According to the “Future Energy Scenarios” report from National Grid, there are expected to be as many as 11 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2030 and 36 million by 2040.
Here, Shamala and Claire discuss the positive impact of electric vehicles, the obstacles we are having to overcome to encourage more widespread adoption and what an electric future might look like
What, in your view, are the biggest barriers to increased EV adoption?
According to Shamala Evans-Gadgil, who is currently working on producing guidance to help local authorities overcome and navigate challenges around growing their charging station facilities, the main barriers are cost, the perception versus the reality of EVs, the range and the charging infrastructure - basically the reliability and availability of the chargers.
“There are several peripheral barriers such as there being so many apps you need to use, the connector types, having to have a charger on your property and things that might put people off wanting to use electric vehicles as it seems too complex. From the people I’ve spoken to, the main barriers are cost and a lack of streamlining in the process.”
This sentiment is echoed by Claire, who thinks we need to consider both long and short term implementation of EVs due to the barriers that affect both.
“Supply chain restrictions are having an impact and there’s been a shortage of chips to go into products - not just cars - for a while now. This shortage of chips has had a knock-on impact on the car industry, particularly electric vehicles as they use a lot more chips than traditional vehicles due to there being more sensors, cameras and other features.”
Both agree on issues with the supply chain, yet while this might seem like a problem, Shamala points out that “the harder something is, the more innovation happens and companies are forced to look for alternatives, which can lead to incredible results.
“This is already taking place with battery technology, where cobalt or lithium-ion isn’t available for the number of predicted electric vehicles, so they are now looking at different materials for batteries such as graphite and sulphate.
“The reason for these restrictions is partly due to the pandemic and closures of manufacturing plants for components and finished goods. This has meant there have been very big supply chain issues in terms of the rollout. There are also restrictions, particularly in markets outside of China and those that don’t have vertically integrated supply chains, that create barriers to the rollout of EVs.
“I expect this shortage will persist for another year to eighteen months (but maybe further) as demand continues to grow at a faster pace than the vehicles can be produced. The war in Ukraine has further highlighted the fragility of our supply chains and how drastically these can be impacted when unexpected but serious issues happen around the world.”
Both agree that there isn’t yet a second-hand market for EVs and think it will take at least two or three years to see an impact. “Once this does happen, costs will fall overall,” says Claire.
Shamala adds: “We are going to see some challenging and really unusual conditions in the car market in the next few years. At the moment, there aren’t any new electric cars coming onto the road, this means that we won’t have the same volume of second-hand electric vehicles coming off lease. To anyone who currently owns an EV, it’s actually appreciating in value which is bizarre. The car market has done a leap of four or five years in a space of six months.”
Shamala Evans-Gadgil (left) and Claire Miller (right).
Do you have any key insights to offer in terms of innovative technology on the horizon which can help with the adoption of EVs? What could be a quick win for the industry in its battle against adoption?
In Shamala’s view, there isn’t one solution for all. “At the moment you have two sectors that anecdotally or historically have worked in silo - energy and transport, which have never worked together before. And now are having to do so.“
Claire states that “going forward, we will see growing demand for electric vehicles which makes new and legacy manufacturers keen to get into the market and lean more towards EV production than Internal Combustion Engines. I think we’ll see other car manufacturers arrive in the UK such as Chinese car manufacturers and those that are more experimental. We’ll probably see a rise in novel models too - those we haven’t seen before.
“As a leasing company, we’re trying to match secured supply with those that want to get an electric car. We’re offering a salary sacrifice scheme which is pure EVs to help individuals access these vehicles with a much lower benefit-in-kind rate. Looking three to five years down the line, the supply chain will be more localised and we should see UK production reversing the trend of offshore, diversifying supply chains and seeing consolidation supply chains vertically integrating. This will be everything from the materials to the making of the batteries and the building of the vehicles. Through this localisation, we will reduce the amount of embodied carbon in the manufacturing processes themselves, shortening supply chains and reducing costs as we won’t be bringing cars from the other side of the world.”
Technology-wise, the solution is still up in the air. Are plugins the way forward? Not necessarily, according to Shamala. For some cases, yes, but for others, static wireless chargers are best.
“I think for cases like freight or buses and coaches, charging on the move is a very exciting technology with a potential future. Coventry City Council with its partners; Cenex, Coventry University, Electreon, Hubject, TfWM, National Express, Midlands Connect including Western Power Distribution (funder) carried out a feasibility study, to determine its impact on the grid and the viability of this technology within the UK road network. This study was completed in December 2021 and to summarise, we found it won’t have a detrimental impact on the grid and authorities could start exploring this as a solution. It does, however, need to be in conjunction with the manufacturers and that will come. So, I think this technology is innovative with great potential.”
An example Claire gives of the exciting future of EV technology is what can be seen already in places such as Lund in Sweden. They are currently trialling their in-road charging that allows drivers of modified EVs to charge as they drive.
“This has the potential to make batteries smaller and cheaper - reducing the cost of the vehicle itself. Renault Dynamic Charging [SI4] is another example of a similar concept - based on induction technology it allows moving cars to charge their battery as they go.
“Most people consider the only option for charging their EV to be a wall plug at home, but there are other ways. Yes, you can plug your vehicle in, but there is also wireless charging where you have induction pad on the ground and a receiver attached to the bottom of the vehicle, and you can also battery swap. All useful in different ways, these three paradigms of charging have their place but aren’t necessarily interchangeable. The economics and tech might not stack up for all cases, so we need to make sure we marry the technology to the use case and make it appropriate.”
“Vehicle to Grid is part of a government innovation competition delivered with Innovate UK focusing on domestic value. One of the technologies Claire feels we’re going to see is a shift from Chademo, which is the prevailing physical and software technology that enables vehicle-to-grid to new combined charging systems or CCS enabled systems. Document ISO 15118-20 was released a couple of weeks ago and standardises how different parts of energy work with each other in a data sense. This means your car and home charger, for example, can share data and signals to understand where energy is being stored and where it’s needed.
“Intelligent Octopus, our complex system works by taking signals from the grid and when energy is needed. It signals to say “there’s an opportunity here, we can pay you to turn on batteries you might have energy stored in.” We signal cars as well as grid-scale batteries and do things such as signal vehicles to start charging to give somewhere to put energy. For example, on a windy night, you need somewhere to store that energy which means when the wind has stopped blowing, you have that energy stored and can give the energy back. This is what we’re focusing on at Intelligent Octopus and I think customers are going to hear more about vehicle to grid from car manufacturers themselves.
“In terms of the technology that goes behind this, we need to know how the onboard chargers will work; so there needs to be a conversion of AC (alternating current) from the grid to DC (direct current) that goes into the battery. This needs to be done at a place along the chain from the energy going into your house, to getting into the car. Will it happen on the battery on an onboard inverter? Some manufacturers are going to have onboard chargers, meaning you need a charger on the wall at home which is an AC charger with the right power electronics to enable energy to move in two directions.
“As far as I’m aware, the chargers we’re installing right now, the forethought wasn’t there to think about making them, so it could be interesting regarding AC bi-directional chargers and what the chipset might look like. Some manufacturers might put the onboard charger on the vehicle, whereas others may not, so there might be another generation of inverters in the wall box chargers. There are going to be lots of technological challenges around grids, which could be interesting for the power electronics community.”
Shamala agrees, and also notes that technology should improve accessibility for EVs, making them available for all. “The disabled base needs to be a focus, for example, so they don’t need to untangle cables and so on. Autonomous vehicles will also be able to use static induction charging and I feel it has real potential.
“Yet just because we update and introduce this technology, doesn’t mean the uptake will be there. Manufacturers need to work to install the technology into their vehicles when they sell it, otherwise, the system just won’t work. It’s important to remember that the EV industry isn’t in its infancy, but there are still some teething problems to overcome. Every time this happens, there is a resolution developed and everything that’s being done at the moment is consumer-centric and based on user experience.”
Shamala also drew on the same proactive initiative in Sweden that has been trialling charging on the move with HGVs.
“This opens up the opportunity to make batteries smaller and cheaper, reducing the cost of the vehicle itself. This is for private use, but we’ve found in our feasibility study it needs to be beneficial to sectors like buses and freight, particularly vehicles that have a fixed route back and forth. Considering an electric bus weighs around 2 tonnes more than a conventional diesel bus, you would need to reduce the capacity on buses to take into account this weight change, meaning for every eight buses you would need an extra bus when compared to a regular one. By charging on the move, however, the battery size can be reduced negating the requirement for additional buses and the requirement of power supply for depot charging will also be a lot less.”
What do you think that an all-electric transport world would look like?
Shamala’s initial response to this is simple yet effective - “One word? Fantastic!”
Claire agrees, adding “From a mobility perspective, I think we will start to see electric vehicles in all sizes, shapes and scales. I’d also like to see more EV active transportation. Passenger electric vehicles aren’t the be-all and end-all of an electric transport world and putting them together with other forms of transport is important. It has you thinking “how am I travelling and what am I doing?
“Mobility as a service will become something we all understand a lot more and it will be the norm to not own but lease or borrow your vehicle. People are now a lot more interested in getting access to the experiences and services they need and generational shifts will see people move away from the “outright purchase” era.”
Claire adds: “A positive thing to think about is when we have all these electric vehicles of different scales on the roads, we are forging ahead with replacing burning fossil fuels to make energy with wind and solar instead. The challenge is we can’t make the sun shine or the wind blow, but we can store the energy when it’s being made to use when it’s not available.
“If you think about vehicles, you have a car with an electric propulsion unit, so essentially a battery on wheels - something I’m excited about and the prospects it introduces. From your car to a bus in a depot, no matter the shape or size there are places to store renewable energy, which is just fantastic. It means you can do a lot more with the grid that we’ve got. Each car that you lease is a way to store renewable energy and they will be able to support the grid in the future as well.”
Shamala states, “I am part of a project with Western Power Distribution which finishes at the end of this month and has been going on for a year. My understanding is that it has been successful which is a positive sign moving forward for the industry. There are many projects like this happening and the National Grid also says there aren’t any problems with power. Instead, they just need to upgrade the infrastructure, allowing the bi-directional flow to happen. Network operators are working on this and Ofgem have recently published their strategy, so I don’t think there will be power blackouts going forward Instead, I think the air quality, public health and traffic on the road will improve.”
Both predict that the ownership of cars will reduce, as local and transport authorities need to provide multiple means of transport. “Once that’s been done and there’s good awareness around public health on fitness, wellbeing and the like, more people will use it.” Shamala states. “This is starting to happen and there is funding available to generate better public transportation. If there is a good network for electric bikes, electric scooters, car clubs and the like, people aren’t going to want to purchase a vehicle if it’s just going to be sat on their drive most of the time. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day so this will be a slow process, but it will be great when it does happen.”
Claire also points out that the types of vehicles we own are likely to change, embracing the flexibility of EVs. “If people do mostly short journeys, they will get a short-range vehicle, but if they need to go further away, could look to swap their battery for a longer range one for that trip. It will be more about versatility and changing to suit needs as and when they’re required.”
Shamala, you have said that the biggest challenge for you at PEMD 2022 is actually getting to Newcastle as your 100% electric car doesn’t have enough charging stations between your home and the conference. What would you like to see happen over the next two years so that this isn’t a problem when PEMD 2024 comes around?
“My car at the moment does about 100 motorway miles comfortably on my 40kilowatt battery, or 110 if I don’t have any other features of the car turned on. To get to Newcastle I would need to charge my car possibly twice, taking an hour and twenty minutes on top of the existing journey time. This would mean travelling for six hours just to be there for one hour.
“To combat this, I think a strategic charging network and more coverage elements from the Government with their EV strategy are needed. There is a large funding pot for public chargers both for motorway and rapid chargers ready and waiting, so once this is done, I think I will be saying something different.”
Claire added: “I’m very heartened by the level of investment the government is committed to in terms of a variety of charging infrastructure, as well as the high levels of innovation in this space. This doesn’t just apply to putting chargers in the ground at public charge point locations, but also novel ways of getting access to charging such as community charging services where you can rent someone’s charger and drive away like you would an Airbnb. There is a lot of work going on around street charging and community charging, offering points where it’s convenient rather than having to make a special journey to do it.
“There are also other interesting businesses growing around this that charge companies who will come to you, such as Charge Fairy or Oomph. They can also do things such as unlocking your charging port remotely, charging your vehicle at night and more. And battery swapping company Niois massive in China and just starting a pilot in the Netherlands around battery swapping.
“Zip Charge in the UK is another company, offering suitcase-sized chargers you can charge from a three-point plug, can give you a 40 to a 50-mile range and you don’t require any special plugs. For those doing less than ten miles a day, it’s ideal to just top up your charge on the go.
“Some of these innovations will inevitably fall to the wayside, but it’s interesting to see these things mature. We need to get past range anxiety and consider the best ways to charge. I think it will be more nuanced and localised to the solutions that work for different communities. For example, what works for a large city area with lots of high rises, might not work so well for those in a rural area as they’re further from the main supply. But this is where group connection charging can come in. From sharing batteries to having batteries that slowly charge from the grid according to your connection that can rapidly charge your vehicle, there are many options.
I’m keen to support the fundamental research into materials that go into semiconductors and the manufacturing facilities in the UK. The Faraday Institute and the Faraday Battery Challenge is a fantastic way to support battery manufacturing supply chain R&D from a very early scale. I would love to see the fundamental material science and where the funding could go to bring communities together.”