We are delighted to present the Q&A Session with Asif Ghafoor, CEO of Be.EV, a community-first public charging network. Under his leadership, Be.EV operates the largest network of public EV chargers in Greater Manchester and is ambitiously working to install 1,000 chargers across the UK by the end of 2024. Backed by £110 million from Octopus Energy Generation, one of Europe’s largest renewable energy investors, Asif’s expertise and vision are pivotal in driving the expansion of EV infrastructure.

In this session, you will gain insights into the future of the UK's EV market, the importance of community-centric charging solutions, and the untapped business opportunities for retailers in the EV sector.

#LEVS: How can we expect the UK's EV market to expand in the coming years?

#Asif Ghafoor: The EV revolution is well underway. We hit the millionth EV in the UK this year, and consumer demand for EVs still outstrips supply according to statistics. As batteries get better and prices come down this market will expand even further.

We need to expand our charging provision to match the market. Without this, we’ll suddenly be faced with a huge market of EV drivers without enough chargers for them to use. The Government has been using the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund and On-Street Residential Charging (ORCS) schemes, which give local councils money to install chargers.

However, councils are then given no guidance on how to use this money. In many cases this is used very wastefully - for example, in Greater Manchester each council is offered £800,000. Often, £300,000 of this has been spent on building up an expertise, with £500,000 spent on delivering chargers. But the private sector already has this expertise, which begs the question - why are we spending £300,000 rather than getting the input of the private sector?

This logic needs to be turned on its head - instead of blanket funding, councils should be held to strict delivery targets and fined if they fail to achieve them within 12 months. There are still some areas that need funding (rural ones are the obvious example that springs to mind), but the same cannot be said about the vast majority of urban areas in the UK.

Fortunately, there’s more than enough private money in the market to plug the gap, and these private actors also know how to use it better than the public sector does. They have years of expertise behind them and know the common limitations of many sites better than council workers, who don’t have the same experience (through no fault of their own).

#LEVS: How critical is it to provide convenient EV charging options for the community to promote sustainable transportation in the UK?

#Asif Ghafoor: Community should be at the heart of every EV charging hub. If you can’t put charge points in places where consumers actually want them and that fit with what their community needs, then what’s the point of putting them in at all?

Community is our main focus at Be.EV. We use a five-step method to identify the most convenient locations. This includes assessing the local traffic, population and the non-charging facilities of a potential site.

We also talk to the community when developing sites, incorporating their feedback to make the site as accessible and convenient as possible. Listening to communities and acting based on what they need is the only way to encourage a faster uptake of EVs.

#LEVS: What are the unexplored business opportunities for retailers when they invest in EV charging infrastructure?

#Asif Ghafoor: The EV charging revolution has been underway for a while, but it seems retailers are finally waking up to the opportunity. They’re no longer content to wait and see; they’re taking advantage.

As more people buy EVs, retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Decathlon and others have recognised that installing EV chargers in their car parks is an easy way to cater for the needs of their local communities and generate additional footfall.

At Be.EV, we go one step further: we pay for the installation, monitoring and maintenance of these chargers and enter into partnerships where retailers can benefit from a rental or revenue share arrangement.

In short, retailers are faced with a simple choice: don’t install EV chargers and miss out on maximising the revenue potential of their parking spaces; or bring in an expert to install EV chargers free of charge, drive more customers to stores, and build a community hub that provides an additional source of revenue. “The latter seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?”

#LEVS: Why is prioritising the development of a rapid and ultra-rapid charging network crucial for addressing range anxiety and accelerating EV adoption in the UK?

#Asif Ghafoor: Rapid and ultra-rapid charging is essential for EV adoption. These chargers can give a standard EV 80% charge in as little as 20 minutes, which is perfect for drivers who want to be able to top up on the go. These chargers also have the capacity to be turned into destinations where people can grab a coffee while waiting for their cars to charge, which isn’t possible for slower chargers that take several hours to charge.

We cannot create a proper public EV charging infrastructure without them. However, so far there has been too much focus on installing lamppost chargers, as they’re cheaper and easier to install than rapid and ultra-rapid chargers.

The issue with lamppost chargers is that they simply can't charge fast enough. The average lamppost is installed with a ‘slow’ unit, which charges your car at 3kW an hour, meaning your modern car can take up to 12 hours to fully charge.

This is insufficient for drivers looking for an easy way to quickly top up their EVs on longer trips, which has been the source of a lot of the range anxiety we see reported on in the press.

Furthermore, many lamppost chargers end up broken or remain unused, and installing them is just a box checking exercise for local councils. In three years’ time we’ll be replacing them with faster models, or switching them off because they aren’t used.

They’re not futureproof, they’re just clutter. Councils are wasting their time installing them. We need more advanced and faster chargers that people actually want to use - i.e., rapid and ultra-rapid chargers.

#LEVS: In what ways do events like the London EV Show contribute to increased EV adoption in the UK?

#Asif Ghafoor: Events like the London EV Show are vital for increasing EV adoption. It’s great to see the latest innovation trends and bring together key players from across the ecosystem, including charger operators, dealers, fleet providers and others.

It’s important to unite the whole community, allows for new connections to be made, and creates a space for new ideas to be raised and debated. These are even more valuable when the end consumer is placed at the heart of these discussions. This helps to avoid creating an echo chamber and leads to meaningful changes that improve the experience for everyone.