When Scotland decided to commit to its climate change transition to net zero emissions and encourage widespread adoption of electric vehicle (EV) transportation, one of the biggest challenges was and continues to be the introduction and delivery of a country-wide EV charge point network. One that was capable of meeting the demands of an ever-growing number of drivers making the switch.
On the first anniversary of being awarded the contract to take full operational responsibility for Scotland's public electric vehicle charge point operations, Justin Meyer, managing director of SWARCO Smart Charging, discusses the challenges ahead as the country aims for zero emission transportation.
A decade ago, the Scottish Government recognised that a massive change was happening but were perhaps unaware of the speed of that progression. ChargePlace Scotland (CPS) was established by the Scottish Government at a cost of £45m. CPS didn't own any charge points but provided the operational system that connects the chargers into a network, interacting with customers from billing through support provision.
Problems began developing in the CPS back office systems which handled all calls, emails and online fault reports. Transport Scotland decided to award this service, for an initial two-year period, to Austrian traffic tech company SWARCO Smart Charging. It went live on 27 July last year. There were initial difficulties with account transfer and registration, and the new CPS app, which saw major changes required to system operations. It was a huge challenge and one which would define the future direction and success of Scotland's charge point infrastructure.
SWARCO's vast global experience in deploying major traffic and EV charging infrastructure projects enabled them to effectively plan for the biggest EV network migration seen in the industry to date. Its brief was to determine the key operational difficulties and implement an effective system capable of providing service to Scotland's burgeoning EV marketplace.
SWARCO boss in Scotland, Justin Meyer, says: 'Prior to taking over the contract, we opened a purpose built office at the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc in Dundee and this reflected our commitment to supporting Scotland's overall desire to achieve net zero. We recruited an initial 14 employees locally, and by May this year, the team had doubled in size, and this will continue, providing local opportunities for development in technical and media fields for staff.
'This customer service centre in Dundee is at the core of our operations and continues to successfully handle increasing volumes reflected by the ongoing growth in membership and network use. Recently, we saw our first week of over 36,000 individual charge sessions and over 700,000 kWh consumed… we passed the 45,000 member mark with now over 13,000 charge cards issued since January.
'Scotland's charging network is now a vastly different network to the one we inherited a year ago. We have overseen some real transformational activity and delivered continuously improving results.'
The CPS network now has 2,300 publicly available charge points. In the first three months of this year, 90 new public chargers went live and more are being planned for the future by both public and private companies.
Scotland is now leading the UK in rapid charger provision per head of population and all new rapid chargers added to the CPS network 'must have the capability to accept contactless payments,' says Meyer.
He added: 'The general health and availability of the network has never been greater. Continuing to give EV drivers and charger owners the confidence that the network will continue to be built with both groups in mind. It must continue to provide that single, unified, easy point of access; delivering the service and reducing range anxiety for both new and experienced drivers out there. The relationship between charge point manufacturers and the auto industry in developing aligned technology progress is also key'.
Scotland's Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, said recently that public and private partnerships were key to meeting the charge point infrastructure required to service the rapidly growing number of EVs. Meyer agreed, saying it was key to future success: 'The Scottish Government has led the way in initiating a vision of a widespread public access EV network, but it is private investment that will support the ongoing growth and modernisation required to meet the demand for both volume and ease of access'.
The Electric Vehicle Association Scotland, which represents EV drivers' interest, says it is essential to have a smooth-running public charging system that delivers a fast and efficient service for the increasing number of people making the transition to all electric transportation.
Neil Swanson, EVA Scotland director commented: 'Having confidence in being able to access the charging network in a simple and trouble-free way is imperative. At the beginning of this process of providing EV charging facilities in Scotland there were some difficulties in establishing the ChargePlace Scotland network. There were few chargers and for some journeys drivers required detailed planning to ensure they could replenish their car batteries. This required lots of perseverance and drivers frequently struggled to get support from the helpline. Some of the challenges faced in rolling out new infrastructure lay in the processes, some in the power supply, some in the cellular network coverage.
'Today, the number of EVs on the roads is growing exponentially, and at EVA Scotland we expect to see continued improvements to the charging landscape.'
Norrie Hunter is
a motoring journalist and is currently advising Electric Vehicle Association Scotland on press and media communications