The Zemo Conference 2023 focused on what we need to do to make progress towards Net Zero transport goals, with a review of what the Zemo Partnership has achieved over twenty years. However despite lots of positive news, a recurring theme was Rowan Atkinson. Although best known for hilarious portrayals of Mr Bean and Blackadder, amongst others, Rowan Atkinson recently wrote an article about electric vehicles that was published in the Guardian, which contained a string of inaccurate claims about the poor environmental credentials of EVs – virtually of which have been repeatedly proven to be fake news.
Against the backdrop of the Zemo Partnership working effectively over 20 years to take collaborative action to move the UK towards low carbon transport – and more recently zero emission mobility – it was felt by many at the conference that inaccurate stories in the media about EVs were not helping with this progress. Rowan Atkinson’s article was often referred to at the event, but there have been a number of negative stories about EVs in the media recently (a Panorama programme about EVs also being mentioned…), and The Sun has been running countless stories against EVs.
So why does this matter? Because such stories detract from the big picture, which was conveyed at the conference, and which we have aimed to summarise in our top takeaways as follows.
This may seem like a silly question, but based on many recent media stories you’d think that some people actually want to breathe polluted air. The fact is, electric vehicles, thanks to zero tailpipe emissions, help to ensure that we breathe cleaner air.
The Zemo Conference 2023 took place on Clean Air Day – a day that ironically wasn’t a clean air day, because pollution levels were high. Dr Bob Moran, Deputy Director, Decarbonisation Strategy, Department for Transport – one of our very favourite civil servants due to Bob not being afraid to express opinions – was speaking at the event. He wanted to go for a run in London the previous evening, but the air quality was so poor that he had to go to a gym instead, in a basement, breathing in other people’s exhaled air instead of London’s ‘fresh’ air.
The ability to breathe clean air is one the most basic requirements for our health; air pollution impacts all of the organs in our body and there are no safe levels of air pollution; road transport (ie. petrol and diesel vehicles) are the main contributor to air pollution.
Apologies for having to ask another seemingly stupid question, but stories in the media that create uncertainty about the extent of the climate crisis or delay action to tackle climate change result in us moving closer to an uninhabitable planet every day.
The Zemo Conference 2023 was hosted at City Hall in London, so naturally a lot of focus was on what London is doing.
Despite the wide range of challenges of keeping a city with 10 million people running, London is seen overall as a success story for the environmental actions it has taken.
For example, as well as aiming to create cleaner air by expanding the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), London is aiming to create spaces for people, not just for traffic – we’re hoping that other cities around the UK are learning from this radical idea. A recurring comment at the event was that smaller, ‘L-category’ vehicles are needed in London, such as the Carver.
When asked how London has achieved such progress, Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor, Environment and Energy, GLA, cited reasons such as having control of the planning system – ie. how you can build a city – and having Transport for London (TfL) able to design an integrated transport system. And a key differentiator, which was a recurring theme throughout the Conference, was ‘strategy’… read on…
London has more than one-third of the EV chargepoints in the entire country. The reason why London has so many chargepoints is because, very early on, London developed a strategy. This led to a charging taskforce being created in London, which led to London having so many chargepoints.
In contrast to the chargepoint situation in London, Chris Stark, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change, showed a map which confirmed that the North of England has some of the lowest numbers of chargepoints in the country (although, for the sake of balance and accuracy, we should say that York’s charging strategy is seen as one of the best blueprints for city charging in the UK).
Chris Stark also gave a very honest appraisal of his own experience of charging in Scotland – without quoting the actual words used, we’d summarise by saying “more work is needed”.
However Melanie Shufflebotham, Co-founder and COO, Zap-Map, gave some more positive news based on Zap-Map’s latest charging data, such as there has been an 85% growth in rapid chargers (1,003 rapid chargers were installed in 2022, and 1,007 have been installed already this year). Perhaps most notably, there are now 140 charging hubs (with six or more rapid or ultra-rapid chargers). Because there are so many chargers, EV drivers tend to head for hubs because they are confident there will be a charger available, and so the utilisation rate is high. There are now also 600,000 chargers at houses.
Melanie also highlighted the improvements in public charging that are being implemented as a result of the OZEV consumer consultation. These include clear, transparent pricing, contactless payment for all new chargers that are 8 kW and above, better reliability requirements, and all network operators have to engage at least one roaming solution.
Lots of people have concerns about charging an EV using public charging infrastructure, but these concerns are generally expressed by people who have not yet used public charging. There is still a challenge for people who want to transition to EVs who don’t have off-street parking at home. Safety and accessibility at charging points is still an issue, and it was highlighted that women in particular are not confident about charging.
Bi-directional charging was seen as an important opportunity, especially by Octopus, who said that V2G, solar, air source heat pumps and battery storage could result in zero energy bills, although there were different views about whether vehicle to home (V2H) or vehicle to grid (V2G) would be the most popular. They key thing is to make any form of bi-directional charging convenient for the consumer, in other words build it into the system so consumers won’t notice (other than seeing a reduction in their electric bill).
“Will the electricity grid melt due to all the electric cars?” has been a question that has frequently resurfaced during the last ten years. Russell Fowler, Senior Manager, Decarbonisation of Transport, National Grid, confirmed that the answer is no, the grid won’t melt.
Having enough grid capacity at specific charging sites is a challenge, but GRIDSERVE is successfully using solar to balance demand, as well as battery storage.
Toddington Harper, CEO, GRIDSERVE, took over the former Ecotricity network of motorway chargers in 2021 and has since been upgrading and expanding the network.
Toddington talked about how, in the early days of trying to raise investment for the company, he was presenting to investors who had no comprehension about the market potential for electric vehicles or for the seemingly crazy idea of building electric forecourts. He had to use the analogy of coffee shops to convey the idea that new business models could start from scratch and grow exponentially.
There was one key moment when everything changed for Toddington: when the UK government confirmed that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would stop in 2030, as part of the commitment to Net Zero. This completely changed the economics for investors. Let’s hope the government learns something about the opportunities for the green economy from this.
Toddington also confirmed that the recent changes that have resulted in companies such as GRIDSERVE not having to pay massive network upgrade costs have been a huge step forward – although grid connections for new charging sites can still take far too long – several years in some cases.
An area where the UK is seen as lagging behind is in its lack of response to the US’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), and the action from Europe (and the ongoing amount of activity in China), resulting in clean energy investors choosing these locations over the UK.
And questions were raised about whether the UK government has been asleep at the wheel in terms of taking action in the area of EV manufacturing. Other than the site near Nissan’s Sunderland plant, the UK doesn’t have a battery gigafactory yet, and as we need battery production to be located near to EV production, does this mean that it’s too late to retain meaningful volumes of EV manufacturing here? Some people felt that an ambitious industrial strategy is needed, focusing on the green economy – the fastest growing part of UK economy.
Comments were also made about the government needing to enable changes to local authority structure to allow them to be fit to deliver on Net Zero, clean air and electric vehicle commitments. Many local authorities still don’t have their own EV experts, although the current Local EV Infrastructure (LEVI) funding aims to go some way towards addressing this.
There was one item of big EV news at the Zemo Conference: a battery has been developed by Nyobolt which allows you to fully charge your EV in six minutes. Most existing battery chemistries aren’t able to do this, and if you did, it would result in degradation of the battery. The Cambridge-based company has showcased a 35 kW battery in a Lotus Elise-based EV (anyone remember the Tesla Roadster…?).
A key outcome of Nyobolt’s charging breakthrough is that it should allow EVs to feature smaller batteries, which will therefore be lighter, so making EVs lighter – something that is desperately needed. With smaller, lower cost batteries, the cost of EVs could also come down. And fewer precious metals will be required for the battery.
Until we see Nyobolt’s technology in cars, in the meantime EV sales are still increasing – currently around 16% of new cars are EVs – and Bob Moran confirmed that the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate is due to start in January 2024, which is an important milestone. The ZEV Mandate will compel manufacturers to sell a rising proportion of electric vehicles before the 2030 ban on conventional petrol and diesel. It will require vehicle makers to ensure at least 22% of their new car sales and 10% of new vans are zero emissions in 2024. This will then rise incrementally each year to 80% for cars and 70% for vans in 2030, and 100% for both by 2035. Vehicle makers that fail to achieve these sales targets will be subject to fines, with a system of proposed flexibilities and credits.
In other EV news, it seems that passengers like electric taxis and buses, and drivers like them even more – they no longer suffer from headaches from driving diesel taxis and buses. And despite many people saying for years that electric HGVs would never happen, it seems that they are happening. We just need to develop a public charging infrastructure for them. The challenge of making this happen from a start point of zero was highlighted by Iain Mosely from Nyobolt, who recently held in his hand a 3,000 kW – yes a 3,000 kW – charging connector for a HGV… (a typical electric family car might charge at around 100 kW).
Back to where we started – focusing on the big picture, climate change and air quality are two of the most important and urgent priorities we need to address as a society. One person can’t do this, and one organisation can’t do this. Which is why there’s an important role for the Zemo Partnership to assist with collaboration in the area of zero emission mobility. The 2023 conference appeared to add a few more items to the ’to-do’ list of Andy Eastlake, Zemo Partnership’s Chief Executive.
The event ended with awards, hosted by Ginny Buckley, for a select few individuals who had made significant contributions to the Zemo Partnership over the years (including Prof Dave Greenwood, Warwick Manufacturing Group, pictured).
And back to where we started again, one of the most important areas needed to make progress is communication. Ginny Buckley, CEO & Founder, electrifying.com, demonstrated this effectively at the Zemo Conference, and Green Car Guide and Automotive Comms – two businesses that almost match Zemo’s 20-year track record of working in the low carbon and EV sectors – will continue to work with partners in the industry to create engaging, effective and trusted communication to educate consumers about electric vehicles.
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