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  • Writer's pictureHersh Thaker

Electric Vehicles Now

The transition to electric vehicle ownership should not be assumed. A progressive government must do more, argues Hersh Thaker - This articles was first published on

The United Kingdom’s transport network is now the largest contributor to our greenhouse gases according to a report by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BIES). With the glittering headlines of new electric vehicle (EV) model announcements and ambitious new government targets, you can be forgiven for believing we are further ahead of the curve than we really are.

The reality is that air pollution levels in cities like London are at hazardous levels, greenhouse gasses from our transport network are unsustainably high and as of 2017 EV’s only accounted for around two per cent of the new car market in the UK. The case to accelerate the transition to a lower carbon transport system is clear, but it should not be assumed. If the government is serious about meeting its target of every new car and van sold by 2040 being an ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV), then it needs to do more.

Changing the game

A McKinsey 2016 EV consumer survey showed that not having enough access to charging points is one of the biggest barriers for consumers think of switching to EVs. With improvements to the technology bringing down cost and increasing the range of the vehicles, charging infrastructure will inevitably become the biggest barrier to entry for consumers.

You could argue that combined home, work and some strategically placed long-distance charging locations could cover an owner’s entire energy demand. This might be true of today’s early adopter drivers who are more willing to compromise, and it might be true for drivers who use an EV as a second car only for commuting or errands. However, this scenario does not work when considering the scale of ownership we should be aspiring for.

As EV ownership becomes mainstream, charging will likely shift toward public options and away from the home over time, as middle and lower income households without home charging options own EV’s. Additionally, the millennial generation opting to lease, hire or use car clubs, yet again builds the case for charging at public facilities and away from the home.

The case for more rapid public charging infrastructure is clear. Progressives must push for government action to create an environment that encourages operators to enter the market and makes it easier for drivers to access the current network. There are many tools at the government’s disposal. Each could be an article topic of its own and therefore I will focus on just one. I believe that mandating interoperability is a low hanging fruit which would almost immediately make driving an EV in the UK easier and bring us in line with our European peers.

It’s the single subscription, stupid

Interoperability is the ability for various systems to work together. For EVs, this means giving the driver the ability to use any charging infrastructure wherever it is located and whoever it is operated by, as is the case in most mainland European countries today.

In the UK, drivers are required to sign up with each individual charge post operator in order to access their network. With contactless payment still an extremely rare luxury and cash payment a distant dream, there is little option but for drivers but to conform. This means a return journey from London to Manchester could require signing up to three different schemes just to be able to charge on the way. This is like asking regular car drivers to sign up to be a member of a fuel programme with Shell, Esso, BP and Tesco, and to use custom payment cards in order to fill up petrol at their stations. Bizarre – who would put themselves through all that extra stress?

Interoperability would mean a driver requires only a single subscription and a single method of payment in order to access all charge posts. This has to be the first step if we want to make large scale EV ownership to make sense in the UK. Elon Musk put it extremely succinctly that “you have to match the convenience of the gasoline car in order for people to buy an electric car”. Interoperability goes a long way to achieving this goal.

Making the market fair

Free market purists could argue that if the demand from the consumer is strong enough, eventually something will give and the operators will open up their network, just as they have done across the rest of Europe. I’m not so sure.

The market in the UK is dominated by a few big players that are vehemently protecting their network in order to grow their own customer base. Take for example, BP Charge master who have network scale and exclusive contracts to install infrastructure in many UK cities. Or take Ecotricity, who have a monopoly over motorway sites. These operators have little incentive to open up their network since they risk losing the relationship with a customer who could use their network without ever signing up with them. Thus, with very little incentive for some of the established players the only losers here are the drivers, smaller operators and new entrants.

The first steps toward interoperability have been made by the current government. The Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Act 2018 granted a series of powers around improving access and availability of charging infrastructure. One of the most important of those powers was to “oblige charge point network operators to allow interoperability between networks”. If the government is serious about this they have to be bold and enforce this power through secondary legislation.

This is a complicated area and there is no one size fits all solution to speeding up the transition to a cleaner transport system. There is a responsibility on the consumer to make the right choices, a role for the car manufacturers to produce the right vehicles and a responsibility for operators to build the right infrastructure.

However, considering all the factors at play here, the government has to step in and make sure this technology is truly available for everyone.


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