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Ask the Experts – The Importance of Looking Behind to Move Forward

Our EV experts outline which challenges need to be overcome to meet the rapidly-approaching 2035 targets for electric vehicles.

commercial ev charging

As traditional as mince pies and Whamageddon at this time of year we ask our experts to take a look over their shoulders at the past twelve months and cast an eye into the future. Rather than ask them to consult a crystal ball – in the fast-moving world of the electric transition, any predictions would quickly be overtaken by events – we asked them to describe which challenges they believe will still be present and what needs to be overcome to meet the rapidly-approaching 2035 targets.

 

What do you see as the successes, milestones and changes in the EV sector over the year?

Alex Hinchliffe, Interim Managing Director at Mer UK

The greater abundance of multi-bay ultra-rapid hubs. Increased reliability and more availability of the right technology. The emergence of more ‘greenfield’ developments to create purpose-built EV charging environments. And many more EVs becoming available.

 

Giles Benbow, Senior Manager Business and Partnership Development | Mer group

My work at Mer is dedicated to electrifying commercial vehicles, focusing on heavy goods vehicles. From Mer’s perspective, we launched into the market in 2023 and have secured exciting lighthouse projects that we are excited to unveil next year. From a broader industry perspective, 2023 has been a year of rapid development, with technology, culture and legislation converging to drive interest and impetus in this mission. We expect this momentum to continue, especially given the time to achieve the targets.

 

Elizabeth Warren, Interim Director of Public Charging

2023 has been a stonking year for the UK EV market, with a huge increase in EV adoption encouraged by the ease of access to EVs via salary sacrifice/leasing schemes, like the Octopus EV scheme I talk about in this video), plus policy support and the spread of ULEZ zones. The uptick in usage has encouraged and supported much-needed investment into the EV infrastructure market as more and more CPOs rush to fit in multi socket hubs, such as Mer’s installs at Blue Diamond locations.

We’ve also seen a continued investment in the private workplace market as companies look to meet internal and external net zero targets by switching their fleets to EV vans and cars.

I’ve been delighted to watch the increase in diversity and availability of EV models over 2023 – from affordable Ora Cats to luxurious Porsches there really is something for everyone, with a promising second hand market building swiftly behind. We’re seeing improved battery tech and increased range, broadening their attraction, and reducing the much-feared range anxiety.

Overall, 2023 has been an amazing year for the EV sector – with a combination of increased EV update, technological progress and policy support driving the industry forward to its ultimate goal: to provide a healthy environment for all.

 

Natasha Fry, Head of Sales, Fleet & Workplace Charging – Mer UK

The sector has evolved somewhat during the course of 2023. Many challenges and opportunities have been thrown into the mix; technology enhancements, government legislation, environmental concerns, all having an impact on the decisions people make about the transition to alternative fuelling methods.

White electric car with charging cable entering charging portHaving strong alignment with key partners, recognising each other’s strengths is key. This industry has shown me that you have to be flexible and agile enough to react quickly to change and work together to achieve challenging objectives.

Choice in the industry is overwhelming. Being well-informed of the capabilities and whether this is right for your business, building knowledge and constantly challenging things is crucial in making those decisions that’ll impact today, tomorrow, months, even years to come!

 

Emma Spark, Head of Business and Home Charging Solutions

Highlights for me include Mer’s involvement with providing 47 sockets to the Metrocentre Solar charging parking, supporting the AA’s rapid response vehicles transition to electric, and supporting LiveWest with their own fleet transition to electric – the first 10 x E-Transit vehicles.

What challenges are still being faced in the sector you look after?

Alex

Power availability remains a challenge. Grid connection applications often require reinforcements and that can lead to delays of months or even years in some cases.

There are also legal challenges, notably a lack of understanding around commercial contract necessities for CPOs. Often hybrid property and energy contracts lead to misunderstandings and protracted negotiations.

Ownership structures and land rights can be complex, and gaining permissions from multiple parties can really slow down infrastructure mobilisation.

We do also need there to be more ‘fit for purpose’ vehicles, particularly in the commercial and industrial sector.

Giles

The biggest challenge is the business case to electrify; the cost of the vehicles and infrastructure is still very high, especially given the current cost of living crisis. It isn’t easy to justify increased costs that ultimately flow to the end consumer.

Emma

The challenges I have faced mainly involved the introduction of Solar to EV Charging projects. This is becoming a more frequent requirement which hasn’t previously been considered within the same scope/timeframe. We are having to work closely with industry experts to resolve the challenges this brings.

Natasha

I agree with Alex that vehicle manufacturers that design and build vehicles for commercial fleets need to introduce EV variants that have the right range and payload capacity for all kinds of work. Not all vehicles can immediately switch to alternative fuels (3.5T and above, converted, chassis vehicles, welfare units, tippers, dropsides, etc). If available vehicles don’t quite fit current business logistics, then a business must be prepared to be agile and adapt its operations to accommodate the switch.

Power will always be a tough talking point. Existing supplies will not be enough to electrify commercial fleets and the knowledge, process, cost, resource required to upgrade or introduce new DNO connections can be complex; especially now because we’re seeing single MPAN restrictions meaning 2nd supplies may not even be possible.

Elizabeth

By its very nature EV charging demand is volatile and difficult to manage – this puts a strain on the grid which needs extensive and expensive upgrades to support EV charging development.  As a result, this is one of the largest challenges we face building out the Public EV rapid charging points. Once we get the chargers in the ground the sector then faces the ongoing complex energy supply market that isn’t used to supplying a multi-site multi-metered supply on a business account.

EV vs ICE: Are Electric Cars Worth It?Urgent modifications to the supply market are needed to support CPO energy supply and ultimately protect the end consumer – so they receive a fair price at the pump. In the meantime, Mer will continue to develop and innovate our charging locations to support the grid and provide power at the best rate possible.

What needs to be addresses to meet 2035 goals and beyond?

Giles

We need to address the business case challenge as outlined above. To do this, the age-old chicken and egg scenario must be cracked!

We need to create scale to reduce costs across the board, from the vehicles to the energy. Scale brings efficiencies and will drive costs down. To do this, incentives are required initially, and then bold companies need to continue to invest in the technologies.

Alex

There does need to be urgent grid reinforcements at scale. Supporting technology such as batteries need to be more affordable as do EVs if there’s to be the mass uptake that’s required. We also need an improved understanding of EVs, their benefits and the importance of the charging infrastructure.

Natasha

Vehicle choice in the commercial space and their EV capability (improved range, better payload) needs to be addressed. Along with alterative power options (battery/solar etc) and a simpler more cost-effective way to introduce upgrades/new supplies.

EV charging technology is improving all the time, so this shouldn’t be a concern, but we have to recognise that the aftercare, utilisation, and performance of the infrastructure once installed is perhaps the most important metric for our customers. Simple, reliable, confident, consistent charging experiences keeping major commercial fleets mobile.

Elizabeth

There is still some work to do to meet 2035 goals, not just around infrastructure expansion but to bring in standardisation and interoperability between charge point operators. It’s important that the industry works towards clear regulatory goals, and clear government policy to ensure the successful role out of EV charge points at the right speed, in the right place and at the right price.

At Mer it’s important to us that our customers are well informed – we want to increase public awareness to support our customers as they switch to EV and share our knowledge around sustainability. This extends beyond the importance of a sustainable supply of energy to each EV to include living a healthier lifestyle; reducing family car use and encouraging other forms of sustainable transportation. Sustainability is central to what we do at Mer and the reason we are here. We want to ensure we hand a healthy planet to our children and our children’s children.

We would like to thank our experts, Giles, Alex, Natasha, Elizabeth, and Emma for their thoughts and insights. No doubt, the EV industry will step up to meet these challenges over the coming year and will reveal new ones to review at the end of 2024.

In the meantime, on behalf of Mer we would like to with you all a happy, healthy and peaceful end to 2023.

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