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London’s Formula-E shows the best of electric vehicles – but investment in EV charging needs to rev up

·4-min read
Formula E is known for having evenly matched cars, which means the drivers typically overtake far more frequently than F1.  (Formula E)
Formula E is known for having evenly matched cars, which means the drivers typically overtake far more frequently than F1. (Formula E)

For casual onlookers, this weekend London’s ExCel arena and the surrounding roads may resemble the Monaco F1 Grand Prix. Luckily for the residents of east London, they won’t be faced with roaring engines and petrol fumes, but the hum of batteries powering electric cars up to speeds approaching 200mph.

The all-electric powered ABB Formula E is returning to London for the 2022 London E-Prix, in what is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular and action-packed motorsports.

The 2.1km circuit starts and ends in the ExCel arena and swerves through the streets of east London. Founded in 2014, the tournament sees big name teams including Mercedes-EQ and Jaguar TCS clash for the podium. With Mercedes-EQ leading the team championship and their driver Stoffel Vandoorne top of the drivers’ standings, they are the team to beat.

Motorsport is seeing huge growth with younger audiences, as different formats like streaming and TikTok bring a whole new group of fans into the sport. The hashtag #formula1 has racked up billions of views on TikTok, and Formula-E is seeing similar rapid growth. The total audience grew 32% in the 2021 season versus the previous year and that trend is continuing.

Formula E is known for having evenly matched cars, which means the drivers typically overtake far more frequently than F1. Add that to the obvious advantage of being the only sport to be certified net-zero carbon since inception, and the attraction for younger audiences is clear. It seems only natural that Formula E will tap into this new generation of motorsport fans.

The rising popularity of Formula-E coincides with the recent surge in electric vehicle adoption globally. Sales of EVs doubled to a new record of 6.6 million in 2021 worldwide, according to International Energy Agency (IEA), while there were 75% more sold in the first three months of 2022 than the same period in 2021.

This trend applies to the UK as well, with Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders data showing one in five new cars sold in the UK in the first half of the year were electric.

No doubt e-mobility has a bright future, but the road ahead may not be smooth. The reality is that EV charging infrastructure is not keeping up with demand for electric vehicles in many countries globally, which ABB E-mobility knows too well from supplying its portfolio of public and commercial EV charging hardware, software, and services in more than 85 markets globally.

For example, recent UK government data stated in the first three months of this year that there was only a 6.7% increase in the number of public charging devices available.

 (Formula E London)
(Formula E London)

The UK has made a good start. They announced regulations last year that required a charge point be installed in new homes and major renovations, which they expect will bring an additional 145,000 charge points every year. But despite this progress, like many other countries there needs to be a much greater collaboration between government and the private sector to drive innovation and increase investment in EV charging infrastructure, to pave the transition to electric vehicles.

The UK Government announced in March that it would invest an extra £450m to increase the number of public charge points. This is extremely welcome, but it is clear that the Government need to create an environment that encourages cross-sector collaboration, to help drive the significant investment required for this fundamental change. Bloomberg NEF has forecast that a $590 billion investment in EV charging infrastructure will be required by 2040 to meet global emission targets.

The private sector is also revving up its contribution. ABB customer Gridserve – which provides EV charging points on motorways, plus towns and cities – said recently it had tripled the number of charging sessions on UK’s biggest motorway charging network, the Gridserve Electric Highway, since June 2021.

Electrification of our roads is a key part of the future and meeting net zero goals, and events like the London E-Prix help to bring attention and excitement to the industry.

But if action is not taken soon to address and invest in charging infrastructure, Formula-E and the purring of racing car engines may be as close as we get to electric-powered transport on a mass scale for the foreseeable future.

Frank Muehlon is CEO of ABB E-mobility.

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