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Why electric vehicles present the ideal communications debate

Written by Oliver Buckley, Associate Director in Madano’s Energy Practice.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the hot topic of the moment.

Recent media announcements have brought EVs to the front pages, rather than the business pages as we’re normally accustomed. We’ve seen EV announcements recently by Tesla and Volvo as well as a UK Government commitment to ban cars with internal combustion engines from 2040.

The dizzying array of viewpoints on EVs highlights the disjointed approach to their introduction. 

EVs in the media

According to the media which have covered EVs in a positive light, they could be:

  • the solution to the UK’s air pollution crisis.
  • the principal form of passenger transport once petrol and diesel cars are banned in 2040.
  • a source of battery storage to work in conjunction with local electricity grids.

However, some media have covered EVs negatively, saying that:

  • the positive impact of EVs on improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions will be negligible.
  • the amount of CO2 required to make, use and dispose of lithium-ion batteries negates any carbon reduction benefits they bring.
  • the UK could not produce enough electricity to charge all plugged-in EVs at peak times. 

This presents the perfect scenario for communications professionals. There are two fiercely contradictory sets of arguments, both of which come across as logical. And for a non-specialist without access to data on these topics, it’s genuinely difficult to come to a concrete viewpoint.

No time to waste

In the case of EVs, assessing the ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the wrong debate to have. That’s because change in the sector is already happening at a blistering pace. There’s no time to sit around and debate the merits of more or fewer EVs. They’re here and the market is growing. 

Sales of EVs are expected to sky rocket in the coming years. There were 2 million EVs on the road globally in 2016. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects an electric car stock of 9-20 million by 2020 and 40-70 million by 2025.

It surely makes more sense to see the benefits of this step change in car purchase choice and to simply make it work.

Did people try to block the expansion of the internet because of worries about fraud or privacy? No. Having access globally to a world of information was too powerful a notion to be held back by worrying about the negatives. That’s not to say that those worries are totally overlooked.

EVs – the next digital revolution?

And so we can apply that approach to EVs:

Should we worry about the limited range of batteries on a single charge? One would expect batteries to become better and cheaper over time. Tesla’s ‘Model S’ car now has a range of 300 miles and, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the cost of lithium–ion battery packs has fallen by 73% since 2010.

Should we worry about a lack of charging points in relevant locations? Simple economic theory suggests that if enough people demand something then a market will naturally develop, with or without the help of government. It’s surely only a matter of time until petrol stations on the motorway or in towns introduce charging points to the forecourt. From 2011 to 2016, there was almost an eight fold increase in the number of charging points available in the UK according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and this trend will undoubtedly continue.      

Should we worry about the electricity burden on the grid when everyone gets home from work between 5 and 7pm and plugs their car into the grid to charge? Lots of cars suddenly charging in close proximity could in theory create localised grid problems, however there can surely be no excuse for grid operators to not start preparing for this now. Besides, people will very quickly learn to programme their device to start a charge outside of peak hours when fewer cars are charging and electricity prices are lower.

The EV communication challenge

EVs may not solve every problem but data from well-respected organisations show that they will play a significant role in the future of our transport and energy systems. Communicating the change will certainly feature myriad negative voices, however I expect the positive voices to drown them out.

Madano Energy is a team of energy communications specialists which advises clients in an era of profound market disruption as the global energy sector decarbonises, decentralises, digitises and democratises. If you would like to discuss how the changes in the energy market could affect your organisation we’d be delighted to have an introductory discussion. Please contact me on [email protected] or 020 7593 4018.