Closing the Charging Gap: How Manchester Wants to Boost Electric Vehicle Adoption – Positive News

Despite encouraging sales of electric vehicles, the UK charging infrastructure is still a long way from where it should be by 2030. So who will build and finance the revolution?

Words of

Sarah LaBrecque

Despite encouraging sales of electric vehicles, the UK charging infrastructure is still a long way from where it should be by 2030. So who will build and finance the revolution?

In 2019, Andy Burnham made a promise to the Mancunians. Within 20 years, the city he presided over would be carbon neutral. Renewable energies would supply households and companies with electricity, 3 million trees would be planted and by 2035 citizens would drive 100 percent emission-free vehicles through Manchester’s pedestrian and bicycle-friendly avenues.

Wonderful. But since the acceptance of electric vehicles (EV) is currently low and many residents do not have access to off-street parking spaces, this pure traffic utopia will be implemented gradually. Until then, there are some hurdles to overcome, not just in Manchester. These include “range anxiety” in public, the high cost of electric vehicles, and perhaps most fundamentally, where they are charged.

“The actual need for infrastructure is still very limited today because of the number of EV drivers [in Greater Manchester] is still in the thousands, ”says Asif Ghafoor, CEO and co-founder of the green infrastructure company Iduna. But if Burnham’s plan works and the national ban on gasoline and diesel cars is foreseeable in 2030, this number should rise steadily. As with many aspects of the green transition, the puzzle of where to charge electric cars and how many electric cars to charge has a distinct chicken-and-egg feel to it.

An urban scene in Manchester

Electric vehicle ownership in Manchester remains low. Image: Will MCue

Iduna recently raised £ 4 million through ethical investing crowdfunding and the ISA platform Abundance Investment to build a network of 50 fast, fast and ultra-fast chargers across the city. The company is also upgrading its existing network of chargers, of which there are 132, to include “smart” functions such as data and analytics.

It’s a small initial wave of installations, but Ghafoor points out that it’s less about volume and more about understanding how to use them. “The chargers talk to us around the clock,” he says. “We know when they are switched on and off and whether there are any maintenance problems.”

It’s also about changing the culture around driving. There will be chargers in cheap places like supermarkets, but also charging “hubs” – Iduna’s interpretation of a gas station – are in the works. Hubs could run on renewable energy, and Ghafoor wants them to be more than just a place to buy fuel and a sandwich. “This model doesn’t have to be copied all the time. There are other options, ”he says.

An electric car is charging in a parking lot

The number of Manchester-based investors has been higher than usual, suggesting that residents there are welcoming electric vehicles to their area. Image: Michael Fousert

Although electric vehicle ownership remains very low in Manchester, Ghafoor sees this as an opportunity rather than a hurdle. He explains that the range fear is fueled by the fact that there are so few chargers. But when people start seeing the infrastructure, they become more and more confident that buying an electric vehicle is a solid investment.

National figures on the introduction of electric vehicles and charging installations arouse further confidence that mass acceptance is not a question of if, but of when. Although sales of all new cars fell by almost a third in 2020, one in ten of them were plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. That was a significant increase compared to 2019, when one in 30 new registrations accounted for low-emission and zero-emission vehicles.

According to Zap-Map, a digital platform that keeps an eye on the UK charging network, the number of public charging stations increased by 220 percent between the end of 2016 and 2020. In addition, government regulator Ofgem has just raised £ 300m in funding to build 3,550 new charging stations across the UK from 2023.

Despite the promising statistics, companies like Iduna that want to provide the necessary infrastructure cannot find funding from traditional banks. “A [typical] The question asked by a bank is, ‘If you put a charger on Regent Road in Manchester, how do you know if someone is going to use it and where is the historical data to prove it?’ I imagine someone was asked when they built a gas station in 1910, ”says Ghafoor.

Most experts assume that we will see a real move away from internal combustion engines by around 2025 or 2026

In the absence of conventional funding, Abundance investors stepped in and broke the platform’s record for funds raised on the first day of an investment. The full £ 4 million was raised in less than a week. “With a new sector we often see a lot of follow-up questions from investors, but that seemed to hit a nerve,” said Bruce Davis, chief executive officer of Abundance.

Davis adds that the number of Manchester-based investors was higher than usual, suggesting that residents there are welcoming electric vehicles to their area.

To encourage early adoption, some charging points across the UK are currently still free – 23 percent of all public chargers according to Zap-Map – but if private companies step in, that number is likely to fall, Ghafoor says. Some councils got the ball rolling by deploying small networks of charging stations and are eventually looking for private contractors to expand and operate the network. This was the case in Greater Manchester: the existing chargers were previously installed by the public institution Transport for Greater Manchester, but are now operated by Iduna under the Be.EV brand. It is expected that a charge for topping up will be introduced later this year.

“Transport for Greater Manchester did a really good job of getting a contract that still retains a public sector voice but actually encourages private sector investment to achieve the ultimate goal,” says Ghafoor.

With the UK’s ban on new gasoline and diesel cars coming into effect in less than nine years, there’s no time to waste whipping up the country’s charging network. But will we be in time?

“Most experts believe that by around 2025 or 2026 we will see a real shift away from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles,” says Ghafoor. “And we are expanding the network to enable this shift now.”

Main picture: Chuttersnap

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