It's Time to Clear the Confusion on EV Charging
Words by Andrew Lawson, Director of Fleet
The UK government’s announcement in 2020 that it was bringing forward its EV targets triggered a huge amount of discussion across the sector, with many of our clients expressing both excitement at the acceleration of the shift to EVs, and also admitting they felt slightly daunted by the scale of the mountain we’ll collectively need to climb over the next seven and half years.
As an industry we’ve waited so long for effective and affordable LCVs to come to market that it is perhaps understandable that now many have put the acquisition of vehicles ahead of the infrastructure. However, the old worry of standing like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams surrounded by empty charging points praying, “If you build it, they will come” is outdated. The EVs are coming, it is really important that industry gets on and builds the ballpark without delay!
We recently surveyed 500 fleet managers to ascertain their progress, and while eight in 10 have a clear EV strategy, only half have as yet begun implementing it. With the 2030 deadline now only a couple of lease lifetimes away, that’s a rapidly narrowing window.
With EVs already making up one in 20 new commercial registrations, and with manufacturers eagerly pushing their latest models to comply with carbon emissions rules, we’re at last seeing electrified fleets arriving in volume on our shores. The question is how we’ll keep these new cars and vans charged, and so it is surprising that a more recent government mandate – this Friday’s deadline for all new chargers sold for installation at home or in workplaces to be smart – hasn’t attracted more attention.
Let me be clear, the mandated switch to smart chargers is a smart idea; our own figures show that they help reduce long-term fleet running costs by at least 60%. However, extracting that benefit relies upon effective integration of back-end software and intelligent scheduling of charging patterns. For many in the market that have relied on legacy ‘plug-and-play’ chargers, this involves a significant change in mindset. It is concerning therefore that in a poll of 500 UK fleet managers we carried out just last week, nearly half (46%) are unaware of the deadline or confused by its implications.
That so many are unaware of a significant change to the future availability and functionality of commercial chargers is worrying, but it’s perhaps not surprising. The change was announced less than six months ago, and the entire industry has faced a scramble to bring sufficient smart chargers to market. Even ourselves, who’ve been working on a smart charger for more than two years, have only been able to bring our latest compliant products to market at full scale this week.
The rushed timescale has allowed some unhelpful myths to emerge around the new smart chargers that we must swiftly counter if we’re not to see businesses slow their investment in essential charging infrastructure. One quarter of those we spoke to wrongly assume that the installation of such smart chargers will raise rather than reduce the cost of running an EV fleet. While there is of course capex involved in deploying charging points, the long-term op-ex benefits of reduced energy consumption through load balancing and avoiding excessive charging at peak rates will swiftly make the switch a profitable one, as I’ve mentioned.
The good news is that the wider business and environmental benefits of fleet electrification are clearly understood. In fact, our survey found that six in 10 recognised the commercial opportunities EVs could unlock for their firms, and more than twice the proportion of businesses expect the shift to EVs to boost (52%) rather than undermine future profitability (32%).
The fact businesses are no longer wondering if they should shift to electric is encouraging, but it clearly demonstrates that more needs to be done to explain how. Whilst the UK government has put in place a number of positive grants and regulations to support the transition to EVs, the sheer pace of change in recent months has made it difficult for business leaders to understand and implement into clear business plans.
In fact, our research found that nearly three-quarters of firms (73%) reported their adoption of EV vehicles had been complicated or held back by recent changes to regulations and grants, and over half (55%) stated that such changes had increased business costs. This is a real worry, these changes are supposed to incentivise the transition, so if the business leaders aren’t confident on clear commercial returns, then much of their impact will be lost.
EO wants to help make that transition for UK businesses easier, and as an expert in EV charging that is already serving some of the world’s biggest fleets, we believe we have the insights and experience to do so. But we can’t do it alone.
For the UK to succeed in electrifying the remaining two-thirds of its ICE fleet vehicles, it is vital that industry and the Government work hand in hand to build awareness of the importance of both vehicles and charging infrastructure.
The UK is a world-leading force in EVs, yet if we allow confusion to slow the roll-out of essential charging infrastructure, we risk shooting ourselves in the foot. Already we’re seeing isolated incidents of brand-new EV vehicles sitting on backlots for want of sufficient charging points. If news of the switch to smart charging is fresh information, or has you confused, I urge you to take steps now to review your charging infrastructure plans. The shift to smart charging by default, alongside widespread LCV EV availability, means that the bases are loaded for commercial adoption of EV. Now we must collectively play ball and unlock the full economic potential of EVs for your fleet, and for the British economy.