Disclaimer: Views in this blog do not promote, and are not directly connected to any Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) product or service. Views are from a range of LGIM investment professionals and do not necessarily reflect the views of LGIM. For investment professionals only.

A drive down to electric avenue

With the UK and this week the EU setting out their ambitions on zero-emission vehicles, I recently sought some first-hand experience of the country’s charging network.

 

It took nearly a year, but the Stansbury family’s mission to acquire a lockdown puppy has finally been realised. The long-awaited weekend arrived and the time came to take a round trip of nearly 600 miles to deepest Yorkshire and back to collect our new pet.

There was only one problem.

During lockdown, we had already made another big life choice: taking up my employer’s offer of a subsidised electric car, we had swapped our guilt-inducing diesel for an all-electric SUV. We had gone all-in on an electric motoring future, and now was the time to put it to the test. How would driving nearly 600 miles in a single day go, in a car that struggles to get more than 200 miles from a full battery?

To avoid being stranded somewhere off the A1, we’d have to make at least three recharging stops. What would have been one quick splash and dash to refuel from a pump had become a major exercise in complex logistics.

There was one upside to this complexity: as an analyst covering the oil industry, I have been spending a significant portion of my time this past year trying to work out what role there is in an investor’s portfolio for ‘big oil’ given the world’s race to net zero.

Big oil intends in many, but not all cases, to try to reinvent itself as ‘big energy’. This makes sense, in my view. In the energy system of the future, dominated by decarbonised but intermittent renewables, providing reliable consumer-facing integrated energy solutions is an alluring prize. But seizing it depends on this industry overcoming its questionable image problem and becoming a brand trusted by consumers.

Charging to the finish line

So I spotted the opportunity to modify our proposed route and test out the UK’s three most prominent charging providers in one go. One is owned by Shell*, one by BP*, and one is controlled by the automakers themselves. Downloading what we were told was the best app, we were quickly alarmed by the less-than-glittering reviews that we read on the reliability of the charging stations we intended to visit. So we woke up an hour earlier than we had planned, and set off.

The adventure started well at our first stop on the A1. Ionity is a network of ‘ultra-fast’ chargers set up by the automakers. They aim to offer a ‘premium’ experience, and we made them our first stop. Open the port, tap the card, and power was flooding into the car’s battery. By the time we’d eaten our bacon sandwiches and drunk a much-needed coffee, we were fully charged and off on our way. The only concern was the very high price I felt they charged. So far, so expensive, but also so easy.

A hundred or so miles further on and our plan relied on having another top-up. We stopped this time at a service station just south of Doncaster. A bank of shiny new Shell chargers awaited us. We plugged in and started charging up – for all of 10 minutes before, with a loud click, the entire bank of chargers tripped off. Despite our pleading with the station’s staff, aimless pushing of buttons on the chargers, and a lengthy investigation of the fuse cabinet by a very confused and apparently untrained station attendant, nothing could be done.

Our plans suddenly looked very shaky. No longer could we reach our planned third stop to trial a BP charger; we simply didn’t have the range. Fortunately, we were able to re-route to the only other charger we could find on the map. Off we set to another Shell station where, hidden behind a grubby skip next to the rubbish bins, we found a solitary charger. With fingers and toes crossed, we eventually managed to find a way to attach the very short cable to the car, without having to ask for the skip to be moved. We charged up with just enough electricity to make it home.

We did make it in the end, with a very tired but delightful puppy in our arms (as pictured below). But we were shaken by the experience and will rethink the wisdom of taking children and dogs to Cornwall and back in the summer holidays!

The UK’s charging infrastructure is simply not up to scratch yet. Charging points are clearly an afterthought to the main business of selling petrol, at least at the stations we visited. It was certainly not an experience that made me want to sign up to an ‘integrated energy’ solution from an oil company.

A sample size of three sites is admittedly not scientific, but our electric road trip has clearly highlighted that – whether by big oil or others – a lot of investment is still needed to build the infrastructure required to make all electric motoring a stress-free experience for drivers.

*For illustrative purposes only. Reference to a particular security is on a historical basis and does not mean that the security is currently held or will be held within an LGIM portfolio. The above information does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any security.

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