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Electric vehicles and the mobility revolution

Release date: 16 May 2019

Electric vehicles (EVs) can play a role in lowering emissions from transport, but, so far, drivers have been slow to make the switch from conventional engines. What’s needed to ensure a revolution in mobility gathers pace? BP Magazine speaks to three industry chiefs, from car manufacturers to energy providers, working together to help bring the benefits of zero emissions transport to our roads

Supplying the electricity

Graeme Cooper, director of electric vehicles, National Grid

National Grid manages the 8,600 kilometres of overhead lines and underground cables that make up England and Wales’s highly-complex energy system. Up until now, its role has been to connect sources of electricity generation to the network and transport it to local distribution systems that ultimately reach our homes. But, as the mobility revolution steps up a gear, National Grid is getting set to support a new electricity consumer – drivers. “Wires and transformers are pretty dull for some,” explains Graeme Cooper, “but they are fundamental to unlocking the mobility future.” Here, he talks about how the largest transmitter of electricity in Britain is helping overcome barriers to EV adoption.

Graeme Copper, EV project director for National Grid

What is National Grid’s role in decarbonizing the transport system?

Our role is making sure we have the right wires in the right place at the right time to serve a brand-new customer. Right now, EV charging tends to be a relatively low-speed process done at home or work. But for mass charging hubs, we’ll need more power much faster. That starts to take up more capacity in the local distribution system. For extra capacity, the transmission system, which usually focuses on the big grid connectors like steelworks, can help. Distribution and transmission working together will best serve this new market segment.


What does the future of transport look like for you?

The future for National Grid means a new customer and a new sort of demand, which will require greater flexibility for the grid. Energy demand is going to be moveable, which means we’ll need more infrastructure located in the best place. We see a natural opportunity around the UK’s main transport corridors, where you typically see transmission infrastructure – pylons and substations – running alongside. There’s roughly a 60% synergy between the strategic road network and the National Grid wires in the UK. 

Cooper sees an opportunity to be gained from the synergy between the UK road network and National Grid wires

What are the barriers to EV adoption?

There is range anxiety among mainstream users, although I think that’s a perception thing. Thousands of people run out of liquid fuel every day. What’s more, the typical combustion engine family car only travels around 60 kilometres a day. But people don’t buy a car for average, they buy it for the biggest journey they’re ever likely to do and they don’t want the charging experience to interrupt that.


In our world, the challenge is how to react to growth in energy demand in a way that is economic and efficient. This is a slow-moving, highly-regulated industry, where changes tend to be small and incremental. But, we are in a world where there is this new, multi-modal reality and we’ll have to adapt to that and move at pace. 


How can the government, industry and energy providers enable the electric vehicle movement?

Collaboration is key. This industry and the transport sector are now serving the same customer, so we need to bring the two together. I think National Grid and BP is a good example because we are not competing, we are trying to facilitate the same journey.


The UK government has set up grants for making the car and charging points more affordable, but the hole right now is the capacity to enable high-powered charging. The debate there is who should pay? We need a grown-up discussion about that.

 

What are you most excited about in the transport future?

It depends on your starting point. For previous generations, your car was an outward measure of who you were, but I think future generations will question that. I think the idea of bundling your energy bill and car together – much like the ways the cost of mobile data, texts, phone calls, WiFi and apps are bundled into your mobile phone payment – is going to be key, especially for companies like BP, because it’s all about consumer experience – 'Transport as a service'. When you bring in the connected car, that gives you the opportunity to start securing customers’ hours in advance because the car is telling you that you’ll need to stop for fuel and the optimal place to get it. Getting that exciting consumer experience bit right will be underpinned by the critical infrastructure. 

About National Grid

National Grid is split into two main companies – one owns the transmission system – the big pylons and substations – and the other is the electricity system operator, which involves balancing supply and demand in real time. Then, you have the regional distribution network operators – the companies licensed to operate local distribution via towers, cables and meters. 

Eric Feunteun, EV programme director for Renault

Making cars electric

Eric Feunteun, EV programme and new business director, Renault

Renault has been at the forefront of the mobility revolution for almost a decade, with the brand accounting for one in every four electric vehicles (EVs) sold in Europe. Eric Feunteun says his company’s ambition is to make EV technology affordable, but, he insists, “This isn’t just about technical innovation, it’s also ecosystem innovation. And that’s not something one company can do on its own. It requires collaboration.” Here, he explains why. 

What’s Renault’s perspective on the EV revolution?

By 2022, we anticipate that EVs will represent some 10% of all our sales. Renault has been working in electro-mobility – full electric vehicles – for a long time. And, with our partner Nissan, we have been pioneers. We aim to bring this technology to market at an affordable cost; where ownership is comparable with the cost of a conventional combustion engine. 


What do you see as the key barriers to more EVs?

The key topic we must address first is cost. Vehicle range is becoming less of an issue for some drivers – we’re up to about 300 kilometres now, so we’ve crossed a clear psychological threshold. In terms of charging, I’d say that the installation of public chargers is going at the right pace, but there’s a big question about availability. Today, we have a lot of operators who invest in charging points but not the maintenance. 


I think what’s different here is that this isn’t just about technical innovation, it’s also ecosystem innovation. And that’s not something one company can do on its own. It requires collaboration. Compare Norway and Italy. The offer from manufacturers is roughly the same in both countries, the customers are roughly the same and, yet, in percentage terms, there are 100 times more EVs in Norway than there are in Italy. The difference is an ecosystem. 

Feunteun highlights Norway as a country that is getting the EV ecosystem right

What do government, industry and energy providers need to do more of to enable EVs?

Governments need to nourish this ecosystem, with financial incentives and non-financial incentives, such as allowing EVs to use bus lanes, dedicated parking and charging close to supermarkets, or free street parking. I think it’s also the responsibility of the government to drive standards in the quality of chargers. 

 

You mentioned that no one company can do this alone, so what are the opportunities for Renault and BP working together?

We’re both strong players and have an interest in cooperating, mainly focused in the UK, which I think is a good learning laboratory. We have two objectives in this partnership – to reduce the cost of ownership for customers and to make life and user experience easier.   

Creating a charging network

Tufan Erginbilgic, chief executive of BP’s Downstream business

As head of Downstream, Tufan Erginbilgic has oversight of the UK’s largest retail fuel network. Here, he shares his views on the need for ultra-fast charging and the key partnerships BP is making in this field. “This is a fast-evolving area where we all have much to learn and improve,” he says, “so we are collaborating with OEMs and technology companies on both on- and off-car technology, such as battery and thermal management, to make ultra-fast charging a ‘mass market’ product.”

Tufan, Erginbilgic, chief executive of Downstream

Why is electrification of transport important to BP?

Some may wonder about BP’s interest in the EV discussion. After all, many people know us mainly as a provider of fuels for internal combustion engines. That is true – it has been a big part of our business model for more than 100 years, but our interest is, and has always been, broader than that. It is about providing mobility solutions for whatever vehicles our customers choose to drive. 

 

What key barriers do you see to the adoption of more EVs?

As things stand, there are many obstacles to the widespread consumer adoption of EVs. Cost, range, queues and access to reliable charging points on the move still unsettle people. We can’t just assume we can extrapolate the consumer behaviour from early adopters into the general public. As an example, 60% of residents in London lack convenient access to at-home charging.  

BP Chargemaster is the UK's largest EV charging company

What needs to be done to enable more EVs?

At BP, we see an especially important role for building a national network of high-power charging – one which would closely replicate the current fuelling experience. We think this will give people confidence about the ability to travel greater distances, without worrying about whether they will run out of power. It would suit individuals who don’t have off-street parking; fleet operators who need to charge multiple vehicles and cannot afford to take them off the road for long periods of time; and it could reduce the prices of EVs by enabling consumers to buy cars with smaller batteries that charge faster. Batteries represent one third to 40% of an EV’s cost.

 

For this to succeed, a lot needs to be done by the industry. We need to ensure that vehicles are compatible with high-power charging; we need to develop high-powered charging battery cell technologies – including smaller, lower-cost batteries that can take a more frequent, ultra-fast charge. And, once we solve the cell technology challenge, we will next need to turn to the challenge of heat dissipation. All the while, we must balance these issues with practical considerations like safety, cost and space, allowing us to gain trust from consumers.

 

There is a role for many of the stakeholders involved to work together. What conversations do government, power companies, infrastructure providers, car OEMs, and grid stakeholders need to have to make this a reality? Up until now, many of us have mainly been working on our own to find solutions, but the only way we can make this work is if we collaborate and work together. 

BP's Hammersmith forecourt in London, where a trial of FreeWire EV rapid charging was launched last year

What part is BP playing to achieve this goal?

At BP, we are working to advance the accessibility of high-power charging through investing and partnering. Last year, we acquired Chargemaster, the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging company. And, from July, we will begin rolling out ultra-fast chargers at BP forecourts. We plan to install more than 400 ultra-fast chargers between now and 2021 and, in this year alone, we will introduce 100 charge points at more than 50 sites.

 

We invested in Storedot, a leading developer of ultra-fast charging batteries, as well as FreeWire, a manufacturer of mobile rapid charging systems for electric vehicles. But as we know, this is a fast-evolving area where we all have much to learn and improve, so we are collaborating with OEMs and technology companies on both on- and off-car technology, such as battery and thermal management, to make ultra-fast charging a ‘mass market’ product.

 

What part does transport play in the energy transition?

To meet the dual challenge, emissions in transport need to come down. They account for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing electrification is one of the many avenues we need to pursue to make that happen, particularly for lighter vehicles. Of course, electrification will not be a silver bullet. BP projections, based on current trends with EVs expanding rapidly, suggest that most vehicles on the road in 20 years’ time will still have conventional engines.

 

So, to reduce transport emissions, it is really important to consider conventional vehicles, as well as EVs. That means producing cleaner and better fuels and lubricants, continuing to increase the use of biofuels, and improving the efficiency of internal combustion engines. That efficiency point is especially important. For example, a 5% improvement in the average efficiency of new internal combustion engine vehicles registered in the EU would lead to an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of 1.8 million tonnes. That’s the equivalent of replacing one million new ICE vehicle car sales with battery-operated EVs.

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