Electric vehicles have come a long way in the last year, and there is now a good range of options. There is still some way to go towards mainstream affordability, but price is rapidly becoming less of an issue. This has led to a fourfold increase in market share for BEVs in 2020 compared to 2019. The problem now is that the already inadequate charging infrastructure will become even more overstretched as the number of EVs on the road increases. But Connected Kerb has the solution – or part of the solution, at least. WhichEV talked to CEO Chris Pateman-Jones about the UK’s problems with charging infrastructure and how Connected Kerb is planning to help alleviate them.
The UK’s issues with infrastructure
“We see three main impediments to EV adoption,” says Pateman-Jones. “First is the supply and performance of the vehicles and the number of vehicles on the market. Second is the infrastructure. Then there’s education.” Here Pateman-Jones isn’t just talking about lack of knowledge amongst EV purchasers, but also the authorities in a position to provide the support to make EVs viable, particularly local councils.
“The supply issue with EVs is still a problem for second-hand vehicles,” says Pateman-Jones. “But the biggest problem is with infrastructure. There’s a danger of two tiers developing where those with the ability to charge at home have an easy path to switch to an EV. But it’s actually those living in urban areas, where home charging is more of an issue, who have the greatest need for EVs, because cities have the poorest air quality.” Underlining this situation, in a survey commissioned by Connected Kerb, of those EV owners questioned who could charge at home, 67% said they wouldn’t have bought an EV if they weren’t able to charge at home.
Although charging in your own home’s drive is the optimal option, this isn’t available to a significant proportion of the UK. According to the 2016 English Housing Survey, 34% of car owners have no private space to keep their car, and 28% more have somewhere to park but in a space where installing charging would be problematic. That makes a total of 62% that may need street charging, compared to only 38% of UK car owners who can definitely have home chargers. This is clearly a major impediment to wholesale EV adoption.
Pateman-Jones is concerned that this will mean that those who could benefit the greatest from EVs could be missing out and are not being given the right information about affordability. “High earners aren’t the ones who get the most out of EVs,” he says. “But the message that people on lower incomes can’t afford them is wrong.” He also argues that the present focus on rapid chargers is not the right strategy, because of this desire to charge near home. “Convenience and confidence are the most important qualities. There’s no point having rapid charging points if they’re always full or don’t work.” The current strategy is causing major charging black spots, such as the lack of rapid chargers in Wales. This is where Connected Kerb’s street chargers will be increasingly important.
No-membership rapids, but apps for local charging
“For ultra-rapid charging it's really important not to have membership schemes,” says Pateman-Jones. He has a lot of time for IONITY, despite the controversies around the high price that the network charges per kWh. “IONITY’s CEO doesn’t claim to have the solution, just part of the solution. It’s only for use on an exceptionally long journey.” For this kind of trip, it’s essential you don’t have to mess around with a membership and an app. You just want to stop, charge, and go.
However, according to Pateman-Jones, it’s a different matter for the street chargers his company provides. “In a residential setting you need people to use an app so you can manage behaviour. This allows the charge point operator to coordinate usage. You can track habitual usage to learn about customer behaviour. You can’t do this when it's ad-hoc. The customer doesn’t need to know when their car is being charged, just that it will be charged by the time they need it.” You already see this with home provider tariffs like Octopus Go, where a lower night-time cost allied with scheduled charging allows for cheaper battery replenishment. These variable tariffs exist to incentivise better use of when the grid is otherwise less utilised, when most people are asleep.
This need to manage usage is why Connected Kerb doesn’t just put one charging unit in. The company will usually install between six and 12 chargers on each street, so that the load can be balanced between them, preventing one of the common concerns about EV charging – that it might “overload the grid”. This also means that there’s no need for a dedicated EV charging parking space, which is not popular with non-EV owning street residents and also leaves itself open to “ICE-ing”. This is where a non-charging petrol car takes the spot instead of an EV. With sufficient street chargers, there’s no need to worry that you won’t be able to park next to one.
Local solutions to the national charging deficit
Connected Kerb is already making some progress implementing its strategy with UK councils. It has a pilot scheme in Windsor, and is also now talking to multiple councils about installing 3-500 chargers each, which will go some way towards remedying the current dire state of UK council’s plans. We recently reported that on average UK councils were only planning to install 35 more chargers each by 2025. So there’s obviously a lot of work still to do.
To help make its implementation more attractive for councils, Connected Kerb is employing a funding model that doesn’t rely on them paying themselves for the installation of chargers. Instead, external funding from banks that habitually back big infrastructure projects is being used. This is also where Pateman-Jones sees the multi-level importance of education. “There is a degree of NIMBYism from residents and people who don't think EVs are green,” he says. “But local authorities are also worried about making the wrong decision. They have a culture of blame and are fearful of giving a company too much of the market, where a monopoly might form. They’re also worried about installing the wrong technology.”
There is a particular issue with on-street chargers because councils also want as little “street furniture” as possible. Not only is clutter along a road unpopular with residents, but councils are also worried about how it will affect equal pavement access for people with disabilities. This is why a key part of the Connected Kerb strategy is for charging units with the smallest possible footprint above ground level. “Councils need to recognise that you have to put stuff out for charging, but these are not petrol pump units. They can be much smaller.”
London’s charging infrastructure could be about to encounter a new phase, too. Pateman-Jones hopes that the Transport for London framework set up around four years ago, which expires in June this year, is not renewed. “It was set up to deploy EV charging as quickly as possible,” he argues. “It was set up before better charging businesses existed.” The companies that are registered on the existing framework, which include Source and Ubitricity, have the easiest route to deployment. But their model is different Connected Kerb’s. “They pay rental to use a parking spot as an EV charging space.” This means that they have to factor this into the costs of their charging, which partly explains why these services are so expensive. Connected Kerb’s strategy, without the need for dedicated spaces, could allow for many more, cheaper-to-use, charging points on London streets.
Mixed charging strategy based on ‘dwell time’
However, Pateman-Jones doesn’t see street charging like that provided by Connected Kerb as the sole solution to the EV infrastructure problem. “It’s not a binary either-or,” he says. “You need a mixture. The type of charging required is determined by dwell time – how long the car will spend at that location. At motorway service stations, there’s no point Connected Kerb putting one of its devices in, because it doesn't match dwell time. But if a car is going to sit on driveway or street for hours, there’s no point in charging it quickly. There could be space for local rapids, maybe 22 or 50kW. That’s up for debate. But the vast majority of charging should take place where the car is sitting around for a long time doing nothing, so at work or at home. This minimises the impact on the grid, the cost, and is better for the longevity of the EV batteries too.”
Connected Kerb is focused on providing this service for the 62% who won’t be able to charge at home, putting infrastructure where it’s needed. However, the company’s strategy is to be much more than just an EV charging provider. “We’re aiming to be a smart cities provider,” says Pateman-Jones. “The kit you see on the surface is just a socket. The actual charger is beneath the ground, and we put in fast fibre data connectivity as well. This will allow us to implement things like 5G cells, micro mobility, wireless street induction chargers when that technology becomes available, air quality sensors, and data as well as power. It’s a much broader value proposition.”
The fact that Connected Kerb’s main charging electronics are beneath the ground is significant in combating the “street furniture” issue. “We can deploy millions of charging points without impacting the visual appearance of the street,” says Pateman-Jones. Connected Kerb’s charging equipment is also rated for a much longer life than usual kit. Where the latter generally lasts five to seven years, Connect Kerb’s chargers are intended to have a 15-year lifespan. They also make extensive use of recycled material, further accentuating their sustainability credentials.
Positively charged future
Despite the problematic state of charging structure in the UK so far, Pateman-Jones remains very hopeful about the future. “Our next generation of chargers will have even less street furniture,” he says. “We expect to be the fastest-growing charging operator in the UK, with a significant portion of the UK market. This is not because we want to dominate, but because it’s so important for the market. If we don’t ramp up charging infrastructure, the EV revolution won’t happen.” Pateman-Jones has already been in conversation with the UK government about whether the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars is realistic. “It won’t work if you don’t have the infrastructure.”
According to the Frost & Sullivan report, it was already going to take £16.7 billion to install the 2.8 million chargers necessary to satisfy EV numbers when the ban was set at 2035, which at the time equated to 507 chargers being installed a day. With the ban now pulled close to 2030, the rate will need to be increased still further. This is clearly not being delivered yet, but there are signs of hope. “At the start of 2020, a good conversation with a local authority would be about installing 30 chargers,” says Pateman-Jones. “Now it has changed to 1,000 chargers. The ambition has jumped dramatically.”
EV early adopters and enthusiasts can play their part in driving the uptake of the necessary street charging infrastructure. On Connected Kerb’s website, it’s possible to request EV charging on your local street – look for the button on https://www.connectedkerb.com/approach. Councils also need help being told exactly what kind of charging infrastructure is needed, and in particular that the on-street charge points can be nearly invisible. They need to know how desperate for infrastructure EV owners are, but that the current focus on motorway rapids won’t work.
However, as these chargers are rolled out, Pateman-Jones argues that we mustn’t lose site of the environmental issues. “We need chargers with a long life, low visual impact, and that are produced with sustainability in mind,” he says. “It’s very positive that the government is talking about a green recovery. The UK should focus its procurement strategy on an environmental basis. Whatever your perspective on Brexit, the UK has more mobility startups than anywhere in the world.”
However, the UK also needs to overcome its lack of grand vision regarding large, disruptive businesses. “The problem is how do we turn these startups into unicorns,” says Pateman-Jones. A unicorn is when a startup gains enough investment to be valued at over $1 billion. “The UK does not have a great track record in this respect.” Connected Kerb could be one of those unicorns. The company has its intellectual property secured around the world and plans for international expansion. For the good of the EV revolution, we hope Connected Kerb’s aims to become a single-horned mythical creature end up as reality – and the sooner the better.