Decarbonising Transport - Setting the Challenge
Joel Teague, CEO of Co-Charger, talks about the challenges facing the industry, as we transition to electric vehicles, on our journey to Net Zero.
In the spring of 2020 the UK Department for Transport published its paper, “Decarbonising Transport – Setting the Challenge”. It set out a range of measures, some quite ambitious, covering everything from private transport to aviation and haulage. Towards the end, the chapter entitled, “The Current Trajectory” laid bare how huge a gap there is between what needs to be achieved and the current plans for decarbonisation. It makes for sobering reading.
In the year since then, despite (and perhaps aided by) the pandemic, we have seen that there is reason for optimism. Clean air has been breathed, values have been revisited and, quietly in the background, very good things have been happening. Renewable electricity generation became the biggest single contributor to the UK’s power generation. Local authorities pushed hard for more sustainable transport behaviour, and for those who could not be coaxed away from their cars, demand for electric vehicles soared by 186%.
While getting Co Charger up and running within the tumultuous year of 2020 it was refreshing to see how quickly things could happen once people stopped defending and competing. The huge consortium of government, utility, automotive and scientific organisations making up the EV Energy Task Force produced a positive, ambitious yet pragmatic paper setting out a vision for a fully integrated path to sustainable energy feeding sustainable transport. That paper led to a green light that will turn into UK policy well within 2021.
So within this context of determination and collaboration, what are the main challenges in decarbonising transport, and what part does Co Charger have to play?
Several surveys, most recently from the RAC, show the importance of counteracting misinformation with truth. Misconceptions – often skilfully propagated – about cost, ethics, safety and practicality are clearly dominant among the general public and battle has commenced via bodies such as Go Ultra Low and New Automotive to redress the balance. Clear information and useful widgets help motorists, daunted by the bewildering array of information and misinformation, to find out what really matters to them.
And it’s working. Pure EV sales in December 2020 were 343% up on the same month a year earlier in a market that was shrinking overall.
As cost becomes less of an issue, and realisation dawns that range is a bit of a non-issue, the one seemingly immovable blocker has come to the fore: if you can’t have a car charger at home, it can be very hard to make the practicalities and running costs of an EV stack up.
Co Charger’s own survey showed that people without off-street parking are around four times less likely to go electric, and a survey by Connected Kerb suggested that over two thirds of those people simply won’t make the leap until they can have the dependability, convenience and affordability that home charging brings. Estimates vary, but this means there are up to 15 million motorists who aren't able to make the switch for 9 years; putting hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and deaths from respiratory illness continuining at the same rates.
If all the cars in Bristol were electric they would need several thousand public chargers to meet demand.
There is a tendency, when addressing problems, to look to technology, and the mainstay of action in current planning is understandably based around increasing and improving public charging infrastructure. While this is desperately needed, the data above shows that it is an enticement, rather than an enabler, to the change we need to see. It is also expensive, disruptive and slow: on average local councils have a woefully inadequate 35 roadside chargers planned by 2025. To give that context, if all the cars in Bristol were electric they would need several thousand public chargers to meet demand.
There is no silver bullet, and filling this gap will take many schemes and innovations. There are community charging schemes to put chargers in via organisations like ChargeMyStreet. Green Mole offers a service that can actually create a tunnel from your terraced house to your parking space big enough to house a charger cable, without digging anything up. In London, Charge Fairy will even locate your car and charge it wherever it’s parked, from a van, while you sleep.
Each of these has its use cases and constraints, and none will suit everyone. The same applies to the Co Charger model – but rather than a technical innovation, this is a social one.
There are nearly 400,000 home chargers in the UK, increasing by over 15,000 a month. They are in residential areas and most are unused for over 95% of the time. The owners have paid anything from £600 to well over £1,000 to install them (whether directly or via the price of their car) and research shows that many would welcome an opportunity to recoup some of that cost.
On the surface, Co Charger is a very simple, easy app that allows Hosts to rent their charger to some neighbours on a regular basis so that they can switch to electric cars. Underneath it is a huge collaboration that now involves government, automotive, utility, technical and environmental organisations, each helping to connect communities so that those home chargers can earn their keep.
The result is that Co Charger brings all the advantages that are key to enabling motorists to make the leap to electric:
- Dependability: you can book it, for regular charge sessions, overnight if you like, so you know it’s going to work.
- Practicality: plug in, walk away and go about your life while your car charges fully. The only difference between using Co Charger and charging at home is a longer walk from the car to your door.
- Affordability: An average Co Charger Chargee will pay under £500 a year to charge their car, without the huge expense of buying a charger.
The initial challenge for Co Charger is raising awareness to reach the ‘critical density’ of Hosts so that Chargees can expect to find one within walking distance of their home. The aim is to get to 5,000 Hosts during 2021 and to over 25,000 (almost equalling the number of public chargers in the country) by the end of 2022. Collaboration is key, and many organisations are helping to get the word out and create the vital culture of “if you can share, do share” among charger owners. It is a true ‘win-win’ so ideas for helping are coming together quickly: this year we are hoping to see government grants and electricity tariff discounts to incentivise charger sharing.
Co Charger’s own research showed that although neighbourhood and environmental considerations were a major incentive to sharing a home charger, recouping some of the cost of that charger was the primary driver. A Host helping four neighbours to charge average EVs doing average miles will make anything from £400 to well over £1,000 a year, depending on their electricity supply. The figures are even better for businesses who can use the app to monetise chargers in their car parks during closed hours.
Covid may have helped with collaboration but of course it has held back use of the app in practice. Yet the feedback has been very positive: In December the first celebration came when a Chargee in Devon told us that Co Charger had enabled her to start shopping for the EV she has wanted for years. The first ever fully “in the wild” Co Charger charge session led to both Host and Chargee, of their own volition, posting endorsements on social media: The Host was delighted to be helping a neighbour, and the Chargee (who had been dependent on unreliable public chargers) gushed about how easy his EV life had now become.
It is early days for a complex group of organisations and individuals trying to solve a problem that seemed insurmountable not long ago. However, it is already clear that with the right spirit of collaboration combined with the right technical and social innovation the problem can be solved - and a lot sooner than last year’s government paper suggested.