Under the Microscope: We talk to Source London's MD, Christophe Arnaud
21 March 2017
Author: Debbie Wood
When TfL and Boris Johnson launched Source London back in May 2011, the city-wide charging network was seen as a global leader in driving forward the electric vehicle revolution.
Now, six years on, the rest of the world is catching up and London's EV charging infrastructure has been left somewhat lagging behind.
Recognising that the network needed more support and expertise to help it grow, the management of Source London was taken over by the Bolloré Group in September 2014, a global company that has already successfully implemented a large EV charging network in Paris made up of over 6,000 charging points.
The division in charge of developing electric solutions here in London is called BlueSolutions and, led by managing director Christophe Arnaud, has ambitious plans to accelerate the charging infrastructure in the capital and put London back on the map for electric vehicle mobility.
Getting the foundations right
In 2014 Source London was made up of just 460 charging points, but before the network could be expanded, Arnaud and his team needed to make sure the current infrastructure was updated and working as it should be. This was a key challenge as there were a number of inconsistencies across London where early units had been fitted and then not regularly maintained, or were no longer powerful enough to facilitate the latest electric cars.
"The very first step since we took over in 2014 was to fix and improve the reliability of the network," Arnaud tells BusinessCar. "So far that first phase has been almost done and we are now expanding the network."
Arnaud admits that there were lots of frustrations with EV users because the service was temperamental and the spread of charging points was uneven. However, these early concerns are already starting to disappear and the installation of more modern and powerful units across the city means they are now more fit for purpose.
"The service customers can get now has changed and in six months' time it will be better again. Thanks to improvements to technology, the issues they were facing will no longer exist," he says. "We want to make EV charging as seamless as possible."
The Source London app is also being constantly developed. It enables users to find available charging points in real time, book a bay for up to 40 minutes in advance, and details the points that are under construction or coming soon.
When the firm took over from TfL the network was working at a 60% availability rate. This has now improved to as high as 98% in some areas and the investment made into regular maintenance and updating the current points has been key to driving this improvement.
Working with local authorities is important as not all areas in London have had any charging infrastructure installed. The company currently works with 17 of the 32 London boroughs, a figure Arnaud and his team is working to increase.
"It was very complicated in the beginning to convince boroughs to install charging points, so we needed to start slowly. People have more confidence to move to an EV when they can see the charging infrastructure and start to use the bays, then uptake increases and we can expand," Arnaud explains.
Challenging road network
Creating bays in London is more difficult than in Paris, though, as the road structure is more complicated and levels of congestion are very high. More often, changing current bays (like regular parking spots or loading bays) into something else rather than creating new spaces on the streets is the most practical solution.
It requires a team of people to work out where it is possible to have a charging bay installed street by street, and there are numerous studies done to make sure there is the power source available, and the bays are easy to find and use.
"Compared to Paris, London is more complicated to find the right locations for charging points. There are lots of small streets," Arnaud explains. "Each charging point is part of a joint effort with our team and the borough. We are spending our days discussing with boroughs, transport teams and parking teams to agree a way forwards."
The strategy of BlueSolutions is to put charging points on the streets and the aim is to create a network that is easily accessible and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Arnaud is keen to move away from the expensive car parks that TfL used for charging bays, and the current network could be up to 1,000 points by the end of the year. "For us the important thing is to provide the same experience to all customers and to somehow discuss with boroughs to create the same rules, especially when it comes to providing a consistent service."
Taxi companies are a key focus
London will be the focus for the immediate future, but once the network is where it needs to be, Arnaud will be looking to other cities around the UK. "We're really concentrating our efforts on London for now - we're targeting big cities around the world, but it doesn't mean we won't be looking at other cities around the UK. But we need to achieve something pretty big in London first," he says.
A key area will be working with taxi firms and private hire companies, and as tighter legislation and the expansion of low-emission zones comes into play, these companies will need to convert to hybrid and EV technology to reduce costs. "For black cabs and companies like Uber and Addison Lee there is a clear incentive to use EVs, and they will need more charging points. This in turn will put pressure on boroughs and public bodies to introduce more points," Arnaud says.
The firm will also install a few rapid chargers within its current network and aims to have the first 22kWh unit fitted by July. "We have a partnership with London Taxi Company and we're in discussions with Uber as they are the key people who have a real need for fast charging," says Arnaud. "We are surveying the city to identify where the right locations are from a taxi user prospective. These companies on average travel 160 miles per day and they will have an obvious need for fast charging."
The ambition for London is to have a minimum of 6,000 charging points, which is what the firm managed in Paris. However, as London is much bigger, Arnaud believes there is room to have as many as 15,000 charging points within the city.
"We have put the resources in place to deliver 6,000 charging points - that is the objective. It's just very hard to say when we will be able to achieve this as it depends on policies and the willingness of boroughs to make places on the streets available to charging."
A car-sharing service is also being trialled in Hammersmith and Fulham, with an official launch imminent that will see electric cars, manufactured by Bolloré, becoming available to hire between charging bays around the city, very similar to how the current bike-sharing scheme works.
"It's very much in the pilot stage to see how they integrate with customers, but it could be something we look to roll out across London in the future as the infrastructure grows."