BP EV ambitions at its UK home – muted compared to China plans

The sooner oil companies like BP have a way of applying their cash and profits to chase similar cash and profit levels, the sooner they begin to see that it is okay to picture a future where oil revenues head towards zero over perhaps a 25 year period.

So getting their EV car charging strategies right is a must, and we covered BP’s activity a few weeks ago in China where it said it would partner with DiDi Chuxing, the Chinese ride sharing network, to build Chinese EV charging stations. It plans to develop EV charging hubs across China for all the 600,000 EVs which DiDi is already is already using there.

This week BP has taken its UK subsidiary Chargemaster and released its first 150kW chargers at a BP retail site, stating its plans- albeit slow at first for a network of such chargers across its native UK.

Here at Rethink we are very used to thinking about precisely how change comes about, and services are rarely replaced like for like, so the idea that future eMobility chargers will end up in the same locations that are suitable today, i.e. BP petrol stations, makes little sense.

Certainly it costs BP almost nothing to build a presence on properties it already holds. But once it has some momentum it needs to understand that the average time for recharging an EV is going to be around 15 to 20 minutes. If you sat at a petrol station for that amount of time, a queue of irate customers would form. Charging stations need to be automated, unsupervised, and located in places where you would spend upwards of 20 minutes – outside a supermarket, at your Gym, where you park at work, and of course at home. We know that normal domestic fuse boxes will not support fast charging, so that would be reserved for places that have specialist additional cabling and access to the mid-power segment electricity.

Suggesting that 400 fast chargers represents a chance to develop the UK’s first nationwide network of ultra-fast chargers by 2021, is a bit disingenuous.

A similarly disingenuous press release came out of Nissan this week also, suggesting that there are more EV charging stations in the UK than there are petrol stations. This is a little far-fetched.

At last count there were 8,400 petrol stations with between 6 and 12 petrol pumps each. Filling and charging takes 5 minutes on average, and so these can serve something over 50,000 cars completely in under 5 minutes elapsed time. In an hour that’s 600,000 cars. With 8 hours of being open that might translate to 480,000 cars in any given day.

There are by Nissan’s count some 9,000 EV charging points, but only 1,600 fast charging points, so the others are likely all at an individual home or at least they take 2 hours or more to charge an EV. Those 1,600 can only charge 3 cars an hour and even over a 24 hour period it is unlikely they could service 5,000 never mind 50,000 cars simultaneously. There is no equivalence, but Nissan all the same wanted to mark the occasion.

What has happened in the past few months is that multiple organizations have said they will get to 400 locations by 2020 and 2021, BP and Ionity to name a few, and companies like Shell,  Ecotricity and Instavolt are all developing the market. Many of these locations will shoot for 6 charging points each, which amounts to 2,400 for the larger announcements, and these will be in play before the end of 2020. So it looks like we are set to see 4 times the total number of fast charging units listed on the Nissan app, perhaps by the end of 2020, maybe we can reach as many as 10,000 actual charge stations.

If charging took as long as filling with petrol that would mean being able to charge 60,000 cars an hour, and begin to get close to the speed of petrol stations, but it takes twice that time so can support only half that many cars.

If you add another 120,000 homes by 2021 which may have a charging point, you are now getting closer to dealing with the range and recharge anxiety across the country. In truth it is no good accelerating faster with infrastructure than the demand for EVs warrants.

But attracting companies like Tesco and Sainsbury, and high street parking places, and out of town specialists offerings like gyms, still all needs to happen, and a revenue sharing business model and the sharing of authentication for these devices through multiple apps, all needs to come together.

And until that is all taken care of just about any start up can carve a niche out within that, and cut themselves a piece of the action.

Only two of the new 150kW chargers are actually already installed at BP’s retail site at Cranford near Heathrow airport, West of London and are operating – so there is a long way to go.

Chargemaster also operates Polar, the largest electric vehicle charging network in the UK which it acquired which also has locations at M&S Simply Food (supermarket) and Wild Bean Café (coffer store), which claims to have 7,000 public charge points – clearly not all fast charging, though all recent additions are.

BP has also committed to introduce contactless payment on all new rapid and ultra-fast chargers, and retrofit its existing UK-made rapid chargers over the next 12 months. As we said, such a long way to go.