Icebreaker One is working with the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles, part of the Department for Transport, on a project to explore the data infrastructure needed to roll out more electrical vehicle charge points. We spoke to Natasha Robinson, Joint Head of OZEV, about where data sharing fits into their plans to get more electric vehicles on the road.

Why is the UK moving towards electric vehicles? 

NR: We’re moving towards electric vehicles because of climate change, air quality, and energy security. 

All studies suggest that even on our current grid mix, and taking into account the whole life of the vehicles, electric vehicles have around a third of the emissions of traditional petrol or diesel-powered engines. That will only improve as the grid decarbonises, so they’ll get cleaner in use. Air quality is more of a mixed picture, but electric vehicles have a positive impact on reducing NOx emissions which are a key pollutant.  

“For energy security, electric vehicles answer the question of where we’re going to get the power for our vehicles from in the long term. Unlike petrol, we can make clean electricity in the UK from home-grown renewables. There’s also a huge industrial opportunity. The UK has been a traditional car manufacturer for the last century. The transition to electric vehicles is happening everywhere, and we want to be at the forefront of it.” 

From a driver’s point of view, we want this to be a good experience. For an increasing number of people going electric is already a better option than traditional cars.

Although there are higher upfront costs right now, running costs are far lower. For more and more people that cost equation is working. As we get more electric vehicles on the roads, that will follow through into the second-hand market, which is where the majority of people buy their vehicles, meaning there’ll be more cars available at more accessible prices. And if you can charge overnight at home, which around 70% of us can potentially do, you can leave the house with a full battery.

They also offer a great driving experience – like driving as you imagined when you were a kid, with instant acceleration and simple controls. For example, my brother in law isn’t a keen driver because he’s worried about stalling. You can’t stall an electric vehicle. It’s ideal for people who just want to get from A to B.

What are you working on at the moment to improve the experience for electric vehicle drivers? 

NR: On infrastructure, one of the biggest challenges is how you provide chargepoints to people who don’t have off street parking, or who live in a flat. We need to work out how to address that – for example, rapid or on-street charge points nearby. Different solutions are likely to be right for different places

One of the other challenges we’re working on is long distance journeys. Most vehicles have ranges of more than 200 miles which will cover the vast majority of people’s day to day journeys, but there will be times when people want to go further and they expect to be able to do that easily. Take a bank holiday, where people are more likely to travel to see family and will need to charge more away from home. We’re working on getting more charging capacity into motorway service stations, and we’ve set up a Rapid Charging Fund and a Local EV Infrastructure Fund to make sure that charge points are there wherever people need them.  

We’re also working on regulation to make sure the experience for drivers is as good as it can be. We’ve already brought in regulation to make sure all new private chargepoints are smart, and that all new homes have a charger as standard. Next, we’re looking to make sure chargepoints have open access to card and contactless payments, and are completely reliable – we’re looking for 99% reliability for all rapid charge points. Finally, we’re setting new rules to make sure that chargepoints meet accessibility standards so everyone can use them. 

“This is all underpinned by data. We know we can’t understand costs, accessibility, reliability – anything without data.” 

What’s the role of data access in making all of this happen? 

NR: One of the big challenges we’ve seen so far is understanding the patterns of drivers’ demand: where people are parking, how they’re using their vehicles, when and how they’re charging them. Industry and local authorities need better data access to look at energy capacity and grid reinforcement that’s required to put chargepoints where people actually need them. We need to be able to understand where the hotspots of demand are all across the country to meet that demand. 

That is essential for the private motorist, but also for commercial fleets. Making sure that local authorities can easily access the data that helps them predict demand in their area will make sure they understand need, and can make sure charge point supply meets demand. 

Read: how Open Energy can help get electric vehicles on the road 

The other thing better data access can do is give drivers much more of the information they need. If we can make it easier for businesses and local authorities to share data with each other securely and easily, we can get useful data to the public too – for example, where charge points are, what speed they are, how much they cost, whether they’re accessible, and how they can pay for charging. 

“Better data access is going to be useful for everyone involved. Chargepoint operators want to provide a top-class service. Local authorities want to clean up pollution on their streets and make sure the transition to electric vehicles goes smoothly. Businesses want to electrify their fleets to help meet net zero goals and reduce costs. And drivers want chargepoints to be there when they need them, and to be able to get the information they need in advance.” 

We want individuals, businesses, local authorities and central government to have the information that they need at their fingertips so they can have confidence in the transition we’re making as a country to electric vehicles. There’s a future where your car could tell you it’s running low on energy, then suggest a location nearby and tell you whether it’s available. That’s actually a better experience than refuelling at a petrol station is now. None of that will be possible – the charge point nearby, the location information, the availability information – without the data sharing that underpins it. 

Read: How Icebreaker One and OZEV agreed a priority use case

Why did you decide to work in partnership with Icebreaker One on improving data access? 

NR: We wanted to understand more about what’s possible in improving data sharing – looking at user needs in depth with an organisation with an established process. 

Read: Icebreaker One partners with OZEV to roll out more EV charge points 

We want to build expertise and export that to other areas. That’s not just about cars and batteries – it’s also about the systems behind it. There are countless international counterparts who are having the same problems.

This is an international transition and we want to be a leader in this space. There are huge opportunities for the UK in electric vehicles – environmental, industrial and consumer – and levelling up our ability to find, access and share data underpins it all. 

Read: Use case report – electric vehicle on-street chargepoints