With a background traditionally ingrained in highways maintenance, VolkerHighways made the decision to enter the electric vehicle installation and maintenance market more than five years ago. In this industry insight, Operations Director, David Easton, discusses the reasons why the company hasn’t looked back and its plans for future growth.
Q. Why did VolkerHighways move into the EV market?
A. ‘’We are predominantly a highways maintenance and street lighting maintenance contractor working on long term contracts for local authorities. We looked at what we could do with the skills we have. With the way technology was moving with electric vehicles coming in, and because we do everything on the highway and the electrical side, it was a natural transition for us to move into this market.
‘’Initially, the market moved quite slowly, but it’s hugely accelerated in the last few years. We also have independent connection (ICP) capability within the business, which means we’re licenced to carry out the electrical connections as well. We knew we could deliver an end-to-end product for the client – whether it’s design, installation, or ongoing maintenance.’’
Q. What opportunities do you see in the sector?
A. ‘’One of the main opportunities is the growth in the business. Although we started slowly, we’ve gone from delivering single chargers to delivering multiple units of all capacities. We’ve now installed more than six thousand sockets. We work a lot with charge point operators (CPO) and help to provide maintenance of chargers.
‘’If there’s a serious issue, we can attend within two hours, depending on the location. Usually, we can also get hold of components within 24 to 48 hours. It is a big sell that we can provide this, as well as the installation in the first place. We like to think the VolkerHighways name is a quality brand, and because of this and the work we do, we receive a high proportion of repeat business.’’
Q. How does the EV sector compare to other markets you are involved with?
A. ‘’In my part of the business, I deal with everything electrical. Our EV business has grown by some 60% in the last year, and together with the whole electrical division this represents some 20% of VolkerHighways total revenue this year. But I would say that considering the growth we have factored in over the next few years, that’s going to grow towards 25% of the turnover, I think in the next three or four years.’’
Q. How are you working with local authorities?
A. ‘’We’re advising councils about what’s going on in the market and what we are doing elsewhere. We are working in some boroughs with charge point operators (CPOs) and sometimes we will bring a CPO to the client as well, to start a conversation and start delivering some of the installations for them.
”What we are finding with the authorities, is that the person dealing with EVs might also be the person dealing with several other elements within the authority.
‘’I think that the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund has helped, in providing the LA’s funding to recruit that resource, specifically around the EV side of things and manage that for them.
‘’One advantage is that the CPOs can match fund LA contributions and will then work with the authorities and look at an almost doubling of their budget in some instances. They will work with them and advise them on the strategy and where the rollout needs to be.’’
Q. When it comes to rolling out charging infrastructure, how important is it that this is done at pace? How can you keep up with the speed of deployment?
A. ‘’It’s all about once a project has been approved, how soon can we get it delivered? And get in the ground and get it working.
‘’I think that the cost parity is starting to get a bit better between the ICE vehicles and EVs. People are seeing the benefits of going electric. Within our own business the majority of employees have either EV or hybrids and some are doing 150-to-200-mile round trips each day. We don’t hear them struggling with charging range because with most cars now, they have an improved range. It is also the same with vans.
‘’As technology has moved on, we have worked hard to upskill our staff. We’ve got our fingers on the pulse when it comes to how the technology and the electrical regulations are changing.
‘’You only need to look at the lighting industry which changed quite a lot when there was the LED revolution which started around 10 years ago. As a maintenance provider, we were carrying out routine lamp column maintenance such as bulk lamp changes and as the rollout of LEDs came in, there was massive investment across the UK.
‘’We manage, without factoring in EVs, just over three hundred thousand electrical assets in the local authority highway environment. We have all the electrical and civil skills, including all accreditations to deliver this. The technology in effect drove us to look at what we needed to do to keep the growth in the business and to keep all our teams busy by upskilling them. So, we did exactly that with investment in training and upskilling our people.’’
Q. What do you think things will look like in 2030?
A. ‘’There’s obviously going to be a lot more EVs on the road and a lot more demand for charging. We’re seeing an increase in rapid charging and although I don’t think we will see the demise of the petrol station – now you might see 16 fuel pumps with two EV chargers – by 2030 that could be the opposite.
‘’I’d like EV to be 50% of our electrical business. Whether or not we can get there, we’ll see, but it’s certainly something we should be aiming for. We want to assist the UK to get to where it wants to be in 2030 and beyond.’’
VolkerHighways will be exhibiting on Stand EP4 at this year’s London EV Show which takes place at ExCeL London, from 28-30 November.