Q&A with Matt Trevaskis: head of electric vehicles at the Renewable Energy Association

Electric and ultra-low emission vehicles are not just a form of transport for Matt Trevaskis, they are a way of life. Trevaskis joined the Renewable Energy Association (REA) in March, as the orgnisation’s head of electric vehicles (EVs) and he has helped form the organisation’s new EV group, which meets for the first time today in London. His experience in this growing and important market stretches back to 1999 when he personally bought a road-registered electric Peugeot moped, unsure as to its viability but fascinated by the technology. In 2005, he founded Ecodrive, first an EV fleet trialling company and now an independent transport consultancy.
Environment Journal spoke to him about the role the new group will play and how EVs are the future.

Firstly, why has an organisation like the REA established an EV group?
We’re entering an interesting time, because of the development of the electric vehicle market. We’re reaching a point where the number of vehicles in use – if we’re not careful about how we charge those – could become a problem for the grid. It’s not an immediate issue, but this month we reached the 100,000th vehicle with registered for grant support with the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). We’re reaching a perfect storm, where vehicles are becoming more capable, with higher capacity batteries.
There have been some fairly negative press around will the grid collapse if more than six EVs plug into a street at the same time? We need to think about how we scale this. There are currently no restrictions about how you charge your car, which clearly we will need to get a little bit smarter about. We also want to make sure the use of renewables is paramount in charging these vehicles, so they are truly decarbonised and we’re not just pushing the pollution upstream.

How will the EV group work? Will it bring together car manufacturers and regulators?
At our first meeting, the keynote speakers are from OLEV and Nissan GB. We will engage with stakeholders. The main focus is we’re moving to a more decentralised energy system, so rather than it just being the large utilities and a decentralised power system, we have the opportunity now to increase the number of smaller installations, from solar on your own roof to grid scale. The vehicles have a storage capacity, as well. A car can do 250 miles on a charge, which is potentially a really useful asset for the grid.

How big will the EV market in the UK become?
Going back to that 100,000 EVs registered with OLEV, less than 5% of those are commercial vehicles. If we were to do an analysis of what most white vans do on a daily basis, a lot of those vehicles could be replaced by the current generation of EVs, or the ones that are coming in the immediate future. Some of this is about sharing best practice, about identifying those organisations, who have done this and done this well.

How important will the rollout of EVs be for the reduction of carbon emissions?
If we could reach 100% recharging of vehicles with renewable energy, then we would truly achieve a significant carbon reduction in the operation of the vehicle, while at the same time as addressing air quality. The reason I got into EVs 18 years ago was actually a personal issue, being asthmatic. That was when I first went off and got an EV.

As an EV driver yourself, how have the vehicles developed?
You can have a range today of 180 miles. Very soon that will be 200 or more, and I’m talking everyman, affordable vehicles and not just premium, expensive cars.

How important is it to make sure charging infrastructure is in place?
Most private motorists have the classic recharging situation, where they have a garage or a driveway at home, and that’s where 95% of charging happens. It’s all they will ever need. Then there is the driver who doesn’t have that kind of situation. They may have relatively modest daily usage needs, so what could of infrastructure could support them? Those drivers are using an EV like we would use a conventional vehicle today, and they would go and file it up somewhere once a week.
I think the other main focus will be on the strategic network, particularly around rapid charging points on motorways and trunk roads. Not everywhere will need to have the same facilities. The Queen’s Speech last week reiterated the powers the government may take up to force filling stations to install EV charging facilities. It sounds like a sensible thing to do, but in actual fact, if you think why there are filling stations on the network, it’s somewhere to take a comfort break. You are going to stop there for a few minutes anyway, so you need faster, rapid charging points.

Are you hoping for lots of support from the government?
I think the UK is fortunate in having a body like OLEV, which crosses over between DfT and BEIS and allowing us to accelerate the market. The market is changing and we could increase the uptake of these vehicles in different ways, rather than just throwing money at the situation. We will start to see additional value in these vehicles and being able to charge them in different ways. It’s a really interesting space.

Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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