What do we need for electric vehicles to be a success in the UK?

The 2040 trajectory for electric vehicles (EV)

With the recent government announcement to ban the sale of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles from 2040 the transport stage has now been set for significant disruptive change.

2040 is a long way away of course and the number of plugin (battery and plugin hybrid vehicles) on the road is still only 100,000 or so versus a UK car pool of some 30m vehicles but this market has a solid foothold and is growing rapidly.

As a result, there is an emerging landscape of extraordinary opportunity for innovation, with extremely diverse stakeholders that all need to embrace change to give win-win outcomes for all parties.

electric vehicle charging points

Big change for vehicles and energy

The first obvious change is for vehicle manufacturers, which, I would argue, are facing the biggest change that they have ever experienced; bigger even than when Henry Ford introduced the moving car assembly line concept in 1913.

Secondly, our electricity system, which is already managing significant change with the growth of intermittent renewable energy, will have its biggest challenge (and greatest opportunity) yet with the ascendance of electric vehicles.

Electricity and transport sectors depend on one another

But, both the automotive and electricity sectors are big beasts that have evolved happily on their own for the last 100+ years, with completely different business needs and investment cycles but for the for the first time have a strategic dependency on each other.

If you think of the 12 volt starter battery in a conventional car, even the smallest of EV batteries today contain around 25 times more energy, enough to power a homes for a two or three days, and this capacity is rising very quickly every new EV model. Electric vehicles are therefore very chunky packages of useful stored energy that we need to work in harmony with the electricity system in terms of how they are charged and how their energy is managed.

There is a “but” though, as we do of course have that most fickle of associated characteristics; namely “people” behind the wheel! How and where those people want to drive and park their vehicles is somewhat unpredictable!

electric vehicle charging socket

The win-win scenario for electric vehicles

The win-win goal is for EV users to have confidence in their vehicles range capability at the lowest cost and inconvenience, and for energy utilities to have as much visibility and influence over when, where and how much electric vehicle charging is needed for a given EV user at a given time.

With the right business models, pricing signals, flexible solutions, consents, user interfaces and joined up thinking this is achievable and will ultimately help to keep costs low for supporting infrastructure, ensure efficient energy system operation, and ultimately lower bills for all energy users.

Changing vehicle use

There are other factors in the changing landscape that are providing opportunities for new innovations in this domain:

  • Vehicle ownership and use is changing

80% of new privately used cars are “sold” under personal contract plans (PCPs), a figure that is believed to be more than 90% for EVs.  So cars are effectively being rented, moving us a step towards a mobility-as-a-service environment. This could encourage people to experiment in this domain where the asset is one that they do not own.

  • People’s use of and attitude to vehicles is changing

Car clubs, car rental companies offering EV options and car sharing are all growing, creating new ways of engaging car users with the plugin vehicle environment.

  • Autonomous driving technology is being developed and trialled which will change the dynamics even further.

electric vehicle parking space

Many parties are affected as electric vehicle growth increases

It isn’t just about vehicles and the power system though, as there are many facets to this domain that are going to connect and affect people and other stakeholders, such as:

  • Local authorities will have to embrace a world where every car will want to plug-in “somewhere at some point”, and facilitate this in harmony with existing systems for parking management, traffic management, street works, pedestrian safety management, emergency services, building and highway planning to name but a few
  • Data will be of great value to many organisations such charge point providers. In order to deliver a cost optimal and effective charging service information such as the intended journey of a car, the anticipated driving style of the driver, the traffic conditions on the onward journey and even the weather conditions ahead will be valued, as they all affect EV energy use and charging needs
  • And most importantly the EV users themselves and their experience! EV users will demand high quality seamlessly integrated experiences and interfaces for charging, parking and route planning as a minimum, and want their EV to work in smart ways with their smart homes.

To succeed we need a vision, and your help in shaping it

To catalyse this change, and help the UK be a world leader in this area, Innovate UK has worked in recent months with a number of stakeholders to draft a “2025 success vision”. It is a discussion document that lays out many of the future possible innovation needs and value propositions across this complex landscape and we have now published it here for anyone with interest or knowledge of this area to contribute or comment on.

This is just the beginning of a process though. We need your thoughts, insights and ideas to strengthen and build it into a broader shared vision.   We want to create a living document that will provide a rich pot of innovation needs and opportunities to inspire innovators, create a platform for stakeholders to discuss and communicate their respective needs, and provide a consolidated view of the outcomes we are collectively trying to achieve.

So, please do find half an hour to read and contribute to this vision.  I think you will find it a compelling read!

You can follow Mark on Twitter @markrmthompson

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Colin McLean posted on

    Government wants change therefore it must incentivize industry to provide cost effective ways to implement widespread access to home charge facilities and major improvements towards car scrappage and grants for hybrids/electric cars if they really want to get this thing going


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