Electric Vehicle Supporting Content

To help us understand the electric vehicle innovation accelerator challenges, we’ve spoken to Kim Farrage, Senior Specialist Transport Planner at NECA and Robin Heap, Head of Electric Vehicles at ENGIE UK to gain industry insights and explain the current challenges faced in the electric vehicle industry.  

Introduction to the Electric Vehicle Industry

Decarbonisation of road transport is a global and national ambition. Through their Road to Zero Strategy, the UK government has issued targets to increase the take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) and is committed to making nearly all cars and vans zero-emission by 2050.  

To ensure the region, as well as the wider country, is equipped to meet these targets, we are seeking innovative solutions from North East businesses to look at the existing EV field. Whether that be infrastructure related or behaviour change, we want small to medium-sized local businesses to bring forward ideas to help this transition to a cleaner society and assist with increasing the uptake of EVs to help reduce levels of pollution and make our environment a better place for everyone.

Challenge 1 and 2

Why do we need to decarbonise road transportation?

Poor air quality poses a real threat to many of our major towns and cities and has been linked to around 40,000 early deaths each year across the UK. It is caused by many factors but one of the largest contributors is road transport, which is estimated to contribute 37% of the region’s annual CO2 emission; with population growth in cities increasing the demand on deliveries, innovation will play a key part in developing a greener economy.

Recent stats indicate that the fastest growing segment of urban road traffic is vans and light goods vehicles (LGVs).  High levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter known to be damaging to our health has been linked to diesel engines, which are most common amongst LGVs. Daily deliveries for sectors such as cold-chain pharmaceutical and commercial food are traditionally transported in temperature-controlled diesel-powered vehicles.  It is estimated that 28% of grocery shopping is currently done online, with figures continuing to rise significantly.

As pressures on road transportation are a major contribution to the rise in global temperatures, Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council have all declared a climate emergency; with each council now exploring what is required to become 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050.  Three of the areas in the region have now also been given a legal direction by the Secretary of State to identify a package of measures to deliver compliance with legal limits for NO2 in the area for which they are responsible, in the shortest possible time.

What is the impact of last mile deliveries?
Last mile deliveries represent a significant challenge for the logistics sector, accounting for 50% of the total delivery cost. Although the majority of a freight journey may use the trunk road network, the last mile is likely to involve travel through urban centres and residential areas, where air quality is a concern. The contribution of urban freight transport to congestion in cities is becoming an increasing problem.

Increasing road traffic, restrictions on road space, changes to road layout to accommodate bus use or higher numbers of cyclists, are all contributing factors to increasing pressure on the urban road networks. Urban freight vehicles are around 5% of the national vehicle population but account for over 20% of emissions in cities. Many freight vehicles also have low fuel efficiency levels due to the weight of their cargo and this poor efficiency is often exacerbated in the stop-start and relatively slow travelling environment on urban roads.

Any innovative measures which can be developed to keep the traffic flowing, prevent congestion by co-ordinating movements through junctions and reduce the environmental impact of last mile freight traffic will assist in addressing the public health concerns around poor air quality.

What is the market opportunity for electric vehicles?

The market is growing rapidly. Air quality and sustainability are key stimulants, but growth is currently limited by availability of vehicles. Up to now, whilst all the main manufacturers have EV models, they are available in limited numbers and expensive to buy.

CAFE 2020 is an upcoming change that will help reduce road transport emissions, by requiring each manufacturer to hit an average of 95g per km CO2 emissions across their range. CAFE 2020 will be imposed on all manufacturers producing more than 10,000 vehicles across the EU; each is set to pay fines of over £1 billion each year, unless they can significantly reduce their average emissions and massively increase their sales of pure electric and/or plug-in hybrids.  

The North East is home to Nissan’s Sunderland plant, Europe’s production centre for the Nissan LEAF, the UK’s best-selling battery electric car. In 2018, Nissan sold 40,000 LEAFs in Europe and is aiming for 20% of its European sales to be electric by 2020.

What does a growing electric vehicle marketplace in practice for consumers?

In the short term, in the UK, six new models have hit the market in the past year. The main manufacturers have started to install chargers in their dealerships, in preparation for having many more EVs going through them for sales, after-sales and service. We will soon begin to see a huge increase in availability of EVs and prices will begin to fall.

Longer term, government has set targets to ban the sales of combustion engine vehicles by 2040 (or possibly 2035) and in reality, you won’t be able to buy a newly designed car that you can’t plug in well before that. By 2025, whilst there’ll still be legacy vehicles in the marketplace, if manufacturers want to reach the 95g target they will be in a race to electrify and this is what’s bringing real money into the charging infrastructure market.

Challenge 3

With the electric vehicle fleet expanding, what is required for domestic charging infrastructure?

Plug-in vehicles will be mainly kept on home driveways overnight and the economics mean overnight home charging will be a lower cost option than using public infrastructure during the day. Installing domestic charge points isn’t as easy or as cheap as it needs to be and a particular change from January this year introduced an update to the wiring regulations, BS7671 18th edition, which brings the UK standards up to the same standards as the rest of Europe.

What do the new wiring regulations mean for domestic charging installers?

The new wiring regulations include requirements for improved earthing protection wherever the supply of electricity goes from inside a building’s earthing footprint to outside.

For example, if you’re inside a building and you’ve earthed by connecting to the gas mains or water mains then you’re not on true earth. If you have a wiring fault, you lose neutral or for some reason you get live contacting with your body, the protection that’s already in there (the type AC RCD) will detect that because you’re inside the earthing footprint of the building. As soon as you’re outside the building, you’re into a different earthing zone, an area where the RCD protection inside the building is not necessarily going to recognize that you’re the route to earth and you could get electrocuted, referred to as AC leakage. So the upgraded standards mean we’re all protected and a lot safer, but for installers it means something quite challenging.

Installation teams are going to domestic dwellings and small businesses to install domestic charge points and generally want to take the power off the supply inside the building. Unfortunately the new regulations now mean, without much flexibility, installation teams are having to install earthing rods to provide an earth independent of the building.

An earthing rod is a 1.2m long steel rod with a copper coating. An electrician will look for somewhere to install it. They will drive it into the ground with a hammer then connect from there into the charge point and onto the board for protection purposes. The electrician needs to take into account finding somewhere near where the car will be parked, within a sensible radius, and also will need to CAT scan the floor to make sure we’re not going to go through a gas main or electricity pipe or anything else that might be in the ground.

Typically a driveway does not have a nice piece of soft ground next to it to put in the earthing rods. Driveways and parking spaces generally have concrete, tarmac or block paved surfaces. Sometimes, the electrician has to take up the paving just to scan underneath. If a concrete surface has steel reinforcement in it, the scan will light up like a Christmas tree and there’s literally nowhere nearby to install the earthing rods, so you run metres and metres of cabling outside which is certainly not safe because it gets away from the actual zone where you need to earth in the first place.

What are the earthing requirements for installing domestic charging infrastructure?

Once an earthing rod is installed, the installer has to measure the impedance value to ensure a minimum of less than 200 Ohms is achieved. If there is nice wet clay soil or a flower bed, generally you can achieve that Ohmic value. If the ground is stony or sandy, it’s very, very difficult to achieve 200 Ohms unless the ground is wet. (the measurement should really be made when the ground is dry).

There have been instances where an installer has needed to hit eight earthing rods into a customer’s garden; the garden was like a pincushion by the time it was finished! The installer then links the rods together and has to advise the homeowner not to cut the cables between those linked rods by mistake. Once the required impedance value is achieved, there is still the job of taking the connection back to the house and to the actual charge point.

How big an issue is the earthing requirements?

An earthing rod may only be £4 but the installation time can be significant and can cost between £120 and £300, which is a large proportion of what customers are willing to pay. Just as importantly, it’s difficult to know how complicated the installation will be until an installation team arrives at the house which makes pricing very difficult.

Problems arise because customers are provided with a set price; when the installation team arrive and find these challenges, the quote needs to be revised. Due to doorstep selling regulations, a quote can’t be provided inside the domestic dwelling so the installation team need to leave and revisit after a 14-day cooling off period. The customer doesn’t get what they need in a timely manner and as a result the customer experience can be terrible.

What about RCD installation?

The new wiring regulations require the provision of protective measures for DC fault currents. RCD choice will partly be governed by vehicle specifications. Otherwise, a Type A RCD can be used where the installation incorporates a method of detecting DC residual currents >6 mA which results in disconnection of the AC supply from the charge point, otherwise it should be Type B. Given that it’s not possible to concatenate RCDs, planning is required to ensure that the right RCDs are used and allowance is made for later changes to suit vehicle specifications, especially if the charge point will be used by more than one vehicle.

Are there other approaches available to the earthing challenge?

There are solutions out there, such as building solutions into the charge point itself. Doing so raises other issues around how a future electrician, visiting to make repairs or modifications will know how the system has been installed. Also, there remains the issue of how to deal with the cable from the charge point to the main board in the building, and variations in the existing standard of domestic consumer unit that if in situ.

With current systems, even once the initial installation is completed, any later changes will require assessing the full installation from the main board to charge point to earth. The electrician will need to understand exactly what has been put in place and potentially start again with a revised system, at additional expense.

A solution which simplifies the calculation of an installation quote, allows remote assessment of the suitability of a location for installation, or minimises installation complexities would be hugely beneficial. This solution will also need to adhere to wiring regulations, be ‘future-proofed’ if the customer changes their vehicle or an electrician needs to make repairs and allow for great customer service.

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