By the end of the decade, the number of electric and hybrid vehicles on UK roads will grow by more than 300%. Here Chris Wortley, managing director of intelligent parking company, Metric Group, looks at how well equipped the UK is to support such demand, examining who is pioneering in the space, and the role of technology to futureproof the concept.
The infrastructure issue plaguing EV charging
While the UK Government’s recent pledge to invest £56m into electric charging infrastructure was hailed as a much-needed funding boost, its ambition to have 300,000 public charge points available by 2030 is unfortunately stalling.
Such commitments to support EV infrastructure are positive – and will need to continue and translate into action, if we are to nurture demand for electric vehicles, and experience the undisputed environmental benefits.
Reports over the busy Christmas period of overwhelmed charging points and hour-long queues will only serve to hamper EV vehicle interest and sales, and we must tackle this.
Availability is one problem – with estimates of almost a third of public charging points located in London. In fact, it has been reported that Westminster has more public charge points than Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham combined.
However, reliability is the second issue, and was flagged by the RAC as causing motorist frustration across the UK road network.
Making EV charging more reliable and fit for purpose
Why is reliability such a challenge? It is because existing systems - some of which were installed more than a decade ago - are failing due to the technology they are based upon already being outdated. In addition, such machines are not user friendly and the providers of the service cannot charge for the distribution of the electricity, because no payment technology was embedded.
Of course there are a raft of more recently installed machines – more than 9,000 new public chargers in 2022 - but a portion of these are potentially out of action frequently because a robust service contract was never put in place. In haste to install such devices, providers must not overlook the service, maintenance and upkeep of the system. Plus the infrastructure has to be offered with a good warranty. Embedded diagnostic technology is crucial too, to alert the provider as soon as a machine isn’t working, so they can identify the fault, dispatch an engineer to rectify the issue and get it functioning as soon as possible. These are just some of the pressure points on an ill-equipped infrastructure.
My belief is that in order to bring motorists along on the electric car revolution, charging a vehicle must be as simple as filling a vehicle with petrol or diesel. It should be seamless.
In reality, we have witnessed an influx of separate providers developing a range of bespoke apps that the customer needs to download. It requires the motorist to access a mobile data connection or hotspot and possibly stand in the rain trying to find or download the right app from several they might previously have added.
And this clunky process builds anxiety among motorists, unsure of how to properly use their cars to get from A to B. How do I pay for my charging? Do I need to be pre-registered? Do I need to give my email address? Am I signing up to receive spam? Which is the right connection for me to use to charge?
In my opinion, infrastructure must be simple and allow motorists to pay contactless. The technology is there. Soon, advancements will mean that when you plug into an EV charge point, the system will recognise your vehicle identification number and automatically bill the manufacturer, who can take payment monthly for the cost of electricity wherever you charge. It could be that straightforward.
Putting EV charging on the menu
Providing electric vehicle users with a better experience is essential, and a joined-up approach can make the whole concept frictionless – and tackle the issue of patchy distribution of charge points.
While sat navs can guide you to a charging facility and help you plan a route to your destination, making EV charging available at places where motorists are already headed is a burgeoning opportunity. And some hospitality brands are seeing the commercial benefit.
Take restaurant chain Harvester, for instance. It tapped into the prospect to not only meet their environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets, but develop an additional income stream. The company’s Flamstead site reported its EV offer was used an average of eight or nine times a day, with a standard charge time of around half an hour, while motorists patronised the venue. It was calculated into additional potential revenue of around £46,000 per year.
Burger King and McDonald’s have also been developing their own EV charge stations, with McDonald’s CEO outlining a vision to have more charging points on its premises than any other company in the UK and Ireland.
The re-imagined car park
More efficient use of existing car parks is also an important opportunity to improve EV infrastructure.
It’s estimated that most car parks are never more than 80% full, and with the increase in cost of living and economic downturn we’d expect that to drop to around 60% - so the question becomes can we make use of those car parks for EV charging, and give cash-strapped local authorities an additional income stream?
Not only is this prime real estate, but we believe multi-use via EV charging will benefit councils and residents too, who might want an electric vehicle but live in a city centre apartment or terraced house, without access to their own charger.
Future-proofing EV charging technology
The future for EV charging is a solution that meets the needs of the supplier and the motorist.
At Metric, we are defining what this package is, across hardware, installation, software and maintenance. Importantly, solutions are needed that offer businesses a multi-tiered pricing scheme. It means, for instance, councils could offer at-cost charging to visitors to the local borough. Or taxpayers residing in that area could have their electricity capped. Restaurants could even target diners with EV charging offers at specific times of the day or week. The capability is there, and for Metric’s customers, we have a service team on hand to help 24 hours a day. When it comes to EV charging, we must collectively do better, and we have a responsibility to simplify and innovate, to safeguard our health and our environment.
The Metric Group has something very exciting under wraps that the team will be previewing at Parkex this June. Pop along to Booth P110 to find out more about the company’s new software offering.
About Chris Wortley
Chris Wortley is managing director of the Metric Group. He has significant experience of the parking, retail and commercial sectors having undertaken senior roles both as a practitioner and a consultant at airports, parking management companies and within local authorities.
About Metric Group Limited
METRIC is first and foremost a technology company. We design and develop new and innovative solutions for the parking and transport sectors. METRIC have a long history of being at the forefront of design and innovation, our company has produced many firsts from the first ticket machine to allow overlapping farestages and first all-electronic desktop calculator to the world’s first electronic pay & display machine.