In recent years, we have seen a great push into a more efficient, cleaner and advanced future in the world of transportation, fueled by ultra low emissions targets, new legislation, the emergence of electric vehicles and suppliers turning their attention to smart infrastructure and future technologies. Now, finally, we are on the tipping point of future mobility. I speak to the CEO of InstaVolt, Tim Payne, to understand how the industry can aid development in the electric vehicle sector. With a background in energy efficiency, Payne has identified that, although the race for EVs is heating up, there is a serious need for surrounding infrastructure in order to sustain the rapid growth and rollout in years to come. “Looking at the various different charging technologies and where they are being deployed, there are about 11,000 EV charging points in the UK, but 10,000 of these are slow AC triple chargers up to 7kw and only 1,000 rapid DC chargers,” he says. Payne looked at these figures and the road map for what was likely to happen and tells me that for EVs to become mainstream they first have to achieve a 300 mile range, which means that they will need to have a larger battery capacity. This creates a problem down the line as charging times will significantly increase as batteries increase in size. “Cars will end up charging for 12-15 hours a day, which is no use to anyone,” Payne adds. “As battery range increases, you need to increase the charge rate which leads you to 50kw DC rapid chargers, which we want to increase to 350kw over the next three years. This will keep charge times to a minimum for the increased capacity batteries.”
For this to become mainstream, you need a comprehensive public network of DC rapid chargers. Payne believes that the best place for these charging stations are in existing fuel station forecourts as this is a common location where people are used to refilling their cars. Ultimately, consumers need to be able to drive and live with an EV the same way as they had been with a petrol or diesel car - not constrained by mileage thanks to a network of charging stations around them. Once you get into this, electrification just becomes another alternative fuel source. Couple this mindset with government objectives, such as the ban on diesel and petrol sales after 2040 and the introduction of ultra low emissions zones, and we will start to see the public opinion of EVs start to change.
When EVs first started to appear on public roads, the only option for customers when charging was to plug it in at home. This short sighted approach meant that the charging capacity in people's homes dictated the capacity of the battery inside the vehicle, which limited the range of the car. Now, the current crop of vehicles we see today, such as the BMW i3 and the Nissan Leaf, are using 25-30kw batteries, which is as high as you can go with home charging. In addition, Payne believes that we may start to see stress put on the grid in densely populated areas and calls for a decent public network that can support this shift. “For people to be attracted to the idea of EVs you need to have a decent public network, but to fund this you need people to be using the EVs,” he says. “There is private money out there that is pushing development through investment into the infrastructure, but we must get out there and deploy these networks across the UK.” At the moment, most EVs charge at 50kw but all of the manufacturers that are now entering the market are looking at increased charge rates. To combat this, InstaVolt is installing plug-in power modules so that it can increase the charge rate as these improved vehicles come to market. “This is a roadmap to take our chargers from 50kw to 350kw without the asset becoming redundant,” Payne assures me. To achieve this, InstaVolt is working with ChargePoint to develop stations with plug-in chargers that allow you to increase charging through software updates, linking two chargers together or installing a power cube which will allow additional modules to be added to achieve 350kw.
The next area that needs to be addressed is the standardisation of EV charging stations, with some automakers using unique chargers for certain vehicles. There is some form of exclusivity for the customer, however this idea will only stall the development of smart infrastructure, to which Payne agrees. “What you are seeing at the moment with DC charging is two standards: Combined Charging System and CHAdeMO. The chargers that we install cover both of these connections, however you do have companies like Tesla which use a unique supercharger that sits outside of this bracket.” Despite this outlier, all manufacturers are now standardising through these two charging methods and this will continue to happen. “Whether Tesla falls in line or not, I don't know,” says Payne.
InstaVolt collaborates with a number of automotive, transport and energy bodies such as the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and Highways England to understand the different routes that organisations are going down. “From our perspective, we've raised our equity investment to deploy our capital quickly and we can do this working alongside others in the commercial sector to roll out EV charging in existing areas,” Payne explains. “This process will be much quicker than trying to do the same in the public sector with subsidies. At the moment, we are doing this as a fully-funded deployment of assets into the private sector but liaise with public sector bodies to make sure that we are all going in a similar direction.”
There are many different ways that the automotive and transport industries can work towards a cleaner future, such as scrappage schemes, ultra low emission areas and general EV support. Petrol and diesel cars tend to turn on a 12 year cycle, with a few exceptions, but Payne explains to me that due to the latest push for a cleaner future, the EV shift is getting closer. “The target was to have 80% of cars on our roads classed as low emissions by 2052, which will be helped by the latest goal of no petrol or diesel sales after 2040. I think that the statement will get a lot of people thinking about EVs, which will help the adoption of these alternative powertrains. 30% of people surveyed said they would now consider an EV as their next car, which shows that the public perception of EVs is significantly improving and this has come around really quickly,” says Payne. Not too long ago, people were not sure whether EVs would catch on, and this only shows how important it is for the government to put out statements like it has done recently. Coupled with technology improvements, it seems as if we are in arms reach of achieving a cleaner and hyper efficient future.
“I haven't spoken to anyone who's got into an EV and said 'I didn't like that'. Everyone who gets into one is blown away by how much it drives like a normal car - if not better,” Payne continues. Now that public perception has changed, the next step is to completely remove the range anxiety that seems to be the main issue for most and, to do this, you need to have the supporting infrastructure around it. As more money goes into the development space, the technology will improve; battery cost will come down and, ultimately, the industry will end up with affordable and efficient EVs. “Couple this with a public charging network and away you go - EVs will become the mainstream. The big question for many is when it will actually happen. We expect there will be a slow uptake in the early years but you will see a back end on this that will start to pay for itself,” Payne forecasts.