Matthew Lumsden

Successfully Implementing a Plug-in Vehicle Infrastructure

By: Matthew Lumsden, Future Transport Systems Ltd.
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 16:47 GMT Jump to Comments

Matthew Lumsden explores the challenges and opportunities of a multi-stakeholder approach to implementing an electrical vehicle (EV) infrastructure

The United Kingdom is the world’s eighth largest emitter of CO, with transport currently accounting for 24% of the country’s emissions. Acting on transport’s role in mitigating this is an increasing priority in both national and local policy.

If a reduction in carbon emissions of 91% at 2008 levels is to be achieved in the UK by 2020, radical changes need to be made to certain aspects of the country’s behaviour. Policies focusing on reducing the need to travel (modal shift), through promoting the use of sustainable transport, will go a long way to decarbonising transport.

However, the current Government feeling is that simply forcing people out of their cars is too pessimistic an approach and that low and ultra-low emissions technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids, offer the potential to reduce emissions but still allow people the personal mobility they want and need.

Local authorities are seen as key to changing constituent communities. By developing effective electrical vehicle recharging infrastructures, many local authorities will see considerable environmental, social and economic benefits in their local communities – but importantly carbon and other transport emissions will be reduced.

Before reaping the benefits of any EV infrastructure, local authorities need to make important decisions in the planning stages. One of these is how best to approach the project and manage relations between key stakeholders. The adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach to implementation has proved most popular among many local authorities. In fact, many of the most successful EV infrastructure projects to date have been those that have given a high priority to identifying and engaging with key stakeholders right from the outset.

The implementation of any EV infrastructure project will involve a wide range of stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. After initial contact, ongoing stakeholder and information management is critical to ensure commitment to a process that can otherwise be protracted. In addition, there are also a vast number of challenges and opportunities involved in this approach.
Within local authorities, a range of individuals are likely to need to be involved, from strategy development through to town and county planning, transport planning, parking, facilities, property, fleet management, climate change, sustainability etc. These functions need to be involved at different stages, but communication approaches that manage all parties through a ‘journey’ have proved particularly effective.

Along with internal stakeholders there are also a number of external stakeholder relations which must be effectively managed. One of these is with Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) for charging equipment installation. These organisations are important to the process for three reasons. Firstly, they are only obliged to respond to enquiries within 90 days, so working closely with them to develop efficient  lines of communication can be beneficial to all parties. Secondly, DNOs need to be involved in choosing charge point locations to ensure that the most economic connections are located. And thirdly, DNOs need to approve any connections into their network, as detailed in the Code of Practice for Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment Installation (IET Standards Limited, 2012).

Electricity suppliers should also be involved and, in particular, the local authority’s incumbent provider. Suppliers are important because some have chosen to sponsor schemes, or offer EV-related tariffs and will also need to provide meters to the scheme.

Since plug-in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure are of little use without each other, working with plug-in vehicle manufacturers and retailers can also help present a joined-up proposition to customers. For example, strong working partnerships between Charge Your Car and Nissan in the north-east and between Source East, Ford and GM in the east of England have enabled dealers to demonstrate to vehicle purchasers that a local charging infrastructure is in development.

Local authorities vary in terms of how much parking they own within their areas: for example, Sheffield City Council owns the majority of the car parks in Sheffield city centre but by contrast Leeds owns very few. In either case, car park operators provide an alternative approach to providing public charging infrastructure. NCP has already started to install charge points in several of its sites around the UK. Early discussions with independent car park operators could significantly affect the extent to which local authorities choose to install their own charge points.

Many projects have successfully worked with major employers, landowners, retailers and leisure service providers to create a distributed infrastructure. Some, such as Little Chef, are developing infrastructure at a national level while others are currently focusing on trialling it on a few pioneering sites. In any event, large organisations often have complex decision-making processes, so early engagement is essential.

Given the pace of change in the industry, it is worth engaging with technology providers or an independent source of expertise at an early stage. Charge point costs, areas of functionality, refinements and designs are changing rapidly, so it is important to develop a system that incorporates up-to-date technology.

By way of example, Charge Your Car in the north-east of England, by necessity as a Plugged in Places (PiP) pioneer, installed many street side, single socket 3kW, ground-mounted charge points with normal 13A plugs. Two years later most projects are now installing double socket units that are generally tending towards 7kW, plugs are now being upgraded to Type 2 and, wherever possible, projects are typically installing wall-mounted units, and only street-side where this is unavoidable.

A good example of this multi-stakeholder approach to EV infrastructure implementation can be seen with Bristol City Council. With an aim of providing a ‘gateway’ for EV users, the council has successfully worked with the private sector to develop optimum results. The council is currently working with Polar to install charging points in privately owned car parks in the Bristol area. One of the car parking operators on board with the project is the national car parking provider NCP.
In addition the Council is also keen to develop links with the Ecotricity motorway rapid charge network and facilitate travel into Wales, where several hotels and guesthouses have installed charge points.

A multi-stakeholder approach to local EV infrastructure planning is the most effective way of ensuring that a project draws on the most up to date and specialised knowledge available – as well as ensuring that implementation can be affected as smoothly as possible in the long term. In addition this approach can also help to improve EV driver experience by improving interoperability i.e. the ability for EV drivers to use different charging networks.  Project developers should talk to other network operators and in particular those operating adjoining networks to enable EV drivers to cover as much distance as possible with minimal inconvenience. 

However we shouldn’t forget that it is also important that all stakeholders, both internal and external, must be engaged with any EV project in the early stages of planning. By ensuring this happens, any challenges or opportunities can be identified in the early planning stages of a project. This will help local authorities to deliver an EV infrastructure in the most efficient and cost effective way.

“Successfully Implementing a Plug-in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure” by Matthew Lumsden of Future Transport Systems Ltd is available at www.ietstandards.com/ev-report. To find out about the report, please call the IET on 01438 765533.

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