Swedish energy giant to start offering pay-as-you-go EV charge points in major play for a piece of the e-mobility market
In yet another huge vote of confidence in the growing appetite for EVs, Vattenfall has today announced its first foray into the UK's electric vehicle charging market.
The Swedish energy giant today unveiled its InCharge 'any driver can use' charge point concept. Set for launch to market next month, the company hopes to have its first 'charging poles' installed during the second half of 2018, targeting the domestic market to allow EV drivers to power up at home, work and in public places.
Crucially, Vattenfall said it would allow any EV to charge up at any of its InCharge points on a pay-as-you-go basis, without requiring a membership or subscription. Vattenfall also said it would look to strike roaming agreements with other rival charge point operators or driver service operators, to make the charging process as frictionless as possible for drivers.
Such an approach is more commonplace in parts of Europe where Vattenfall has been operating a number of charging networks for several years, the firm explained, but much more unusual in the UK where EV drivers are often limited to only using charging networks to which they are a member.
Tomas Björnsson, Vattenfall's head of e-mobility, told reporters this morning that operating open charging networks for EV drivers was a crucial step in maturing the UK's EV market.
"We believe it is beneficial if both public and business-owned semi-public charging infrastructure can be made available for all drivers," he said. "It makes EV charging hassle-free for the driver, and maximises utilisation of infrastructure for the real estate owners that invest in charging."
Vattenfall already operates charging networks in Sweden and the Netherlands among other countries, said it would initially be focusing on the B2B market in the UK, including real estate companies, hotel chains, garages and large employers. In addition, the Swedish firm is considering tenders for public charge points in Leeds and with Transport for London.
The charge poles are largely expected to offer between 3kw and 22kw charging capability, with Björnsson citing the biggest customer demand for charge times around the four-hour mark, although the firm is also exploring DC fast charging.
Björnsson said the firm's investment plans for office and destination charging would help to increase competition, cut costs and tackle driver 'range anxiety'. "We want to work in partnership with commercial property owners and developers, fleet owners and public bodies to make this happen," Björnsson explained. "We have worked closely with many partners in other countries and we know we can make this a success in the GB."
The announcement is just the latest indicator that the role of transport, energy, infrastructure and clean technology companies is shifting in the march towards a low carbon economy, with the separation between the services and products offered by many of these companies beginning to erode. Nissan is just one EV manufacturer moving into solar power, home energy and smart charging, while even oil companies such as Shell are investing in energy suppliers and EV charging firms. Vattenfall, meanwhile, is investing €1bn in renewables across Europe each year, and in the UK alone boasts around 2Twh of wind power capacity as well as investments in battery and solar installations.
A new UK e-mobility head, Anthony Hinde - who has a background in geothermal energy - is set to start at Vattenfall next month. It is therefore early days for the firm's EV charge point aspirations, and no specific targets or investment levels have yet been set - although on a wider level Vattenfall has set aside €300m investment to boost its decentralised energy business.
It is, however, actively considering offering home charging tariffs to its energy customers in future, and said it has not ruled out moving into nascent vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology in the future.
Björnsson told reporters he wanted Vattenfall to become a top three charge point operator in the UK, arguing the firm was well placed to take the advantage over rival energy and oil firms.
"What has been appreciated by our customers in other markets, is that we have a reliability as an energy company - first of all as a Swedish, international, state-owned energy company - that is here for the longer run," he said. "The reliability of being an energy company that is not only about charging, but in the future also about system integration and the possibility to work with other technologies, such as battery storage and microgrid technologies - we are there to be able to handle the long-run situation as well."
Vattenfall's move into the UK EV market is set against an increasingly promising backdrop for electric vehicles globally. Today the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual EV figures showing the number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the world's roads exceeded three million in 2017, a 54 per cent increase on the previous year. China remains the biggest EV market followed by the US, with strong growth markets in Nordic countries, Germany and Japan, according to the data.
Taking into account current and planned policies, the IEA projects the number of EVs will reach 125 million by 2030, rising to 220 million by that date if global policy climate goals and sustainability targets increase in ambition in the coming years.
Vattenfall as a company has said its aim is to be fossil fuel free within a generation, and Björnsson said the firm's move into the UK EV market was in part prompted by strong policy support from the British government.
"Massive growth is definitely imminent," Björnsson said. "And when it comes to the policy landscape, this is one part of why we are entering the UK - this is now prioritized in UK strategy. We are very positive about the Clean Growth strategy and the Autonomous and Electric Vehicles Bill - all of this is really pointing to a massive push. The combination of strong regulatory promotion of EVs, strong market fundamentals in the UK in general and the opportunity that we see as coming in with fresh eyes for what works well in other countries - we do believe we have a very attractive offer for the UK market."
Vattenfall itself also plans to switch its entire 3,500-strong fleet of vehicles across Europe to electric within the next five years. Is this the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel car?
"We as a company are absolutely convinced of this," said Björnsson. "There are so many stars that are aligned on this. The cost development of the technology, the massive push from car manufacturers - there is an absolute must. We are absolutely convinced the electrification of transport is the way to go to both combat climate change and air pollution as well."
The market for charging infrastructure and electric vehicles is already looking crowded, and as a newcomer Vattenfall will have its work cut out to carve its niche. Nevertheless, it is a clear sign that energy and mobility markets are only heading in a single, green direction.
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