It is essential to improve standards while ramping-up EV acceptability
In less than nine years’ time, the most significant change in the UK’s transport strategy will occur with ‘E-Day’ but Iain Robertson is increasingly concerned that the UK is neither willing, nor ready for it, as he digs into worryingly poor installation quality.
According to our government, the big EV switch-on day is set to happen in 2030. Well, judging by how immaturely it has treated the ‘Brexit’ situation, it does make a sane human being wonder about the efficacy of its plans. The early talk of a 2045 shut-off date for new fossil-fuelled motor vehicles was drawn forward to 2040 and, then, a scarcely believable 2030, following what we were told was a ‘consultation’. I worry about modern day political consultations.
The very word has the ring of a cash register to it…and you have to remember that every bean squan…sorry, spent by government comes from the taxpayer’s back pocket. Yet, when tales emerge about the local publican receiving a seven-figure pandemic PPE contract from the Health Minister, or certain consultants, notably those in need of emergent eye tests, pontificating about the rest of us, while skinning the nation financially, without justification, to be frank, I would tip the whole lot, including the quangos, into a skip headed for Mar-a-Lago ignominy.
However, with a stipulation and cut-off date having been set, while not ‘in stone’, mainly because Boris and the Tories might not be in power at all by 2030, introducing an opportunity for the next incumbents to carry out an apposite ‘volte face’, regulatory control still needs to be introduced. The government’s response to its EU-stipulated demand to clean-up the nation’s air and to avoid seven-figure fines, was to encourage the uptake rate of zero-pollution transport, by introducing grants and investing in all manner of its (more worryingly) preferred eco-friendly ancillaries.
Again, remember that every handout is funded by the taxpayer. Introducing a grant also provides government with an opportunity to backdoor regulatory guidance, which might, ultimately, become law. Yet, in the meantime, exacerbated and even accelerated by almost a year’s worth of wretched pandemic, the past decade of ‘electrification’ has witnessed a rebirth of the ’cowboy installer’, in respect of domestic wallbox-type charging devices, whom, without appropriate qualifications, can promise the earth but deliver a more likely fire hazard.
Naturally, what commenced in 2011 as a £5,000 EV grant for low-emission vehicles was altered, amid much consternation from certain carmakers, to being applicable only to zero-emission transport and, then, list price capped at £50,000 and just £3,000 per applicant in last year’s Budget, its administration eased by vehicle manufacturer support. Of course, it is a figure under (constant) review and is likely to change in the 2022/3 tax year.
On the other hand, recognising that an EV charging infrastructure is essential to rolling out the ambitious ‘E-Day’ reality, home-based installations have been incentivised with a £350 grant. However, as Michael Youles, Commercial Manager for SYNC EV, a registered designer, developer and manufacturer of EV chargers, told me: “Grant availability that can reduce the cost of installation and necessary hardware by around 35% is a great help, for sure. Yet, already, some installers have gone to the wall awaiting settlements of grant claims. While SYNC EV’s recommended installers benefit from a level of ROI that can make two to four installations per day reasonably profitable, the government needs to make the grant qualification process more accessible, less wrapped up in administration and speedier in its settlement process.”
It is perceived to be in the nation’s best interests to adopt electrification but, if the subsidies are problematic to obtain, two issues will arise: firstly, the consumer will not bother and, secondly, the ‘cowboy installer’ will proliferate. The danger attached to the latter was all too evident in the Cenex audit carried out for the government, among the findings of which revealed that only 21.1% of domestic wallbox installations were deemed ‘satisfactory’, with 69.6% regarded as ‘recommended for improvement’. Most worrying was the 8.7% deemed ‘potentially dangerous’, with 0.5% rated as ‘dangerous’.
Now, I do not know about you but, when I reflect on the controversies surrounding the Grenfell Tower disaster and the amount of blame shifting that took place, not least by government, the last thing I would welcome, were I resident in a similar block, would be a shoddy EV charger installation that all too readily might spark another conflagration. As Mr Youles continued: “Having a grant does not imply legal fortitude. As we have now exited the EU, the old ‘CE’ standards certification is being changed back in future to the security of the much-respected BSI and its ‘Kitemark’, which must be applied to all hardware and software related to charger installations. At SYNC EV, we are already working diligently on this and include our partners in the process. However, we are fighting to ensure the quality of all installations must also fall into this type of legislative support and the consumer needs to be informed to always look out for the ‘Kitemark’ for the sakes of both safety and security.”
It is abundantly clear that standardising and legitimising the installation of domestic chargers, even though it will add to manufacturer and installer costs, is something that government must promote and the consumer must demand. SYNC EV chargers, among a growing number of similar devices, resolve issues related to branding, which means that they can recharge ANY make and model of EV, a factor that means any vehicle change will not require another dedicated charger.
While the standardisation of plug-in leads is already putting some vehicle manufacturers on the back foot, while Tesla ties its customers to its dedicated recharging facilities, both in the public and domestic domains, even it must start to take a longer view and upgrade its equipment to allow broader access. Recharging at home is always going to be the most economical route for the EV user. It should also be the safest.