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NewMotion celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. The Netherlands-based group provides drivers with access to 155,000 charge points in over 35 countries – the largest charging network of Europe. Over the last decade it’s grown to 300 staff members and has provided enough electricity to power an EV 46,000 times around the globe. 

On this week’s Mobility Moments we talk to Alan McCleave, NewMotion’s UK General Manager, about the benefits of V2G AND V2X technology and the impact of Covid-19 on EV adoption.

What has NewMotion learned over the past ten years?

One of the biggest things we’ve learned over the last decade has been understanding the full potential and scope of smart charging, V2G, and V2X technology. The main goal, of course, is to empower customers by powering their vehicles – but it’s really exciting to see all of these opportunities around charge points open up. In fact, in February we celebrated our tenth birthday with the world’s first V2X-powered event: an industry conference powered entirely by EV batteries.

We’ve also gained a much better understanding of the importance of charging in the overall EV ecosystem. I think it’s easy to see charge points as a peripheral consideration, secondary to the vehicles themselves, but they are an essential enabler. We’ve seen this as we’ve built up partnerships which powered businesses towards sustainability, such as our pan-European deal with leasing company Arval, alongside supplying charging solutions for home and business use.

Most of all, though, we’ve learned to keep trying through failure, and that it’s our people that make that possible. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing! For our V2X-powered event, for example, we wanted to put up screens visualising accurate, real-time data about the power draw on the EVs in the room. It took several failed attempts, and even starting a new collaboration with an external agency, to get there – but we got there.

What does the UK need to do to catch up with countries such as Norway?

There are a range of reasons why Norway, in particular, has been so far ahead of the curve on EV adoption, to the point that more than half of new car sales there are now all-electric. A major contributor was the early and ambitious decision by the government to exempt EVs from the vehicle purchase tax, effectively making them the same price to consumers as internal combustion engine vehicles.

Alan Mccleave

In our recent research on the state of e-Mobility, many industry experts we spoke to confirmed that price parity between EVs and ICE vehicles will be a tipping point for consumers – when their environmental concerns and their financial needs line up, making the switch becomes a really easy decision. We’re now approaching that price parity point in the UK: in fact, the International Council on Clean Transportation has found that it’s now cheaper to own and run an all-electric VW Golf than its fossil fuel equivalent.

At the same time, there’s a lot of work still to be done on tackling misconceptions around EVs and building out the infrastructure needed to support many more EVs on the roads, especially in the UK. Our research also found that consumers are worried about vehicle range and charging, which may persuade them to stick with ICE vehicles.

While it is true that today’s EVs have more than enough range for the vast majority of journeys, the most effective thing we can do is ensure that the charging networks are in place to reassure people that they’ll always be able to reach their destination, no matter where they’re going. We estimate that by 2030 we’ll need over 500,000 public charge points in the UK – up from around 18,500 today – to support privately or fleet owned EVs

Today, I really think we’re seeing that tipping point kick into gear. Recent figures suggest that sales of battery electric vehicles in the UK are currently up more than 200% year-on-year. To me, that looks like the start of a hockey stick curve. Who knows whether Norway will still be universally regarded as the world-leader on EV adoption in five years’ time?

With half a million charge points needed in the the UK by 2030, what infrastructure needs to be in place by the UK to cope with the demand?

This variety of charging options will help to build consumer confidence that they will always be able to charge their EV: charge points will need to be ubiquitous in the future like petrol stations are today.

Of course, there are various challenges that come with this infrastructure roll-out. Few existing business sites – whether they’re car dealerships, shopping centres, or entertainment venues – will have been built with the expectation of supplying the power needed to charge tens or even hundreds of electric vehicles simultaneously. That means that some locations will have to upgrade their connection to the national grid, but for others we can use smart solutions like dynamic power sharing to ensure that vehicles receive adequate charge even when there isn’t enough power available to charge all vehicles plugged in at a location at full speed.

Online-connected charge points also give businesses a more effective way of monitoring status and usage, allowing them to track the returns they get on their investments in charge points and making maintenance more effective.

On a larger scale, as the UK continues to expand the share of renewable energy in the national power mix, it faces a significant challenge in terms of the inconsistency of supply: it’s impossible to predict precisely how much sun will shine or wind will blow on a given day. This is a particular problem because the grid needs to be kept at a set frequency, which is affected by the amount of power being supplied to it.

Maintaining this frequency can mean switching off renewable sources at times and firing up additional fossil fuel sources at other times. Smart charging can help here: by holding off on charging until the grid has low demand and/or high renewable supply, charge points can help ensure that it stays balanced and that we get the most out of our renewable resources.

Describe V2G technology and how UK drivers can benefit from its development.

There are two important terms to be aware of in this topic. Vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, is technology which can draw power from the EV battery and feed it into the national grid. Vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, can additionally feed electricity from EVs into private grids such as office blocks and homes – and, thanks to innovations like more integrated components and cloud-based control, next-generation V2X units are significantly smaller and lighter than older V2G devices.

Regardless of which version of this technology we’re talking about, we need to get used to thinking of EVs as mini power plants. An EV’s battery can store an amount of power similar to several days’ electricity usage for the average UK household. In the big picture, it doesn’t make much sense to leave all of that power in storage when the vehicle’s only usage on a particular day will be a ten mile round trip to the shops.

V2G and V2X can put that power to work by smoothing over the inconsistencies in renewable energy supply, and even providing power to the grid over longer periods of time where wind and solar generation fall short of our needs. The benefits for the environment are clear: once this technology is widespread, it might mean avoiding the need to fire up a natural gas plant where the nation’s cars can fulfil the same power needs.

There are financial benefits for consumers, too. With a charge point that is aware of what’s happening on the grid, simply charging your vehicle when electricity is at its cheapest can lead to significant cost savings. In fact, we recently saw a combination of high renewable production and volatile demand due to Covid-19 push electricity prices towards the negative.

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What impact will the virus pandemic have on the adoption of EVs?

One of the few bright spots in the recent crisis has been the reduction in CO2 emissions and improvements to air quality which have resulted from reduced travel. Right now, it’s hard to say how long and to what extent these changes will hold up – but I do think that it’s been a bit of a wake-up call in terms of the kind of future which is possible. As governments around the world introduce funding packages to help economies recover from the shock of Covid-19, we’re seeing a lot of appetite for green initiatives which will help make these environmental gains a core part of the new normal.

Electric vehicles, of course, will be central to that. There’s no doubt that the economic disruption has impacted EV sales, but it’s encouraging to see that they have been more resilient than other parts of the automotive sector. In fact, we’re still expecting sales to more than double year-on-year, which is amazing given the circumstances. It’s taken the country ten years to reach a point where one percent of vehicles are plug-in; we’re now looking at reaching ten percent in the next four or five years.

Naturally, we’re going to need to put some serious infrastructure development in motion to support that uptick, and now is a good time for businesses building back from the crisis to look at how they can bring their strategy into line with the growing adoption of EVs. For example, we recently announced a partnership with Aldi to install high-speed 22kW chargers at its stores, as well as its UK headquarters.

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