Electric vehicles: what are the infrastructure challenges and opportunities?

There can be little doubt that electric vehicles will continue to gain market share from petrol and diesel vehicles. But how quickly and to what extent?

07 November 2017

Electric vehicles require important parts of the jigsaw – legislative, technological and commercial – to fall into place in order to challenge their ICE competitors at scale.

Getting the transition right is vital for all of us. Government, public sector, private road users, freight companies, public transport providers and contractors all stand to gain or lose in the switch to a viable low carbon transport infrastructure.

At Highways UK, Ross Fairley, partner and head of energy at Burges Salmon chaired a panel discussion on the impact of electric vehicles on transport infrastructure.

Below, we discuss some of the themes that emerged from the session, along with predictions for electric vehicles and transport infrastructure over the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

Legislation and public policy

The government's Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill aims to ensure that the appropriate legislative infrastructure is in place, setting the necessary standards for interoperability and data sharing and reserving the power to mandate the installation of charging points, in particular along the filling station network.

Richard Ward-Jones: It's about absolutely avoiding the situation where we get a patchwork of EV networks across the UK and you can only use the one that matches your vehicle...As a user you want to be able to turn up at any charging point and be able to use it and for that to be an easy and stress-free process.

Government is also pushing at a macro level through its commitment to implementing the Air Quality Directive and other standards, in its commitment to phasing out the production of conventional-engined vehicles by 2040.

Mark Kemp: I think there is a political element to this. There are a lot of new mayors and if you look at congestion charging in London and how that changed things there it’s about how the mayors pick up some of this stuff about air quality in the urban areas will to some degree steer how quickly this will happen. I think there is a question about: is it really zero emissions, in the round, but it's more about the residential areas and urban environment. I think that how brave our politicians are will actually determine how quickly things change.

Investment basis for electric vehicles

Another challenge will be to ensure that local and regional initiatives to roll-out charging points can be satisfied by available energy supply from a robust grid. Provision of charging solutions is going to require significant investment in the network and in grid upgrades. Who pays for this and how it is factored into the cost of the transition to a low carbon road transport solution is a key question.

The race is on to develop appropriate business models to make electric vehicles a compelling proposition. The business models will need to be right for users – at an individual or organisational level – to make the switch. The nature of any subsidies or further funding packages required will need to speak to these emerging business models and the lifetime over which investors expect to see a return.

Daniel Saunders: There is definitely the appetite to invest in the infrastructure, and the infrastructure is absolutely necessary to make this sustainable. Like all investors, the main thing to look at is – what are the risks of putting money into something that is never used? That is really where the government can help, essentially to keep the momentum, so that the whole investment market can see that this has got traction, this is going to get used, and that they can start taking orders.

Investors face the challenge of rapidly-evolving technology. Advances in vehicle and battery technology introduce the risk of building infrastructure which is quickly outmoded. While it is possible to model on the basis of the likely evolution of charging capacity, this requires a set of assumptions not only around the technical capabilities but also user behaviour – how will drivers use the technology in practice once it is more widely available? Will changing patterns of vehicle ownership and use affect the way in which we use electric vehicles?

Pilot projects and industry know-how can help, however there remains a significant degree of uncertainty. On top of this the generation solution needs to be green to respect the primary reason for the switch to an electric vehicle solution.

Where will we be in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time?

Daniel Saunders: I think by 2030 we are going to start seeing autonomous vehicles, there’ll be less need for ownership so there will actually be less pressure on the infrastructure, more vehicles that can be used by more than one person. I don't think that technology is the issue, I think it is going to be a legislation piece.

Mark Kemp: I think actually I’m with Dan on car ownership. I think vehicles as a service, rather than vehicles as something that somebody owns, is the way we will be going. You and I will choose a particular vehicle for a particular journey. We’ll do that on an hourly rent basis and will have something like a mobile phone receipt coming through our door every week to let us know how much we’ve paid.

Richard Ward-Jones: I absolutely echo that, I think connected journeys are the way forward. I think we will see that tipping point, that mass adoption, even closer. In the next five years there’ll be a million EVs on the road.

Ross Fairley: I’ll finish up with my prediction: in five years' time I still won’t be using my Sinclair C5 to get to work.

Meet the panellists

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Daniel Saunders, Investment Director, Octopus Investments Dan is an Investment Director with Octopus Investments and leads their Transport as-a Service (TaaS) offering. TaaS provides vehicle fleet operators with a turnkey clean transport solution by enabling both infrastructure and vehicles to be utilised on a pay-as you use basis. Octopus is a UK private alternative investment manager, managing £7.2 billion of assets and largest non-utility owner of onshore renewable generation assets in the UK.
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Richard Ward-Jones, Senior Business Development Manager, Amey Richard is a senior business development manager in Amey’s Consulting and Rail business unit, responsible for the strategic growth and diversification of Amey Consulting across highways, rail and aviation. With a technical background in highways Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and an interest in innovative and disruptive technologies, Richard chairs Amey’s Smart Mobility working group and is closely involved in several smart mobility schemes. Richard also sits on the CIHT West Midlands Committee.
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Mark Kemp, ADEPT, Director of Growth, Strategy and Highways, Buckinghamshire County Council Mark is a Director at Buckinghamshire County Council with responsibility for a partnership arrangement that delivers highways services, and for growth and strategy. He is also: a member of the Association of Directors of Environment Economy Planning and Transport (ADEPT), Chair of the UK Network Management Board, a member of the UK Roads Liaison Group, Chair of the MSF3 Steering Group (MHA) and committee member of CIHT South East Region. Mark is a Chartered Engineer, FCIHT and MICE and has worked in the highways industry for over 25 years.
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Edward Barratt, Legal Director, Burges Salmon Ed is a legal director in the Projects department at Burges Salmon. He has particular expertise in the Transport sector, advising on asset financing, fleet procurement, connected and autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and other aspects of public transport. He is a member of the firm’s Rail and Transport Technology and Intelligent Mobility sector groups. Edward has significant experience in the Energy sector where he has advised on a wide range of transactions for private and public sector clients.

Key contact

Ross Fairley

Ross Fairley Partner

  • Energy and Utilities
  • Head of Renewable Energy
  • Environment

Electric vehicles: what are the infrastructure challenges and opportunities?

If we're going to use electric vehicles as part of the energy solution, as part of the grid, then there is significant investment required in that space. There's a huge opportunity for the private sector there.
Richard Ward-Jones, Senior Business Development Manager, Amey

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