A recent study predicted the UK’s spend on electric vehicles is set to increase to £7bn by 2014. This is a very tough target, especially when we consider less than 0.1% of the UK’s 26 million cars are currently electric. However, electric vehicles represent a real opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and as more of the major car manufacturers release new generation models, we will start to see a greater demand for the vehicles.
However, there are some barriers to overcome. We really need a shift in drivers’ mindsets. Those who currently own an electric vehicle make short commutes to and from work and can charge their vehicles at home, overnight. This is due to charging systems currently taking 10 or even 12 hours to charge a vehicle coupled with a lack of availability of charging stations when out and about.
If we think about the way we drive our vehicles now, we typically stop to refill when we need to. With electric vehicles, drivers will need to get into new habits where they will charge when they stop, not stop to charge. For this to work successfully though, we need the charging infrastructure to provide charging systems at convenient locations such as shopping centres, company car parks and the roadside and fast charging stations in other key strategic and convenient locations.
I suppose you could liken the electric vehicles and charging systems situation to the chicken and egg, which comes first? For there to be a greater take up of the cars, we need more charging systems so that drivers can stop when they need to and remove range anxiety so longer journeys are entirely possible.
The challenge we face is for businesses to buy into the significance of electric vehicles and the importance of charging systems. At the moment, I’m not sure everyone understands the benefits. We will see the large retail chains introducing the technology into their car parks, businesses providing charging facilities for their employees and fast chargers in petrol stations and motorway service areas. I’m sure the infrastructure will grow rapidly, but we need innovators and forward-thinking leaders to do this.
In the US, there is already a business model based around harvesting the stored power in electric vehicles. At peak times of the day, electric vehicle owners can be paid to give back energy to the grid and then benefit from cheaper rates when the energy demand is low. There is a growing number of members signed up to companies where this scheme works and benefit from significant cost savings. With smart grid a coming reality in the UK, electric vehicle owners will hopefully be able to benefit from similar schemes in the future.