Featured Article: Charging Electric Vehicles – What You Need to Know

In this article, we look at the different types and locations of EV charging in the UK, plus the challenges and legislation relating to it.

How Many Electric Cars In The UK?

By the end of August 2021, there were more than 600,000 plug-in vehicles, and nearly 300,000 BEVs (Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles) and 300,000 PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle ) registered in the UK. Electric vehicles are often simply referred to as EVs.

Charging EVs

Electronic vehicles contain batteries that need charging. Although hybrid EVs are powered by an internal combustion engine and electric motor (which uses energy stored in batteries), they can’t be plugged in to charge the battery (the engine and regenerative braking charge the battery).

For normal EVs, three main types of charging are available (rapid, fast, and slow). These represent the power outputs (measured in kilowatts kW) and charging speeds. Each charger type has a different type of connector for low or high-power use, and for AC or DC charging.

Rapid chargers, using tethered cables, are the fastest way to charge an EV, and they supply high power as direct or alternating current (DC or AC). Typically (depending on the model), rapid charging can recharge EV batteries to 80 per cent in around 20 minutes. Types of rapid chargers include rapid DC chargers (providing power at 50 kW/125A, ultra-rapid DC chargers providing power at 100 kW or more, Tesla’s own Supercharger network providing rapid DC charging (using the Tesla Type 2 connector or a Tesla CCS connector) up to 150 kW, and rapid AC chargers providing power at 43 kW.

Fast chargers (mostly AC charging) can typically recharge an EV with a 40-kWh battery in 4-6 hours using a 7-kW charger, or in 1-2 hours using a 22-kW charger. Most fast chargers are 7 kW and untethered (a cable that is not permanently fixed to the charge point connects the EV with the charge point). Some home and workplace units have cables attached.

Slow chargers are mostly untethered, and a 3-kW unit typically takes 6-12 hours to fully charge a car battery.

Different Connectors for Charging

Connectors (to the car from the charging point) differ depending on the charger type (socket) and the vehicle’s inlet port. For example, rapid chargers use CHAdeMO, CCS (Combined Charging Standard) or Type 2 connectors, whereas fast and slow units tend to use Type 2, Type 1, Commando, or 3-pin plug outlets.

Where?

The choices of where EV owners can charge their vehicles include vary. For example, there are 20+ EV charging networks are currently available in the UK. Examples of these networks include the ESB Energy public network (rapid charge points, London, and Coventry plus charge points for taxi drivers), Osprey (formerly Engenie) with its UK-wide network of rapid chargers, and bp pulse (formerly Polar) which is one of the UK’s largest public charging networks.

EV charger types and their location typically include:

– Rapid chargers, which can be found (typically) at motorway services and near main travel routes.

– Fast chargers, found (typically) at car parks, supermarkets, and leisure centres.

– Slow Charging points are mainly used outside private homes (for charging overnight), at workplaces, and in some other public places. Slow public chargers tend to be older devices.

Paying

Different networks offer different payment methods for using their chargers. Payment methods include Zap-Pay (an app-based, pay-as-you-go credit or debit card system), contactless credit or debit card payments, MFG app contactless payments, subscription memberships, and more.

Most Use Public Chargers

A Zap-Map survey (of 2,200 people) found that 90 per cent use public chargers when they’re out. Supermarkets are the most popular public charging place (48 per cent of respondents), followed by motorway service stations (47 per cent) and public car parks (32 per cent).

Ultra-Rapid Charging Point Growth

Recent figures have also shown a growth in ultra-rapid charge points with 16 per cent of EV owners now using them. This trend has been helped by more cars being able to take higher charge rates as well as an almost doubling of the number of ultra-rapid charge points available.

The UK Law

In the UK, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEV Act), was essentially designed to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure and insurance system could cope with the large-scale switch from petrol/diesel to electronic vehicles. Whereas the first part of the Act is mainly concerned with how insurers deal with claims related to operating EVs in automated technology mode and keeping the software up to date, the second part deals with the EV charging infrastructure (availability, compatibility vehicle types, reliability standards and standardising how they are paid for).

Government Consultation

In 2019, the UK government held a consultation with stakeholders in response to the introduction of the Act. Some of the key points in the responses include:

– The time of day at which Electric Vehicle (EV) charging occurs could have significant implications for the electricity system. With more people getting home charging points, this could lead to most EVs being charged at peak times (between 5pm and 7pm), this could mean that greater investment is needed in the charging networks, and in and in electricity generation capacity to meet increased demand.

– Shifting EV charging to a different time of day (e.g. overnight) when there is lower demand on the electricity system, or to times of high renewable energy generation, could help reduce the need for costly electricity network reinforcement to meet increased demand, and could give consumers savings on their energy bills.

– The AEV Act 2018 gives the UK Government powers through secondary legislation to mandate that all EV charge points sold and installed in the UK have smart functionality and meet minimum device-level requirements.

Peak Times?

Due to the increased demand and possible disruptive effect on the UK energy supply from EV owners all charging their cars at the same time, there have been concerns that new EV chargers could be preset to turn off for nine hours a day, and automatically set to not function at ‘peak times.’ However, public chargers and rapid chargers (e.g. on motorways) are exempt from peak times. Smart charge points may, however, come pre-set to prevent automatic charging during peak times (8 am to 11 am, 4 pm to 10 pm weekdays) but the legislation specifies time windows instead of an off-peak period.

Although the UK government requires smart EV charger makers to include a function that randomly delays the start time of any load control action (to delay EV charging when there is grid instability), they have also said that users should be allowed to override this delay function.

New Build Homes and Offices Must Include EV Chargers

One of the big challenges to getting people to buy an EV vehicle is whether they can have charging points available at home (or at work). The UK government is therefore introducing legislation later this year that will require all newly built homes and offices in England to feature EV chargers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having a charging network that is widespread, effective, easy, and cheap to use, and having home and/or office charging points as well as public charging points are of major importance in influencing more people to make the switch to EV ownership. There is, however, still some confusion in the marketplace about charging options which is one of the reasons why The Department for Transport (DfT) has introduced contactless payment at charge points, forcing operators to provide a 24/7 call helpline for drivers and making location data, power rating and price information more accessible, with the hope of reassuring motorists that charging EV’s can be easier than refuelling with petrol or diesel. Also, the government needs to be able to ensure that the energy infrastructure is capable of dealing with the demands of EV charging (e.g. home charging) on a large scale, and that this will not disrupt/destabilise the grid, especially at peak times, hence the government’s consultation. This is a challenge that must be tackled soon due to legislation coming in to require all new homes and offices to have a charging point. The EV charging network market is also likely to expand, thereby providing more new opportunities for energy companies and charging network suppliers. How the situation is balanced and managed as EV ownership takes off is a critical matter for government, businesses, and individuals over the next few years.

Tech Insight : What Is A Solid State Battery?

In this tech-insight, we take a brief look at what solid-state batteries are, their benefits and challenges, and how why they hold a great deal of promise for use in electric vehicles in the near future.

Solid State

A solid-state battery is a battery that has solid electrodes and solid electrolytes to transfer ions from the cathode to the anode when charging (and vice versa when discharging).  This differs from lithium-ion/ lithium polymer batteries which have a liquid or polymer gel as the electrolyte.

The Benefits of Solid-State Batteries

Some of the main benefits of solid-state batteries are:

– Longer battery run time in relation to the battery size due to higher energy density.

– Safety. There’s no risk of explosion or fire, as there is with some batteries with liquid electrolytes.

– Better use of space and lower costs (compared to lithium-ion batteries) because there is no need for (fire/explosion) safety components.

– Increased battery capacity due to the better use of space, allowing for the inclusion of more active materials.

– Compact/small and light, therefore giving flexibility in where they can be used.

– Longer lifespans, plus solid-state batteries can be charged more times than lithium-ion batteries.

– Fast charging time, better performance over time, a longer life cycle, and better recycling potential than lithium-ion batteries.

Disadvantages and Challenges

Some of the disadvantages and challenges of solid state batteries include:

– Expensive to manufacture because it’s an emerging technology, so the economies of scale aren’t in place, and electrolytes are expensive to produce (and are prone to cracking).

– Uncertainty about the best chemical and atomic composition for a solid electrolyte between metallic anodes and cathodes.

– Difficult to manufacture at scale.

Applications of Solid-State Batteries

Some of the current places where solid-state batteries are used include within pacemakers, smartwatches/wearable devices, and RFID tags (in industry).

Electric Vehicles

Factors such as the high energy density per unit area (providing a higher capacity and longer run time) have made solid-state batteries a very promising prospect for the EV market, with many automobile and tech companies investing in moving solid-state technology forwards.  For example, Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) claims to have made a breakthrough in solid electrolyte technology which has enabled the size of a solid-state battery to be halved.  This could, in theory, double the range of today’s first-generation EVs on one charge. Many tech commentators are predicting that solid-state batteries may take over from lithium-ion batteries.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Smaller, more powerful, longer-lasting batteries that offer the promise of greater sustainability are surely an attractive prospect in many industries, particularly the emerging EV industry. All the major car companies are now committed to electric vehicle production and how well a battery performs is an important value-adding factor for motorists to consider as they buy their first electric vehicles. There are still several challenges to overcome with solid-state batteries (e.g. finding the best composition and manufacturing at scale) but momentum is now building towards making the breakthroughs that could see solid-state batteries delivering benefits in more industries.

Voice Control Your Printer

Amazon has announced its new ‘Printing With Alexa’ service that allows owners of Echo devices to operate their printer using voice commands.

Print What?

Printing With Alexa allows the simple “Alexa, print….” followed by what the user requires to produce a printed document.  Amazon says that the kinds of things that can be printed this way include “shopping and to-do lists, games like mazes and Sudoku, graph paper, lined paper, and test pages.”

The list of different documents, many of which are related to family activities, appears to reflect the working and learning from home that has become the new norm for many people over the last 6 months, and possibly again in the future with second spikes or more lockdowns. 

Connecting

Amazon says that the service will work with compatible printers that are connected to the same wireless network as your Alexa device (provided it is a compatible Echo device too). The service is activated when the user says “Alexa, discover my printer”, or navigates to the “Devices” screen in the Alexa App, selects “+”, selects “Add Device”, and chooses “Printer” as the device type. Amazon says that the service works with most IPP-enabled network-connected printers manufactured by HP, Brother, Canon, and Epson.

Ink or Toner Re-Orders

The service also enables automatic ordering ink or toner from Amazon at a 10 per cent discount, thereby acting as a kind of hands-free replenishment process and providing extra revenue for Amazon.

Brand Voice

Back in February, before the worldwide pandemic lockdowns and working-from-home hit, Amazon was more focused on features for the business market with Alexa as it offered a new ‘Brand Voice’ capability through AWS (Brand Polly) to companies which enabled them to create their own custom voice for Alexa to replace the default voice with one that reflected their “persona”, such as the voice of Colonel Sanders for KFC.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The ‘Printing With Alexa’ service is another step in Amazon’s plan to tie Alexa (and Echo devices) more closely in with all aspects of the user’s life e.g. making phone calls, setting their appointments, alarms and reminders, and linking in with many other devices on their home network plus IoT devices.  This strategy may put Amazon’s digital assistant at the heart of the operation of modern home and will, as in this case with the printer cartridge re-ordering, tie in with Amazon’s retailing platforms, thereby providing increased revenue for Amazon and a monetising of Alexa.  This may even spread to the ordering of groceries.  For example, in July, Amazon announced that it was taking on the supermarkets and Ocado in the UK with free grocery deliveries from its Amazon Fresh service.

Even though the pandemic has dampened business-targeted announcements, Amazon is still planning to keep monetising Alexa in the business market too where there is huge potential for modifications and different targeted and customised versions of Alexa and digital assistants.  For example, in April last year, Amazon launched its Alexa for Business Blueprints, which is a platform that enables businesses to make their own Alexa-powered applications for their organisation and incorporate their own customised, private ‘skills’.

Featured Article – Just What Is The IoT?

With a vast and growing number of business, industry, consumer and civic IoT devices and systems now being used, we look at their advantages, the threats to the IoT and how we move forward in a way that maximises the benefits and security.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices are those devices that are now present in most offices and homes that have a connection to the Internet and are, therefore, ‘smart’ and inter-connected. These devices, each of which has an IP address, could be anything from white goods and smart thermostats to CCTV cameras, medical implants, industrial controllers and building entry systems.

IoT devices transmit and collect data which can be processed in data-centres or the cloud.  IoT devices use several different communications standards and protocols to communicate with other devices.  These include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee (for low-power, short-distance communication) or message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT).

Categories

The IoT can be categorised as the consumer IoT, industrial IoT, smart homes and offices and even smart cities.

Cloud

Cloud providers also provide IoT platforms that allow IoT devices and gateways to connect with the applications used to deal with the IoT data, coordinate IoT systems and help with their functionality.

Billions

Estimates on the growing number of IoT devices vary but there is thought to be anywhere between 30 and 50 billion IoT devices worldwide which could generate more than 4 zettabytes of data this year. 

The Advantages of the IoT

Devices and systems that are ‘smart’ i.e. have an internet connection have several key advantages including:

– Data can be gathered from IoT devices that can be used to improve design, operation, security and more. This can help to create new opportunities and launch new, improved products.

– They can be updated and even patched remotely and quickly without requiring physical parts to be replaced.

– Customer interaction and engagement with the product and the brand can be increased by having a smart function.

– Companies can use IoT technologies to reduce their operational costs e.g. by helping to track and monitor equipment and reduce downtime, predict errors, and reduce power consumption.

IoT Security Risks

The risks are that the Internet connection in IoT devices can, if adequate security measures are not in place, provide a way in for hackers to steal personal data, spy on users in their own homes, or remotely take control of devices in order to misuse them.

The main security issue of many of these devices is that they have pre-set, default unchangeable passwords, and once these passwords have been discovered by cyber-criminals, the IoT devices are wide open to being tampered with and misused.

Also, the fact that IoT devices are so prevalent and are often overlooked in security planning (and are therefore likely left unguarded) means that they are vulnerable to hacks and attacks.

Another big risk is that IoT devices are deployed in many systems that link to (and are supplied by) major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large-scale attack on these IoT systems could affect the economy.

“Shadow IoT” devices i.e. connected to corporate networks without the knowledge of IT teams, also now pose a threat to organisations by allowing attackers a way to get into a corporate network. These devices can include fitness trackers, smartwatches, and medical devices.

Real-Life Examples

A poll by Extreme Networks of 540 IT professionals in the U.S, Europe and the Asia Pacific regions found that 70 per cent of companies who said they employed IoT devices were aware of successful or attempted hacks.

Hacks of IoT devices do not just happen to businesses.  With so many IoT devices being present in the modern home we are all now at risk. Some real-life examples of IoT hacking include:

– Hackers talking to a young girl in her bedroom via a ‘Ring’ home security camera (Mississippi, December 2019).  In the same month, a Florida family were subjected to vocal, racial abuse in their own home and subjected to a loud alarm blast after a hacker took over their ‘Ring’ security system without permission.

– In May 2018, A US woman reported that a private home conversation had been recorded by her Amazon’s voice assistant, and then sent it to a random phone contact who happened to be her husband’s employee.

– Back in 2017, researchers discovered that a sex toy with an in-built camera could also be hacked.

– In October 2016, the ‘Mirai’ attack used thousands of household IoT devices as a botnet to launch an online distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (on the DNS service ‘Dyn’) with global consequences.

2020 Hacks

Examples of how some bigger IoT systems and devices have been attacked this year include:

– In February, there were reports that a vulnerability in over 2,300 smart building access systems was being exploited by attackers to launch DDoS attacks.

– In May, supercomputing systems in the UK, Germany, and Switzerland were targeted and infected with cryptocurrency mining malware.

– Also in May, a new form of malware called Kaiji was found to have been used to target IoT devices and Linux servers to make them part of a botnet that could be used for several different types of DDoS attacks.

IoT Security Legislation on the Way

In January this year, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), announced that it is preparing new legislation to enforce new standards that will protect users of IoT devices from known hacking and spying risks.

IoT Household Gadgets

This commitment to legislate leads on from last year’s proposal by then Digital Minister Margot James and follows a seven-month consultation with GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, and with stakeholders including manufacturers, retailers, and academics. 

The proposed new legislation will improve digital protection for users of a growing number of smart household devices (devices with an Internet connection) that are broadly grouped together as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).  These gadgets include kitchen appliances and gadgets, connected TVs, smart speakers, home security cameras, baby monitors and more.

In business settings, IoT devices can include elevators, doors, or whole heating and fire safety systems in office buildings.

The proposed new legislation will be intended to put pressure on manufacturers to ensure that:

– All internet-enabled devices have a unique password and not a default one.

– There is a public point of contact for the reporting of any vulnerabilities in IoT products.

– The minimum length of time that a device will receive security updates is clearly stated.

Challenges

Even though legislation could make manufacturers try harder to make IoT devices more secure, technical experts and commentators have pointed out that there are many challenges to making internet-enabled/smart devices secure because:

  • Adding security to household internet-enabled ‘commodity’ items costs money. This would have to be passed on to the customer in higher prices, but this would mean that the price would not be competitive. Therefore, it may be that security is being sacrificed to keep costs down – sell now and worry about security later.
  • Even if there is a security problem in a device, the firmware (the device’s software) is not always easy to update. There are also costs involved in doing so which manufacturers of lower-end devices may not be willing to incur.
  • With devices which are typically infrequent and long-lasting purchases e.g. white goods, we tend to keep them until they stop working, and we are unlikely to replace them because they have a security vulnerability that is not fully understood. As such, these devices are likely to remain available to be used by cyber-criminals for a long time.

Looking Ahead

The IoT brings many advantages to businesses in terms of cost savings, the gathering of valuable data, monitoring and management. For consumers, smart devices deliver new levels of value-adding functionality and looking ahead, towns and cities will begin to rely even more on the benefits of IoT devices and systems.

The vast number of IoT devices, many which go unnoticed or fall outside of realistic risk assessments and/or still contain known weaknesses and vulnerabilities mean that there are big concerns about IoT security and privacy going forward. 

New legislation could mean that manufacturers in some parts of the world are more motivated to pay greater attention to the security and labelling of IoT devices although there is still some way to go.  That said, smart systems combined with other technologies such as AI and cloud technologies look like providing more opportunities for businesses in the future.

No More Laptops From Toshiba

Tokyo-based Toshiba Corporation has announced that it has now transferred the remaining 19.9 per cent of its outstanding shares in its PC business (re-branded as Dynabook Inc.) to Sharp Corporation.

Helped By Foxconn

Back in June 2018, Japan’s Sharp Corp announced that it was buying Toshiba Corp’s personal computer business for $36 million.  The purchase made using the considerable resources of its parent company Foxconn (the world’s biggest contract manufacturer), meant that Sharp could re-enter the PC business that it had left eight years earlier.  The deal also meant that Sharp took an 80.1 per cent stake in Toshiba’s PC unit with a view to buying the remaining 19.1 per cent of shares this June.  Toshiba’s latest statement confirms that Toshiba has now completed the deal and is now out of the laptop manufacturing market.

Toshiba

After making the first PC laptop in 1985 and ranking highly among the laptop manufacturers of the 1990s and early 2000s, Toshiba then faced strong competition in an ever-more-crowded market where it struggled to differentiate its products.

Toshiba had also faced problems and bad publicity over news that its CEO had known about a profit inflation scheme for some years before 2015 when it was discovered that Toshiba had been overstating its profits by an estimated £780 million. Resignations in the boardroom followed.

Consumers moving more towards phones than PCs and falling sales in recent years meant that Toshiba decided to sell most of its PC business to Sharp. Sharp renamed the PC division ‘Dynabook’ in January 2019.

Selling and closing parts of the business have been a feature of Toshiba in recent years with the sale of parts of its chip unit, the sale of its TV business to Hisense and white good business to Midea Group (in China), and the closing of its NuGen nuclear business in the UK.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is sad to hear that one of the pioneers of the laptop business and a well-known and trusted brand here in the UK has finally left the PC business. This story highlights the relatively fast swing towards using smartphones and other differentiated, smaller (e.g. notepad) mobile devices in recent years, and how strong players such as Dell, Apple, Acer and others have come to dominate a busy laptop market. Toshiba also appears to have suffered from trouble at the top over the actions of its former CEO and some of its executives and this illustrates how bad publicity and loss of trust can also adversely affect a business.

UK Rejects Huawei Equipment For 5G Infrastructure

The UK government has gone back on its original decision to use some Huawei equipment in non-core parts of the UK’s 5G network and has opted to remove all Huawei kit by 2027.

The Waiting Is Over

For the last couple of weeks, Huawei, China and the U.S. have been awaiting the UK governments decision, following further pressure from the Trump administration, on whether the UK would decide to exclude Huawei equipment completely from UK’s 5G network. 

The final decision, as announced in the Commons by Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden is that:

– All Huawei 5G must be removed from the UK’s mobile networks by 2027.

– UK mobile providers are banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December this year.

Other new restrictions also announced by Mr Dowden mean that UK mobile operators should also now “transition away” from buying new Huawei equipment for use in full-fibre networks within the next two years.

Change

This announcement is a marked change from January 2020 when the UK government said that it would allow Huawei equipment to be used in the country’s 5G network, but not in core network functions or critical national infrastructure, and not in nuclear and military sites.  The UK also decided in January that Huawei’s equipment would only be allowed to make up 35 per cent of the network’s periphery, including radio masts.

Review After Pressure

Pressure and new sanctions from the Trump administration in the U.S., which some commentators see as conducting its own ‘cold war’ and trade war against China, exacerbated by blaming China for a lack of transparency in the emergence and early spread of COVID-19, along with pressure from Conservative backbenchers appear to have been major factors in the UK’s change of mind over Huawei.

Huawei Says

Huawei, which is reported to employ 1,600 people in the UK and receives considerable investment from China has reacted with dismay, suggested that the UK’s move is more of political one to please the U.S., and Lord Browne, the UK’s Huawei chairman has announced that he is to step down.

China Says

China has reacted to the UK ban with dismay and anger with China’s ambassador to the UK saying that the decision was “disappointing and wrong” and tweeting that it is “questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries”.  The move by the UK was welcomed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Warnings

Some commentators have however warned that removing Huawei’s equipment will be very costly, time-consuming, and could even result in communications blackouts. It has also been reported that the decision could set the UK’s 5G network development back by a couple of years.

Although BT is cautiously analysing the likely impact of the decision, Nokia and Ericsson, two major 5G equipment vendors look set to benefit from the decision.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is clear to many people that President Trump’s administration in the U.S. is the driving force behind the UK and other countries falling into line regarding opposition to Huawei and rejecting its 5G network products. Although the move may be good news for other big 5G kit suppliers like Nokia and Ericsson, it could prompt China to take its own measures against UK companies.  China has also provided the money for the building of new nuclear reactors at UK power stations such as Hinkley Point, so it also remains to be seen how this may be affected by the UK appearing to make decisions in support of the those made by the Trump administration in the U.S. There are those, of course, those who genuinely see Huawei as being a high-risk vendor due to perceived close links to the Chinese government and, therefore, posing a potential security risk, and the decision to drop Huawei kit altogether from the 5G network has, consequently, been met with approval by many. 

Although UK businesses would obviously like the UK’s 5G network to be secure, they would also like it to be developed as soon as possible to enable UK companies to not be at a competitive disadvantage.  At the moment, it looks as though the rejection of Huawei could prove to be costly for infrastructure providers, and could add a couple of years on to how long UK businesses have to wait to get a well-developed 5G network across the UK.

Featured Article – Electric Vehicles, Batteries & Renewables

With 7 million electric vehicles already on the world’s roads and with predictions that 31 per cent of the overall car fleet will be electric by 2040 (i.e. 58% of all vehicles sold), how these vehicles are powered by (or can store) renewable energy are the subject of discussion, planning and speculation.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is a term to describe energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale. The main sources are sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. ‘Green’ and ‘renewable’ are words used interchangeably in this arena but have slightly different meanings with nuclear power (for example) hotly contested as being ‘green’ and certainly not renewable (at least in terms of the actual material used).

Battery Technology

Where electric vehicles are concerned, the battery technology is still an area that is a real challenge to how far electric cars are able to travel on a charge.

Implications For Oil and Electricity

Electric vehicles are two or three times more efficient than conventional petrol/diesel-powered vehicles, plus they have the added benefit of having no emissions.  However, while there are still limitations on electric car battery technology, more electric cars replacing petrol and diesel cars has implications not just for the oil industry, but also for the demand for electricity.  For example, demand for oil is predicted by BNEF to reduce by 17.6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2040 as anti-pollution legislation and the resulting increase in electric-powered transport takes over. BNEF also says that the increased number of electric cars could mean a 5.2% increase in the demand for power as well as the need for 290 million charging points by 2040.

Battery Innovation

According to recent reports, however, Chinese car battery-maker Contemporary Amperex Technology has developed (and is about to manufacture) a battery that can power an electric vehicle for an incredible 1.2 million miles over a 16-year lifespan. Reports indicate that deals may already be in place for the Chinese battery-maker to supply Tesla, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo for the next two years.

Dyson & Electric Car Batteries

Back in October last year Dyson has scrapped its £2.5 billion ‘N526’ electric car project but announced that work would continue improving the battery technology that would have been used in the car.  Dyson had originally planned to invest £1 billion in development of the car and invest another £1 billion in developing the electric battery technology.

Electric Vehicles Using Renewable Energy

Pilot Schemes are being run, mainly in the U.S., that provide ways for electric vehicle owners to use renewable energy for their vehicles, and to charge at times that help integrate more renewable energy sources on the grid. These schemes include:

– For a small monthly subscription, Austin Energy’s Plug-in EVerywhere Network gives electric car drivers access to a network of charging stations where the electricity is sourced from the wind.  Also, fast charging network company EVgo operated a scheme that gave customers access to power sourced 100% from wind or solar energy.  Customers could choose to pay-as-you-go or via monthly payments to access this renewable energy power for their electric vehicles.

– Pacific Gas & Electric’s ‘Charge Forward’ managed charging program let customers control the timing of their EV charging to align with clean energy availability and grid needs (in exchange for low charging rates).

– Gas & Electric, in partnership with the City of San Diego, gave electric car customers access to charging stations that were powered by photovoltaic (PV) canopies installed right next to the charging stations.  The solar energy was stored in a battery system.

– In January last year, Southern California Edison introduced a discount scheme for customers who charged their electric vehicles on weekdays and during off-peak hours on weekends, when solar was abundant.

Battery Hubs

Although there are currently fewer than 200,000 electric vehicles on UK roads, National Grid, the UK’s energy system operator proposed the creation of a battery hub that a fleet of 35m electric vehicles could feed renewable energy into, thereby helping the UK to reach its net-zero carbon target.

The idea was based upon the prediction that electric vehicles will become the most popular form of transport between 2030 and the early 2040s in the UK and by 2050, tens of millions of electric cars will be using (renewable) wind and solar power to charge up within minutes in a way that can create renewable energy battery packs for when the UK’s grid needs more energy.

It is thought that such a system could use algorithms to help the smart electric cars to balance demand and supply on the grid and make the most of renewable energy as well as saving customers money.

Looking Ahead

With so many electric vehicle purchases predicted in the near future, making serious advances in battery technology, and finding ways to charge electric vehicles using renewable energy sources to make the most of the green benefits are becoming major concerns. It also seems that there will ways in which electric vehicles and the grid can interact to help manage demand and utility companies will be finding ways to help customers to choose renewable energy for their charging needs, and will be able to offer price incentives to customers who are willing to charge their vehicles at times that will benefit the grid.

Boris Johnson is said to be currently considering a scheme to give drivers up to £6,000 to tempt them to change their old petrol/diseel cars for new electric ones, as part of a suite of plans to be announced shortly, in an attempt to kick-start the economy’s flagging vehicle sales, which has been hugely impacted by Covid-19.

Flying Taxis – Major Tesla Shareholder Funding

German vertical take-off air taxi start-up company Lilium has just received a major funding boost from Baillie Gifford, the second-biggest shareholder in Tesla.

Additional Funding

Lilium, which had already raised $340 million, $240 million of which came from China’s Tencent, has boosted its coffers by a further $35 million thanks to funding from Scottish company Baillie Gifford, which itself is a 7.67 per cent owner of Tesla.

Air Taxi

The funding will go towards the development and production of an electric-powered, vertical take-off ‘air taxi’ (like a flying car) that’s capable of transporting a small number of passengers over relatively short distances, to be used within a city or regionally.

Prototype

It has been reported that although the five-seater 36-rotor vehicle looks unlikely to enter commercial service until 2025, it is already in its prototype phase. So far, the vehicle is reported to have been able to reach a speed of 62 mph and it is thought that when finally in service, Lilium’s air taxi will have a range of more than 180 miles.

Competitors

Lilian is not the only company developing an air taxi vehicle.  In October last year, electric flight start-up ‘Kitty Hawk’, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, announced that it had produced its third aircraft dubbed ‘Heaviside’ (HVSD). Kitty Hawk reported that HVSD could travel a 55-mile route from San Jose to San Francisco in only 15 minutes.

Unmanned, Autonomous Fighter Aircraft In Development

Meanwhile, in the military world, The American Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is reported to have been working on an autonomous fighter jet that can be controlled remotely.  Reports indicate that the aircraft and accompanying technology may be ready as early as next year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As roads have become more congested, environmental factors have come to fore, driven by environmental targets and the commercial introduction of electric cars, and with advances in autonomous vehicles and the accompanying technology, the autonomous vehicle market is now full of opportunities.  Short hop electric-powered flying taxis appear to be an area that is exciting, practical and could appeal to travellers who need to get quickly from the airport to the city centre while avoiding the crowds.  Although trusting a small vehicle with no human pilot may seem like a bit of jump now for many of us now, autonomous vehicles look set to be a growth area in the next few years and this sector could create may new opportunities for existing operators, new businesses and supply chain companies.

Fuel Engine Car Sales Fall Faster Than Electric Cars

A Bloomberg NEF (BNEF) report forecasts that sales of combustion engine cars will drop 23 per cent in 2020, whereas worldwide electric car registrations are set to fall by only 18 per cent.

Pandemic Causing Huge Car Sales Downturn

With lockdown measures, a mass loss of income and jobs, the closure of car plants and showrooms worldwide, and a huge dent in ‘consumer confidence’ has come an inevitable downturn in the sales and registrations of new cars in 2020.

Three Years

Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at BNEF has said: “The long-term trajectory has not changed, but the market will be bumpy for the next three years.”

Electric Models

The BNEF has also forecast that electric vehicle models will reach 31 per cent of the overall car fleet by 2040, accounting for 58 per cent of new passenger car sales. Combustion engine cars, however, are forecast to continue to gradually decline from their peak in 2017.

There are already 7 million electric cars on the road and electric car sales for this year have been 1.7 million. 

Implications For Oil and Electricity

The demand for oil is predicted by BNEF to reduce by 17.6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2040 as anti-pollution legislation and the resulting increase in electric-powered transport takes over. BNEF also says that the increased number of electric cars could mean a 5.2% increase in the demand for power as well as the need for 290 million charging points by 2040.

Cars Not Sold

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show that only 4,321 cars were registered in the UK in April, which is the lowest monthly level since 1946 and marks a massive 97 per cent plunge in sales from the same month in 2019.

Large numbers of unsold cars are now simply stored outside, waiting for lockdown restrictions to be lifted and some kind of upturn in the economy.  For example, the Upper Heyford airbase close to Bicester, in Oxfordshire is currently home to a vast quantity of cars estimated to be worth £35 million.

Air Quality

Lockdown around the world has brought a fast and dramatic decrease in air pollution and subsequent increase in air quality.  For example, nitrogen dioxide levels are reported to have fallen by 40 per cent around over urban areas in China, 20 per cent over Belgium and Germany, and anywhere from 19 to 40 per cent in different parts of the U.S.

The chance to see how much the environment has benefitted from coronavirus restrictions on industry and transport (road, aircraft, and rail) is likely to strengthen the case for electric vehicle ownership worldwide.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

New car registrations are often used as a key economic indicator and the pandemic has clearly been disastrous for the car market including manufacturers and their supply chains around the world. Little or no demand from hard-hit consumers is, of course, at the heart of this massive slump in a huge industry.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the BNEF is suggesting very bumpy times in the industry over the next 3 years.  Electric car ownership, driven by climate targets, industry investment and commitment, and now a perhaps improved perception by consumers who can see how a clean-air electric future could look appears to be something that, once the initial round of recessions starts to lessen could increase towards its projected trajectory.  As well as having implications for the oil and electric industries, increased demand for electric cars could create more opportunities for businesses going forward.

Robot Dog Maintains Social Distancing

A remotely controlled robot called ‘SPOT’ that is being trialled in a Singapore park warns visitors to observe safe social distancing measures.

Sign

The 2-week trial in Singapore’s Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is a collaboration between Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) and GovTech.  A sign in the park tells visitors about the presence of SPOT and how the robot will be moving autonomously through the park to help ensure safe distancing in the park and gardens.

Sensors and Cameras

SPOT, the four-legged robot made by Boston Dynamics uses sensors to prevent any collisions with objects or people, and there is a person on-hand to help if there are any unforeseen issues.

Although SPOT is fitted with cameras which can help to estimate the number of visitors to the park, it has been reported that the cameras are not being used to collect personal data or to identify individuals.

Message

As SPOT proceeds around the park, it broadcasts a pre-recorded message that reminds visitors to observe social distancing. 

Singapore Laws

People in Singapore are used to complying with a wide variety of laws governing behaviour in public spaces, so it is likely that even commands delivered by a robot will be observed by most people.  For example, in Singapore, on-the-spot fines are common e.g. for littering, smoking in some public places and e-cigarettes can be confiscated, chewing gum is banned, and not flushing the (public) toilet can also result in a fine.

Used in Hospital

Robot delivery services are already a common sight in many hospitals, but the SPOT robot is also being used at Brigham And Women’s Hospital of Harvard University for remote triage of patients suspected of having COVID-19.

Drones

In other cities in other countries e.g. China, the US, Spain and Israel, drones have been used to deliver social distancing and dispersal instructions where there has been an outdoor grouping of people, and (in Jerusalem) outside apartment building windows and balconies to check whether people who have been ordered to self-isolate are doing so.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For drone and robot companies, such as Boston Dynamics, demand has increased during the pandemic because the flexibility, manoeuvrability, and safety (from cross-contamination) provided by these devices has proven to have real value.  Robots and drones, using cameras, sensors and other tools can safely and quickly carry out a wide variety of tasks, as and when required, 24/7.  Delivery robots and commercial drones have also seen as a boost in demand at a time where human movement has been restricted but where a need for monitoring of property and premises, and delivery of food and other important items is still required.  

Automation is becoming an important cost and time saving and an added-value element of many businesses and organisations and the success of robots and drones and the highlighting during the pandemic of the benefits they offer can only to boost the market further and make many businesses, organisations and sectors see new opportunities for robots and drones.