosion
If you believed the hype from some parts of the industry, 2015 was the year which would see hundreds and thousands of cars on the road. I always agreed that this year would be make or break however I always believed that these estimates were too high. A simple reflection on manufacturing capacity and launch dates with associated ramp-ups always suggested that these predictions were not feasible. However, the current trend we are seeing is exponential in the small sense. Figures by OLEV last October showed that over a quarter of the UK’s plug-in cars were sold in the previous three months with 5,000 plug-in grants provided in that period. This year will certainly build on that.
With this growth however comes a challenge for the existing network. We are already reaching the point where some of our existing networks are coming under strain in the City Centres as more and more vehicles hit the streets. I personally witness this regularly now in Newcastle and am often found driving round and round the City in search of a free charging post. Charge anxiety: the ability to find a free charge point is now a reality. The Go Ultra Low City scheme recently launched by OLEV is exactly what is needed to support cities to help build on what has been achieved and help further prepare cities for the inevitable explosion.
Rapid Charging is the king
Our belief, after many years of installing EV charging infrastructure and monitoring its use, is that people want and need rapid charge points. Rapid chargers open up longer distance travel which in turn will attract more buyers who will suddenly realise how electric vehicles could benefit work for them. The Rapid Charge Network project, a joint project between Nissan, BMW, ESB, VW and Renault of which we are a partner, will continue to work towards its target of 74 charge points across the UK and into Ireland. The project will be monitoring real time use of this network as it develops to help demonstrate the benefit to other European countries.
A huge amount of work has gone into installing charging networks, making sure that the charge points are in the right place and that drivers can access them through robust back office systems. However, it goes without saying that the most important thing to drivers is that the network is reliable and it is true that the network is still currently not without its issues. Initial problems have been caused by a disconnect between OEMs and charge point manufacturers but this is finally being corrected. The last major hurdle was the introduction of CCS units where stations now have to cope with three different vehicle systems. Enormous efforts have been put in place to ensure that reliability is being addressed and that 2015 will see the creation of a robust network.
Vehicle integration with society
With electric vehicles now established as a product which the consumer wants, we need to investigate the next steps. The full capacity of the product has yet to be defined or demonstrated. The game going forward it to develop investigate the potential of the vehicle to play its role in Future City development bringing together the triple helix of; grid, vehicle and community. This is certainly something that we, as a company, are currently investigating with partners and look forward to seeing where this takes us in the New Year.
I’m certainly not predicting that 2015 will see hydrogen vehicles become a common sight on our roads, however with the launch of models by Hyundai and Toyota, we certainly going to be talking about hydrogen. If not driving the vehicles but certainly preparing for their eventual commercialisation. My opinion is that it won’t be until 2020 until hydrogen vehicles reach the same stage as EV is now however, you never know, they may just sneak up on the outside.
And for us
And finally, for Zero Carbon Futures, we’re looking forward to our 4th year in operating as a consultancy firm in this sector. 2014 saw us developing a reputation as a project deliverer and we gained an enormous amount of expertise in projects such as My Electric Avenue, The Rapid Charge Network, HyTrEc (a European Hydrogen project) as well as working with The Electric Highway to support their network development. We are looking forward to taking this learning and focussing on new commercial opportunities this year.
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Zero Carbon Futures is an electric vehicle consultancy which manages and delivers projects which help towns and cities increase EV uptake.