While the cost of electric vehicle (EV) chargers falling all the time and reducing the barriers to entry for customers is a great thing for the environment and consumers, it's causing major headaches when it comes to reduced tooling costs and the associated downtime when it comes to maintenance due to poorer quality manufacturing by low cost firms.
And, with electric vehicles set to surpass the costs of running petrol-powered cars in 2021, the demand from businesses and homeowners for these charging points is only going to rise in the coming years. Manufacturers and suppliers must invest in R&D to ensure charging points are continually in action in order to meet this rise in demand.
Here, Steve Springett, Product Director at renewable energy supplier Tonik Energy explains what processes manufacturers should be focusing on in order to deliver quality products and identifies what consumers should be looking out for when it comes to purchasing an EV charger that won't run out of juice.
If we are going to encourage more people to move to electric vehicles, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to transition. EV drivers must feel confident that they can charge their cars wherever and whenever they need to. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting of topics in the EV space compared to “smart charging” or “vehicle-to-grid” – but our view is that compliant, safe, EV charger installations that include maintenance and servicing will play a critical role for homes and businesses in the coming years.
Charging at home
This is one area where we really advise people to invest in good quality kit, as home chargers are set to become part of EV drivers’ critical infrastructure - over 80% of charging is expected to take place at home. Not only is charging your EV at home more convenient (if possible), but it’s also cheaper – working out at around £3.64 for 150 miles.
That old adage of “buy it cheap, buy it twice” really rings true here. This could be the difference in you being able to use your car, or not; you don’t want to find out that your car hasn’t charged overnight when you need it in the morning.
Whilst research suggests that only 8% of charging is expected to take place using the public charging infrastructure, this element of owning and driving an EV remains one of the biggest concerns.
The UK has more public charging points than any other country in Europe (around 13,000), and this number is set to grow rapidly, to support the rising number of EV drivers.
However, whilst this all sounds good on paper, we know that the reality is very different. In an attempt to keep up with the sharp growth in EVs and the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, a lot of providers have jumped on the bandwagon; seeing an opportunity to turn a quick profit, with poor quality hardware being installed by inexperienced firms. The focus has turned from installing quality equipment to race-to-the-bottom pricing, squeezing margins in an attempt win market share. It’s drivers who are ultimately being let down.
When it comes to EV charging and infrastructure, it’s all about reliability, accessibility and ease of use. Customers will resonate with the comfort this provides as keeping your charge-station operational is imperative when your transportation relies upon it. A failed charge-station is equivalent to your local petrol station running out of fuel – it’s unacceptable and there is a growing awareness amongst consumers.
This backlash is succinctly evidenced when you look at the reliability of public charging networks. ZapMap data shows that in July 2017, 14.8% of devices were out of service. The situation has improved to 8.5% in August 2018, but public perception is justifiably that the infrastructure is unreliable and it’s holding the uptake back.
So, what does this mean for manufacturers?
Having worked with stakeholders throughout the EV supply chain, we’ve identified specific areas of focus. Firstly, load management. By considering the load from the EV, and importantly the building too, load managed installations are safer, more reliable and easily scaled. In commercial applications, this enables multiple, higher-output stations to be installed at a lower cost. In domestic applications, this is equally important to prevent overloading the supply and also minimises installation delays whilst the DNO are consulted and connection permissions granted. It also future-proofs installations for additional EVs and other low-carbon technologies such as heat-pumps.
We also seek EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment) to be independently certified to relevant standards such as IEC 61851 and consideration given developing standards such as ISO 15118 and IEC 62955. These certifications provide quality assurance and the feature-set enables more cost-effective installations compliant with the latest addition of BS 7671 Wiring Regulations.
Our number one recommendation for customers would be to not focus on the advertised prices and be cautious of anything that looks “too good to be true” – it often is. We often see customers and businesses seeking the lowest upfront cost, and though we can’t blame them for doing so, it often ends in disappointment and inevitably lower functionality. Rarely are the online advertised prices what you end up paying once the details are established and the installation proceeds. The competition to win over customers on price has inevitably led to unsatisfactory installations, particularly in homes. Your EV charger will be your gateway to your e-mobility, so it’s worth paying more and considering the complete package.
If this pushes an EV charger out of budget, have a look at alternative propositions such as service plans that remove upfront cost; bundles including maintenance cover, provide peace-of-mind and place the impetus on the installation company to select durable hardware. For workplaces and businesses, we’ve found the upfront capital expenditure required to install multiple EV chargers to be prohibitive.
Lastly, don’t settle with the first installer you can find. While it can be difficult to find an experienced specialist; we often see customers jumping at the first they find. Browse online, seek referrals from driver forums and take a look at consumer review sites such as Which? Trusted Trader or Free Index to see who’s rated highest. Double check your selected electrical installer is registered with a suitable Approved Contractor scheme, and if you’re eligible for a grant claim, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles. Home-Charge & Workplace Government grant incentives can contribute up to £500 towards the installation (up to 20 outlets for workplaces).