Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from Thriev

About Thriev

This evidence is submitted by Thriev, an urban mobility company that will launch a large-scale on-demand chauffeured car service with an entirely electric vehicle (“EV”) fleet later this year. Thriev’s EV fleet will be largest in the world, with investment in fast charging points across London as well as IT technology to optimise the investment. This approach will allow Thriev to maximise investment in cars as well as the fast charging points.

Thriev seeks to dramatically reduce parking and traffic congestion by providing a chauffeured travel service at lower cost than car ownership for up to 0.7 million registered private vehicle owners in London (of the total vehicle population of 2.5 million). By replicating the “on-demand” convenience of car ownership, but at lower cost for 30% of registered car owners in London, Thriev will enable a substantial and long-term reduction of privately owned parked vehicles in London’s streets. This will transform the urban transportation environment and lead to a step change in perceptions of electric cars. It will also have a significant and positive impact on vehicle CO2 emission levels.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has put forward five questions on the subject of low-carbon vehicles:

1.Contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport.

2.Uptake of plug-in vehicles and how this can be improved.

3.Effectiveness of the Plugged In Places scheme.

4.Role of plug-in vehicles alongside other technology to reduce carbon emissions from road transport.

5.Action from other countries taken to encourage the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

Thriev is pleased to offer evidence on all these points.

Summary of Thriev’s View

Improving the uptake of electric plug-in vehicles and maximising their potential to decarbonise road transport requires overcoming a range of currently existing barriers and obstacles, including:

The lack of leadership in EV take-up due to the current inability of industry to demonstrate economic viability and practicality of EV use in commercial or domestic settings;

The upfront capital costs of electric vehicles;

Range anxiety, confounded by the limited availability of accessible and fit-for-purpose charging infrastructure regarding power capacity and charge speed and the limited interoperability of charging networks within one geographical zone;

The lack of access to parking near available charge points and the disincentive of parking fees levied to access “public” charging infrastructure.

To address these challenges, Thriev recommends for the Transport Select Committee to consider ways in which central government could:

Target higher (financial) incentives towards rapid-charge, high-utilisation charging infrastructure, particularly charging factories, put in place by organisations which are able to demonstrate economic viability alongside acquisition of large pure EV fleets;

Make available publicly controlled sites and spaces for the construction of charging infrastructure;

Ensure the interoperability of charging points across geographical zones, or even, UK-wide;

Introduce access to free parking for EVs and increase the number of “EV-only” parking spots across London and other localities;

Learn lessons from the Norwegian example of subsidising EVs, particularly with a view to introducing tax exemptions and other benefits for EVs.

1.0 Contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport

1.1 The contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport will be significant, especially as infrastructure and public confidence grows. Infrastructure and public confidence are two areas where Thriev will have a major impact. Thriev believes perceived limitations, such as range, of pure electric vehicles (EVs) can be overcome by a change in vehicle usage habits and the application of smart technology. According to London Travel Demand Survey 2011, 2% and 4.6% of Londoners changed their travel habits in 2009–10 for environmental or cost factors. Combined with EV technology, vehicle usage habits will have a long-term sustainable impact to decarbonise transportation. The statistics on carbon emissions per mile for electric vehicles vs petrol vehicles speak for themselves.

1.2 The benefit of plug-in vehicles shouldn’t be looked at only in terms of carbon, but in terms of noise and air pollution. This is particularly true within London.

1.3 Carbon emitting vehicles create breathing difficulties and are unpleasant for cyclists. These vehicles therefore discourage people from cycling in London. Thriev believes a change from using internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to using pure electric vehicles will multiply the effect of decarbonisation since less CO2 emitting vehicles will make cycling more appealing.

1.4 Not least, decarbonisation of transport would have a positive impact on the UK’s current account deficit. Thriev alone will save 40 million litres of fuel annually (£50 million at retail) on its fleet of 5,000 vehicles. Those vehicles will be manufactured in the UK adding a further lift to the UK economy.

2.0 Uptake of plug-in vehicles and how this can be improved

2.1 In this section, Thriev outlines solutions to these key challenges that impact uptake of plug-in vehicles:

Utilisation and upfront capital cost of the vehicle.

Limited available charging infrastructure.

Infrastructure needs to be fit for purpose: power capacity, charge speed, availability.

Scheduling and queuing technology.

Range anxiety.

Access to parking near a charge point.

Lack of leadership in EV take-up: industry has yet to demonstrate economic viability and practicality of electric vehicle use in either commercial or domestic applications.

2.2 Envisaged utilisation of electric vehicles at less than 12,000 miles per annum, coupled with the high upfront capital cost, does not provide attractive overall cost savings compared to ICE vehicles.

2.3 Due to a perceived lack of economic attractiveness caused by the high upfront capital costs, and other limiting factors explained in this submission, government incentives have yet to encourage a meaningful uptake of plug-in vehicles.

2.4 Uptake can be improved by increasing incentives targeted at high utilisation EV users (40,000+ miles/annum). This will encourage a sustainable and substantive (not presentational) uptake of electric vehicles based on sound economic principles.

2.5 A profound increase in charge point infrastructure is required in order to facilitate charging of electric vehicles by potential users that do not have guaranteed access to a charge point either at home or at work. The 2013 target of 1,300 public infrastructure charge points in London would need in the region of 20 days of back-to-back charging to “refuel” the London target of 100,000 plug-in vehicles. Thriev proposes that the government offers greater incentives for investment in charging infrastructure to firms that acquire large fleets of pure electric vehicles (EV).

2.6 New infrastructure needs to be fit for purpose. A) Many existing London charge points are located in car parks that charge a per hour access rate, in addition to charge scheme membership fees. This acts as a disincentive to vehicle charging. B) Much of the existing London charge infrastructure is “slow-charge” (3.7kw), not practical for high volume usage since it takes six to eight hours to charge a mid-range EV. Thriev proposes that incentives are directed at investment in rapid-charge infrastructure only.

2.7 Infrastructure needs to be installed side-by-side with technology that enables intelligent allocation of vehicles to charge points, and virtual queuing.

2.8 Lack of public confidence in electric vehicles’ range, known as “range anxiety”, is a major barrier to uptake of plug-in vehicles. Although some EVs have a range of up to 100 miles, the usage model as different from the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle has yet to gain acceptance. Public confidence in electric vehicles’ range and speeds needs to grow before this can change. This change would be assisted by the existence of large fleets that demonstrate a viable usage scenario for EVs. This is likely to be achieved only by electrification of large corporate and public fleets.

2.9 Access to charge points for many Londoners is prohibitive both at home and at work. To overcome this challenge, grants should be provided to encourage development of fast-charging factories (where vehicles can be charged within 20mins to 80% of full charge). These could be located in “off-prime” locations. If widespread enough, these factories would provide comfort to electric vehicles owners of a “guaranteed” charge facility. Moreover, Thriev recommends that the government extend incentives based not merely on financial stimulants, but on access benefits to sites that could be dedicated to vehicle charging. Using publically controlled sites for charging EVs would go a long way to solving the charging challenge, and take-up would be encouraged. Thriev, for example, would invest in industrial, commercial, derelict or other sites to create charging factories for vehicles. Thriev would aim to regenerate areas within boroughs and create employment. Other corporations could be encouraged to follow suit.

2.10 EVs have suffered from a low uptake and many people consider them to be virtuous as opposed to efficient. As such, EVs are not yet seen as valid competitors to existing ICE vehicles. This view prevails even among Londoners, whose journeys are less than 15 miles on average and therefore would find all their needs supplied by the average EV. Thriev, and the arrival of other large EV fleets, would change this view since it would demonstrate that electric vehicles can be used cost effectively in a commercial setting and for passenger journey usage. Visibility could jumpstart the lagging electric vehicle revolution. To quote the Institution of Engineering and Technology, “publically visible EV fleets ...may do more to build the public perception of EVs”. Further incentives from government can help to secure a higher uptake and therefore help to change public perceptions.

2.11 Infrastructure for cars is not purely based around fuel. Thriev believes that taking into account the particularly poor quality of London air, the difficulty of finding parking in London, and the effect of public confidence in finding free and/or easily available parking spaces, a large increase in the number of free or reserved-for-EVs parking spaces is advisable.

3.0 Effectiveness of the Plugged In Places scheme

3.1 In this section Thriev describes the main factors that relate to the effectiveness of the Plugged in Places scheme:

Interoperability of charging networks within a geographical zone, such as London.

Impact of parking fees levied to access “public” charge infrastructure.

Maximising impact of incentives.

3.2 The Plugged-in Places scheme has been fairly effective nationwide, particularly in north-east England. However, Source London’s competition from some boroughs (with more expensive memberships) and the lack of interoperability on chargers damages this improvement in infrastructure. London-wide interoperability should be enabled across London’s various charge infrastructure networks. Incentives should be provided to organisations willing to risk large-scale upfront capital investment to build charging factories.

3.3 Source London is cheap and its chargers are spreading across the city. However, competition from other boroughs means it can’t be everywhere a vehicle-owner needs it to be; for instance, Westminster charges £75 a year for membership of its separate scheme. The lack of interoperability between different schemes, both public and private, weakens London’s charging infrastructure.

3.4 The general expense of London parking is exacerbated by the large proportion of Plugged In Places/Source London charge points located in NCP and other chargeable parking locations. These parking slots should be free to access for pre-defined period, as are on-street locations. The cost of parking by a publically accessible charge point should be taken into account.

3.5 The current level of stimulus does not make investment in charge point infrastructure a commercially viable business since EV uptake is required to generate demand, and there are several factors (discussed in this submission) that combine to prevent large-scale EV uptake. Existing PiP terms can only encourage “presentational” investment by corporations. Higher incentives should be targeted to operations that can demonstrate an economically viable business model for a charge infrastructure combined with a robust solution to stimulate EV uptake. The model should guarantee high utilization of charge points, making the business model viable for itself and for other market participants such as utilities companies. This would attract significant attention and demonstrate rational, practical and economically viable EV usage. As such, it will be the catalyst for a step change in perceptions of EV usage by businesses (and also consumers) and kick-start the EV revolution in London.

4.0 Role of plug-in vehicles alongside other technology to reduce carbon emissions from road transport

4.1 Thriev would like to note that the green economy has outperformed other sectors. Thriev in itself will be providing approximately 7,500 new jobs in London, with an intention to recruit largely from the 21–24 age range. Supporting the increased uptake of EVs and the installation of infrastructure is important for encouraging job growth, particularly for young Londoners. It will demonstrate that EVs are in fact the start of a new phase of development for the automotive industry as a whole. It will give confidence to the automotive industry to continue R&D spending on more innovative zero emission vehicle technologies.

5.0 Action from other countries taken to encourage the uptake of plug-in vehicles

5.1 Government incentives for electric vehicles have revolved around reducing the upfront cost, as with the current £5,000 subsidy. The uptake of that subsidy has been extremely low, and the UK’s uptake of electric vehicles in general has been low compared with other nations.

5.2 Over 1,000 Nissan LEAFs have been sold in Norway just six months after the car was released in the country, bringing it up to 2% of the market. The range of incentives in Norway is both strong and wide-ranging: in addition to initial subsidies such as the lack of VAT, electric vehicles in Norway get free parking, can use bus lanes and are exempt from some tolls. Norway has the highest level of subsidies in Europe and this has contributed to the creation of a thriving EV market in Norway.

5.3 Providing governmental support for uptake of electric vehicles throughout the lifetime of the vehicle clearly has an impact. Not having to pay the London congestion charge is an excellent start on this sort of subsidy in the UK. Giving electric vehicles the right to park and charge in more locations, for instance, would likely increase uptake substantially, particularly given electric vehicles’ suitability for oft-congested urban spaces. This would be an important step on the road to transformational change and therefore strongly recommended by Thriev.

May 2012

Prepared 20th September 2012