Going ultra low

Oxford City Council has been piloting local approaches to electric vehicle charging.

Out on the electric vehicle (EV) conference circuit, the change of tone is striking.

Two years ago, the big questions were hydrogen versus electric, and hybrids versus full battery EVs. This year, it is: how do we scale chargers fast enough to keep up with demand?   

Sir John Armitt, Head of the National Infrastructure Commission, recently called for radical change in the way transport infrastructure delivery is funded, pivoting away from a competitive, project-based funding system. 

With the LGA, the Competition and Markets Authority, and the influential think tank Policy Exchange all taking a similar stance, momentum appears to be building. 

“You need to identify your local mandate. What matters most?”

Many of us are waiting for the publication of the Government’s electric vehicle infrastructure strategy this winter, to understand its plans for the role local government should play in shaping this next phase of EV infrastructure rollout. 

As one of the Office for Zero Emissions’ Go Ultra Low Cities, Oxford started trialling EV charging infrastructure solutions early. Our work is underpinned by Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone, which will go live in February 2022. 

Today, our partnership projects include: Energy Superhub Oxford, looking at energy storage, EV uptake and electrification; Go Ultra Low Oxford, which trialled five charging technologies across the city; and Ox Gul-e, which is looking at using cable gullies to provide EV charging for households without off-street parking.

So, what have we learned? 

First, you need to identify your local mandate. What matters most – equity, delivery speed, reduced car ownership, cost, innovation? Determine what you can leave to the market, and where you should intervene and invest to provide best value for the people you represent.  

EV charging projects need dedicated internal staff, and input from legal, procurement, planning, highways and property teams. Consider partnerships with other public sector bodies to reduce pressure on resources. 

Get ‘business as usual’ ready. Oxford will be piloting a dedicated contract management service with ODS, our fully council-owned service partner, to plan who will supervise the contracts, respond to residents’ requests, and monitor outcomes.

Collaboration is key. Internally, across local/regional tiers, energy network operators and landowners, you’ll need a forum to talk. Suppliers’ values matter, but consider where a company is in the acquisition cycle, and contracting options – such as special purpose vehicles – that could reduce risk.

Take a portfolio approach. Rapid charging hubs, destination charging (for example, at hotels) and alternative transport modes are necessary fallbacks for households charging on-street. A resilient charging system will require all of them.

The business case for on-street AC charging is weak, so consider scaling up or diversifying. Roughly 60 per cent of your investment is underground – your long-term asset is the connected charging site, not the unit on top. 

Reduce contract performance risk, make time for lessons learned, and share your insights. We all get it wrong at times, and sharing improves the outcomes for all. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Not every council is ready for EV rollout, but we can all determine what electrification of transport means for us locally, and the organisational change and partnerships needed to make it happen. 

This will ensure we are ready to crank up the action as the funding landscape changes.  

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