“Every day, we should be trying to push the electrification of transport,” says Andreas Atkins, Ionity’s UK And Ireland Country Manager.
“The sector contributes about one-third of all carbon emissions and, if we’re really going to tackle climate change, we have to tackle transport.”
We’re speaking to Andreas ahead of Earth Day, which has been running since 1970 and attracts more than a billion participants from around the world every year.
“Events like this, if it works to help amplify the message, then great,” Atkins continues. “It’s great for everyone to do this. It can be used to further educate consumers and it helps support some investment that the government and private businesses are putting into the sector.”
Ionity, of course, is no small fry in the world of car charging. The company was founded five years ago as a joint venture between BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen. Hyundai and Kia joined as strategic partners in 2019.
“We’ve recently had our shareholders invest €700 million to help drive further pan-European network expansion and we’re going to quadruple the number of charging stations we have over the next three years with this investment.”
The idea of Earth Day might seem romantic and a grassroots effort but, without companies such as Ionity getting involved, there is precious little chance that much will change in the transportation sector.
Transforming How Europe Drives
“I started working in the EV infrastructure charging space back in 2012 – so I’ve seen a lot evolve since then,” says Atkins.
Back in 2012, electric cars were a completely different proposition from today.
Tesla, for example, now considered a beacon of change in the industry, had recently finished production on its Lotus Elise-based Roadster.
It was quick and stylish, for sure, but according to Autoguide, the ride was “still” and the interior could “use some work.” In fact, “certain trim pieces looked like they were installed by someone with poor depth perception.” Top Gear produced such a scathing review that Tesla sued the BBC for libel but the company’s case was rejected and the nascent Californian automaker had to pay £100,000 legal costs.
At the same time, the Nissan Leaf had been on sale for just over a year and, again, while its green merits were well-thought-of and even award-winning, its pitiful range made it far from a contender.
“There have been technology leaps as we’ve moved forward,” says Atkins.
“A big part of this is the battery technology. Back in the early days, the Nissan Leaf would do between 50-60 miles [official figures claimed an 80-mile range] but it’s now quite standard that a vehicle will be in the 200-300 mile range, which has really changed the ability of people to move around.”
Of course, while cars can go further these days, the fight isn’t quite over. Filling up a petrol or diesel car is, well, easy. You pull up, put the fuel in, pay, and set off again. Charging up an electric car, however, isn’t quite as straightforward.
“We used to have the term ‘range anxiety’ but now I call it ‘charger anxiety,'” says Atkins. “Drivers understand that there is ZapMap and other navigation systems and where a charger might be, but the anxiety is around having a charger than is available and ready to use so they can get back on their journey.”
Ionity’s solution to the problem is hubs.
“You need to have charging hubs and they need to be larger – four, six, 10, or 12 rapid charger hubs. At Ionity we aim to have six or 12 – 12 is our standard – rapid charger hubs.”
Of course, that sounds simple but Atkins explains that in order to change the way Europe drives – and to make it better for the planet – there needs to be a broader shift in the way people use and charge their cars. The petrol station model has become a bit outdated.
The Charging Ecosystem
“I always talk about the charging ecosystem with three main aspects and they all need to coexist to make this work,” explains Atkins.
“The first aspect [of the ecosystem] is home and workplace chargers, which are obvious, people need to charge at home and at work if they can. It’s the easiest and cheapest.
“Then there is public destination charging, think supermarkets, the gym, cinemas. People are visiting the destination for the destination but then they will plug in to charge as a convenience while they’re there. And you need AC charging as someone might be there for a couple of hours.”
For many EV drivers around Europe – particularly in the UK and Ireland, where Atkins works, but also in markets with high EV penetration such as Germany and Norway – these two types of charging will be familiar. According to Atkins, however, there is another type of charging that should complete the trifecta.
“Then the third aspect, which is what we focus on and is kind of the missing piece, is rapid charging for the journey. The reason that this is different is that someone is visiting the charger for the charger itself. They need to fill up and carry on.
“And this is where you come back to the concept of charging anxiety. Drivers are going to the charger and they need to know it is available and it needs to be fast.”
When Atkins says fast, he means much faster than present charging options.
“The average charge time across Europe on our networks is 20 minutes now. More and more vehicles, including new ones from Hyundai and Porsche, can charge in 10 minutes on our chargers so they’ll be able to use the full 350 kilowatts we can deliver.”
During that 20 minute charging period, drivers will be able to take advantage of a range of services.
“We locate our hubs next to food and beverage amenities because, if someone has been travelling for a couple of hours, they will want to refresh themselves – go to the toilet, get a drink and some food,” says Atkins.
“There are a lot of successful partnerships that we’re starting to see emerge and, for the food and beverage retailers, it can be quite significant.
“We’re seeing in Norway, for example, some of our hubs are seeing 150-180 vehicles per day visiting – and that’s with 15% of the vehicles on the road being electric.
“In the UK, we have about 3% of the vehicles on the road being electric. And at some of our sites, such as Cobham on the M25, we’ve seen 80 vehicles per day – just imagine how many it will be when we hit 15% market penetration.”
Supposing that each vehicle conservatively spends around £5 on food and drink, explains Atkins, this could generate hundreds of thousands of pounds for food and drink retailers, as well.
The Years Ahead
Of course, simply building more charging hubs will not solve climate change.
“It’s not just about the car itself and removing the emissions – it’s about the energy that powers that charger,” explains Atkins.
“In the UK, Ionity has a contract with Octopus Energy. They provide us with carbon-free renewable energy. We also had a station that opened two months ago in Prague, which is next to a hydroelectric plant. We are able to run a direct wire from the plant to the Ionity charging station. Wherever there are opportunities like this, we look to use them.”
Atkins also believes that, in order to decarbonise transport, cooperation is needed between everyone.
“The investment that has come from the government and the 2030 ban, is helping to drive adoption. There is better public education and understanding on the topic and I think, thanks to COP25, COP26, people are starting to take ownership of the planet – and there’s an understanding that the vehicle is a big contributor.”
“With more vehicles being brought to market, the more choice that consumers have, the quicker we’ll see adoption. Again, the batteries have already moved on a lot from 60 miles back in the day to 200-300 miles today.
“We need more charging stations. We need access to land in the right areas and access to power. We need support from the government on the power side because there’s willingness from private businesses to make this happen and invest, so if the government can help over the next year with power, the growth in charging stations will be well supported.”
Completely decarbonising transport will not solve climate change on its own. However, it seems almost inconceivable that we can solve climate change without decarbonising transport and, with help, Ionity should be able to help drivers do their bit – on this Earth Day and the Earth Days in years to come.