New survey suggests interest in electric vehicles could surge when people realise they can make money from their plug-in cars
The electric vehicle (EV) industry received something of a shock this week with the publication of sales figures showing that for the first time in years the market had slowed.
The SMMT revealed that during the first two months of the year sales of pure EVs fell from almost 1,500 last year to below 1,000 units. Sales of plug-in hybrids may have grown, but the recent rapid expansion enjoyed by the EV sector came to a shuddering halt.
The auto industry remains optimistic this represents a blip, rather than a slump. Manufacturers are confident improving range, falling costs, and an expanding recharging network will all translate into stellar sales in time, and they are adjusting their investment plans accordingly. Only this week VW released further details of its 'electric offensive' confirming it has selected partners to provide it with up to €20bn worth of batteries and associated technologies. Virtually every other major manufacturer is pursuing similarly ambitious plans.
But the question remains as to how to overcome customer reticence towards a technology that remains associated with short ranges, lengthy battery charging times, and hefty price tags.
Yesterday, a YouGov survey commissioned by Ovo Energy pointed to a potential answer. The poll of 2,315 adults revealed a glaring 'knowledge gap' persists with regards to EVs that is hampering market development. It also pointed to how emerging vehicle to grid (V2G) technologies could tap into the financial considerations that inform many car purchases and help tilt the market in favour of EVs.
More than half of respondents to the survey said they would choose an EV over petrol or diesel models if they could save money or make money in the long-term. But awareness of the extensive running cost savings on offer through EVs remains low, while only 13 per cent of respondents were aware of V2G chargers and their ability to allow motorists to sell power back to the grid. Awareness of domestic batteries that can perform a similar role was only fractionally higher, with 19 per cent of people saying they knew of the technology.
The implication is that as V2G technologies move from their current trial phase and start to be offered across the market EVs will become significantly more attractive to motorists. The survey provides further support for this theory, finding that 38 per cent UK adults that own or intend to purchase a car in the next 12 months, and were not aware you could purchase V2G chargers, would be more likely to buy an EV if they could use their car as a virtual power station.
V2G technologies remain at an early stage with a number of government-backed trials underway and a handful of companies, including Ovo Energy, looking to offer V2G chargers. But the market opportunity is considerable. According to Ovo Energy, if the 19,000 Nissan LEAFs already registered in the UK made use of V2G chargers they could provide more than 114MW of storage capacity to grid, enough to power up to 300,000 homes.
There are also hopes that a halfway house between V2G and standard charges - so-called smart chargers - could further curb costs for EV owners. Trade body Energy UK this week launched a new consultation to try and agree industry standards for smart chargers that would exploit time of use tariffs to ensure EVs are charged at times when power costs are at their lowest.
Energy UK intends to present the results of the consultation to government with a view to establishing standards that would minimise the impact of EVs on grid infrastructure and maximise the cost and environmental benefits.
"With a 2040 deadline for phasing out the sale of diesel and petrol cars, the EV rollout is gathering pace all the time - presenting opportunities for the energy system, UK economy and consumers. To maximise these opportunities, we must tackle important technical issues like smart charging standards without further delay - and that's why we are pressing ahead with this work," said Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK. "The EV revolution is crucial to meeting the UK's carbon targets by reducing transport emissions and cleaning up the air that we breathe - but if we can seize the opportunity, there is also the chance to boost our economy by becoming a global leader in the new technologies involved."
However, even as the development of charging infrastructure gathers pace, the 'knowledge gap' continues to present a challenge to the sector. The YouGov survey revealed 57 per cent of people would be "more inclined to purchase an electric car if they received financial support from the government". But 79 per cent were unaware such support already exists in the form of grants worth up to £4,500 through the government's Plug-In Car Grant scheme.
"People are clearly keen to start their green journey, but a lack of knowledge means many are unaware of the full benefits of harnessing renewable energy," said Tom Pakenham, director of electric vehicles at OVO Energy. "To inspire people to be part of this solution, they'll need convincing that this new technology would be a practical addition to their lives as well as safeguarding our environmental future."
He added that OVO Energy's focus was on "joining the dots for customers to show that there are practical, cost-effective ways to go green for the long-term".
EVs may be on the cusp of a major breakthrough, but it seems that the only way to encourage more businesses and consumers to make the switch to electric motoring is by tackling a 'knowledge gap' that threatens to block the market into the slow lane.
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