Simpler for who?

The public electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure industry stands at something of a crossroads. Mark Constable, Head of Public Affairs at Trojan Energy, examines the reasons why.  

There is a clear need to increase the pace of deployment to hit not just 2030 targets but those required for 100% uptake. This need exists regardless of whether published numbers are ambitions, expectations, or targets; too low or too high; and subject to customer preference or technical limitation.

There are also accusations being levelled at public infrastructure and those who operate it: not enough chargepoints, too broken or too inaccessible to use. Unless the industry meets these head on, they will continue to influence the wider public narrative.  

Whether such accusations are fair or not (and I happen to think that some of them are), it’s difficult for consumers to access any information to help them answer their most critical question: Will I get a charge?

The key market performance metric used today is the same as it’s been since the day the Plug-In Car Grant started in September 2011: number of devices installed.   This doesn’t begin to address the matter at hand. Reporting the exact number of devices in a network without the same precision on network performance is what creates the confidence gap.

While we’re still in the EV early adoption phase in a supply-constrained vehicle market, and may well be for a while yet, there is a risk that the right market mechanisms won’t be in place for when we transition to the early majority and constraints ease. Less passionate but more demanding consumers may well seek greater proof that our industry is delivering on its potential, its promises, and frankly, its marketing.

New regulations governing consumer experience and a new specification aimed at improving accessibility are the start of the journey to consumer confidence, not its end. They specify what should happen, not what IS happening. 

The growth in requirements is a natural evolution for any technology on its way to ubiquity, but as governance grows so does complexity, and with complexity comes risk. 

Despite these recent developments, other industries around vital services have all manner of governance that the charging industry currently doesn’t: Standards of Service, CEAR Act compliance, an Ombudsman, independent oversight etc. are where we are headed, in time.  New opportunities like Plug-And-Charge and V2X might lead to a data revolution that improves governance which in turn improves confidence – all roads must head in a single direction: I WILL get a charge.

The complex solutions to deliver easy-to-use services must take place out of sight of drivers. Even being open about utilisation isn’t enough. How many failed attempts have there been? For what reasons?

All this transparency could lead to a quid pro quo. We are all aware of the accidental barriers that exist in trying to deploy public infrastructure under regimes designed decades ago without EV charging in mind, and operated by people who absolutely see the problem, but have no power to change things. Lawmakers will be much more inclined to help remove some of the barriers if those who benefit from their removal can up their game with respect to service and not just discuss forensic-level knowledge of those barriers.

Naturally, you might expect that Trojan Energy is able and willing to play a leading role in such industry-wide improvement initiatives, and we certainly would be, but then again we have the luxurious advantage of being new enough to have poured over a decade’s worth of learning by others and into our solutions. Those pioneering networks who were there at the start, and who may have multiple generations of asset out there still working hard, may understandably not be so ready to adopt the same view – but there are always ways forward.

In the current media-obsessed age, being able to prove accusations wrong is the only way to combat them. Simply asking for veracity in the accusation itself should be enough – but it just isn’t, and that’s the price of doing business. Hard conversations are coming, but they must be had.

Mark will be expanding on some of these themes at the upcoming Transport + Energy Forum where he will be giving a TED talk entitled ‘Further and faster has to mean simpler’.

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