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GOODBYE, RANGE ANXIETY. HELLO, NEW OPPORTUNITY?

Electrical Engineering

22/06/2016

For many years, the issue of ‘range anxiety’ has posed a huge stumbling block to electric vehicle (EV) adoption. However, this is all set to change with a growing infrastructure, advancements in rapid charging technology, vehicle battery ranges increasing and the option of hybrids alleviating concerns around being left on the wayside. Here, Steve Everard, head of Rexel Energy Solutions talks about why 2016 is the year to get ‘range confident’ and how installers can help to dispel the ‘range anxiety’ myth once and for all.

Electric vehicles have come a long way in the last decade. They’re more reliable, powerful, and stylish, and cost of ownership is coming down all the time.

No surprise then that, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), demand is soaring. A total of17,000 hybrid and electric cars left UK showrooms in March 2016, compared with 1,354 in the same month in 2006. Looking wider, the market for alternative fuelled vehicles rose 40 per cent to 72,775 units last year, increasing the sector's market share from 2.1 per cent in 2014 to 2.8 per cent.

Also, Go Ultra Low, the joint Government and car industry campaign to get drivers to switch to electric vehicles, said year-on-year sales were up 23%, with more than 115 electric cars registered every day in the first quarter of 2016, equivalent to one every 13 minutes.

Indeed, while this all signifies a positive step in the right direction, the reality is that this growth is still marginal; after all, according to most recent estimates the UK now has approximately 32 million cars on the road. As such, while there is no doubt that the future of the UK’s automotive industry lies with EV, clearly there are still some barriers to overcome.

A range of reasons to say goodbye to ‘range anxiety’

Top of the list is the highly publicised issue of ‘range anxiety’. This is where consumers are worried about running out of battery power before reaching their destination or a suitable charging point.

This stems way back to the humble beginnings of the EV industry whereby charging times for commercial and public access were extensive, and the charging infrastructure was far and few between. This made ‘range anxiety’ a tangible concern and long-distance journeys severely restricted.

Fast forward to today, however, and the EV industry has really come into its own. We already have more than 10,000 publicly-accessible charge points located across the UK and many more new units are being installed in urban and rural areas in the coming months.

Also, the Government recently announced the regional winners of its Go Ultra Low City Scheme who will share a pot of £40m to invest in the technology and initiatives needed to drive demand for low emission vehicles. These include London, Nottingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes and four other towns.

Each area will use their share of the funding to build out the infrastructure needed for large-scale EV use, including introducing rapid charging hubs and street lamps that double up as charging stations. Other alterations will include allowing EVs to use dedicated bus lanes in city centres, and earmarking around 25,000 parking spaces for EV owners.

In addition, the Government has also announced a long-term extension to the plug-in car grant, backed by a £400 million package to treble the number of ultra-low emission vehicles on Britain’s roads.  This means that from this March (2016), buyers of the greenest cars can save up to £4,500 off the overall purchase price.

Looking to the future and it gets even more exciting. Following a two-year feasibility study, the Highways Agency is said to be trialling a new wireless power-transfer tech that it hopes to build under the country's motorways and major ‘A’ roads. Working in a similar way to wireless mobile phone chargers, if implemented, it would effectively charge EVs while in use - potentially dramatically extending the car's range and dispelling the ‘range anxiety’ myth once and for all.

Asides from charging developments, another factor is the continual advancement in charging technology. In the last couple of years we've seen improvements in charging times being widely available; coming down from several hours to 20 minutes - and improvements in vehicle range; from a typical 100 to more like 200 today.

Also, there’s the option of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which can be run on conventional or alternative fuel and an electric motor that uses energy stored in a battery. In this way, HEVs combine the benefits of high fuel economy and low emissions with the power and range of conventional motors.

Helping to dispel the myth

How then, can installers play a role in communicating the benefits of EVs to consumers more effectively? Setting out the facts about what EVs do and don’t offer - and challenging the common ‘range anxiety’ assumption - is an important step in making the sales message more effective.

We must remember that the average car journey in the UK is just 7.1 miles – perfect for EV driving. Given that the typical consumer would think little of driving to work or doing the school run on a low tank of petrol, the question remains then – why are we so anxious about charge range?

Here, it’s about changing the drivers’ mindset. If we think about the way we drive our vehicles now, we typically stop to refill when we need to.  With electric vehicles, one of the big benefits is the ability for motorists to charge up before they leave home. In this way, it’s about breaking the habit of refuelling as needed and consciously charging beforehand.

The issue is, perhaps, the fear of the unknown. However, as EV adoption continues to soar, the consensus is that we will see a new breed of EV converts spread the word of the benefits of making the switch, helping to take it into the mainstream. Equally, for the installer working in the sector, it’s important to talk to their customers about the benefits of the benefits of EV and dispel concerns around ‘range anxiety’, drawing on their personal experiences and knowledge of the industry.

Getting up to speed with the EV opportunity

This all, of course, offers an expansive and growing new business opportunity for the traditional electrical contractor to diversify into and, in turn, reap the financial rewards.

To begin with, training is king and the good news is that there are plenty of courses specifically aimed at those contractors looking to diversifying into the EV sector.

A good recommendation is the introductory EV charging course offered by NICEIC which is designed to help contractors understand how to install EV charging points in compliance with BS 7671, the Electrical Safety Quality and Continuity Regulations and the new IET Code of Practice. It is run over just one day and offers the ideal route for those looking to get involved in the industry.

In addition, it is also important to work with a reputable supplier with a genuine expertise in the EV charging arena to ensure the utmost in product quality, reliability and, ultimately, a best practice installation.

After all, a range of factors will influence a consumer’s decision on which EV charger is compatible with their lifestyle and requirements; these include vehicle type, desired speed of charge, access controls and reporting requirements if any as well as ensuring the system is future proofed for their requirements. Plus, when it comes to the new build sector, more and more local authorities are stipulating that as part of planning permission approval EV charging points must be considered – and in some cases mandatorily implemented - as part of a development.

With this in mind, there is now a plethora of charging solutions to suit any vehicle and meet all legal requirements. The offer includes various types of charging units to reflect the mode of charging, whether it is a residential, commercial or public charge point, or if the charging point is to be wall mounted or ground mounted. The current offer also includes standard charging units, ideal for the consumer taking regular short journeys, through to rapid chargers which use a direct current supply to provide a typical 80% charge in 30 minutes; perfect for drivers on regular long-haul drives.         

What’s more, at Rexel we recently launched a brand new online platform, designed to help installers get on board with the electric vehicle (EV) market and make the most of the growing opportunity: Energeasy Drive.

This new service is designed to empower installers with the knowledge, training and marketing support they need to enter and succeed in UK’s growing EV sector. On the platform, they’ll be regularly updated information and news on developments in electric vehicles and innovations in charging technology. And, for those wanting to find out how others have flourished in the market, success stories are available via a case study bank featuring installers who have grown their business through sales of electric vehicle charge points (EVCPs).

The website can also be used as a powerful education and sales tool when on-site with customers, allowing installers to answer any common queries, as well as correcting any misconceptions about electrical vehicle charging and electric vehicles face to face. For example, how long it takes to charge an electric vehicle and its range.

It is an incredibly exciting time for EV. Already last year saw the market hit record sales, a figure which is to be succeeded this year as more businesses and consumers seek to embrace the financial benefits of making the switch. However, on a wider level there is still work to be done is educating the masses on the benefits of EV, the charging capabilities and the extent of our charging infrastructure. As an industry, in this way we can look to dispel the ‘range anxiety’ stigma once and for all and make 2016 the year for range confidence.

Installers can register to become a member on http://www.energeasy-drive.com/uk/en/extranet. For more information on Energeasy Drive for businesses and homeowners, go to: www.energeasy-drive.com.

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