The Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, announced by the government in September 2019, was a welcome step to support take-up of EVs, but issues remain, in particular for business aiming to deploy fleets. The BVRLA, the UK trade body for companies engaged in vehicle rental, leasing and fleet management, highlighted several issues in its Industry Outlook 2020.
Lack of available EVs is a key blocker to deployment of fleets, and the continuing uncertainty over the impact of Brexit has been a blow to UK fleet ambitions. For instance, Tesla chose Germany for its first European factory, citing Brexit as the risk that swayed it away from the UK. Timing also has a role to play: a switch to EV fleets hard on the heels of bringing fleets up to Euro 6 compliance is a huge cost. The sooner government can give industry clarity on trade relations with Europe and the rest of the world, the sooner that certainty can support inward investment and boost EV supplies in the UK.
Data availability is also slowing deployment of EV fleets. It affects electricity supply generally and deployment of smart grids and smart tariffs, but for many businesses and consumers, operating EVs will be their first exposure to it.
In October 2019, the government kicked off a competition to modernise access to smart energy data. Also, Ofgem has been working with the Energy Systems Catapult to put in place data best practice guidance. The first draft was published on 2 January. With a series of stakeholder events taking place throughout January, we expect a new draft of the guidance will be forthcoming.
The availability of charging infrastructure is also a concern. This can be addressed by some businesses. For example, charging infrastructure installed at a bus depot can be used to run electric bus fleets, though this will depend on space at the existing premises. Businesses may have to acquire land and, to an extent, grid connection – engaging EPC contractors and manufacturers of batteries and renewable generation technologies. This can be a steep learning curve.
However, not all fleets return to a depot. For businesses with fleets of delivery vans and private hire cars, the key concern will be charging infrastructure along driver routes. There is a ray of hope here, highlighted by Zap-Map in its review of 2019:
• 17,000 public EV charging devices across the UK at more than 10,500 locations,
• 57 per cent growth in the number of new public EV charge point locations compared with 2018, and
• almost 1,000 contactless bank card-enabled EV charge points compared with 300 at the start of 2019.
But there is still a long way to go. Public chargers mean that businesses will pay retail, not wholesale, prices. This comes with the headache of paperwork, invoicing and expense claims. Regulatory changes will be needed, particularly to include sub-meters so EV power use can be measured separately from domestic power use. For drivers who rely on on-street residential EV charging, the government can enable local authorities and councils to invest and deliver.
Consistency and clarity of clean air zones
For businesses running fleets across the UK, the lack of consistency across clean air zones can cause a headache. While government has mandated zones in some cities, implementation has been delegated to local authorities, which have taken different approaches. Zones have different rules, and the associated costs and charges will have to be understood and modelled by businesses. Government guidance introducing some consistency would help businesses make decisions.
We cannot coast to a greener future. Deliverable, actionable plans are needed. The new government must drive forward its plans if net zero is to become a reality.