In 2015 we were driving in the highlands, staying in Tomintoul, the highest village in the UK. We were chatting about the recently installed electric chargers in the public car park. In fact, the second set of electric chargers in the village – the first two had been installed in the Crown Estate car park somewhat earlier (and were also open to the public).
It seemed a pretty forward looking thing to do, given that electric car sales were still minute at the time. But in some ways it made sense. The village hadn’t had a petrol station for over a decade – when it closed it had proved not to be economic for any other companies reopen it. The nearest fuel station was over 15 miles away meaning that residents had to plan refuelling into longer journeys (or make a 30 mile round trip).
Electric cars would mean that people could refuel at home overnight – and although they hadn’t really caught on at that point, there was quite a bit of interest in the Nissan eNV200 we’d borrowed for the trip. It was a sturdy practical vehicle and almost at the kind of range which would make it useful for longer trips as well as stop start city centre traffic.
Fast forward to today, when charging networks are springing up in all sorts of places. Back then the most recognisable networks were the Ecotricity Electric Superhighway which offered charging at motorway service stations and the Tesla super charger network. Other chargers formed a slightly ragbag mixture of public and private offerings – although the network in Scotland was a little more consistent in line with the Scottish government’s pretty single minded approach to making sure the infrastructure was going in.
Today we not only have chargers going into public car parks, shopping centres and super markets but they have been joined by petrol stations diversifying the fuel they offer.
Shell unveiled its first forecourt charging station last year. This wasn’t a one off publicity stunt – the oil giant also acquired a network of over 30,000 charging points last year. This year BP took its own high profile steps into the UK electric charging market by buying the biggest charging network – Chargemaster. It’s not the only interesting acquisition it has made in the sector – it also spent a cool £20 million on a battery start up that claims its innovative technology will enable a 5 minute recharge time.
Shell and BP are not alone. Total has also acquired a battery company, and Q8 (the filling station brand of the Kuwait Petroleum Company) is working on a network of chargers with Ionity (the joint venture company formed by car manufacturers developing the e-mobility market in Europe).
As the oil giants slowly turn themselves into energy brands we are seeing the reversal of an almost century long dominance of the ICE. It rose with Henry Ford’s single minded approach to mass production of the Model T. The market dominance of this cut-price vehicle squeezed out electric cars (the most popular form of propulsion in America at the time) and the first incipient charging network.
Now – as Ford rebrands itself as a mobility company, big oil morphs into energy provision and chargers put the squeeze on petrol stations - the wheel is slowly turning full circle.
By Beate Kubitz at 28 Sep 2018, 00:00 AM