Tom Hurst is Fastned UK’s Country Manager. Fastned is a Dutch company that owns and operates a network of over 200 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland.
The company is expanding rapidly and its current goal is a European network of 1,000 fast charging stations at prime locations, where all electric vehicles can charge with renewable energy from the sun and wind.
Hurst’s job has been to expand Fastned’s presence in the UK and one of the biggest achievements of the year has been the opening of Energy Superhub Oxford in July. It’s Europe’s most powerful EV charging hub and model for charging hubs of the future. Fastned’s chargers here offer up to 300kW of power, capable of adding 300 miles (484km) of range in just 20 minutes.
Despite starting in the oil industry, Hurst realised he was never going to change things from within, so went back to university to earn an MSc in sustainable energy. He then moved on to work at a multinational engineering firm that helped governments, cities, NGOs and businesses develop their plans for a low-carbon transition.
After spotting Fastned’s solar canopies on Dutch roads during family visits he did some research. Following an unsolicited application, he moved into the world of emobility. We caught up with Hurst to find out about his journey and get his views on what’s going on in the emobility space and where its future lies.
EDs: Can you tell us a little about your history and how you ended up in the emobility space?
I’ve got a bit of an uncomfortable confession to make. When I finished my mechanical engineering degree, I initially started working for an oilfield services company. There are some deep holes in the Middle East that I had a role in drilling.
At school and university I’d always taken a keen interest in renewable energy and climate change but for a number of reasons I ended up in the Saudi Arabian desert, sat in a sweaty portacabin doing 12-hour shifts.
I’d convinced myself that I could have a role in changing the world for the better while inside that industry. I quickly discovered that the oil and gas industry is, aptly, a supertanker, one that a minnow has no chance of shifting. So I bailed out and went back to university, gaining an MSc in sustainable energy.
Following this, I spent six years working in energy and climate change consultancy for a multinational engineering firm, helping governments, cities, NGOs and businesses develop their plans for a low-carbon transition.
In that role, I spotted the potential of the nascent emobility sector, the beginnings of unstoppable exponential growth, and by 2017 was looking for a way to get involved in whatever way possible.
Being half-Dutch, I had seen Fastned’s futuristic solar canopies on the Dutch highways during family visits and had always wondered what on earth they were for.
When I learned about rapid charging and Fastned’s strategy to provide electric freedom, it was clear to me that the team was, quite simply, miles ahead of the market in terms of its thinking and execution. One unsolicited application later and I was off on my emobility adventure.
EDs: What does your current role at Fastned entail?
As Country Manager, I take care of the basics of operating the UK arm of the business with one – soon two – offices here and a growing headcount spanning acquisitions, design, construction, operations, PR and government affairs.
My role is to make sure that these functions are coordinated and are all pulling in the same direction – towards making Fastned a success in the UK. Beyond this, my day job is at the vanguard of the business, working with private and public landlords all across the country to source excellent locations for us to build our iconic charging infrastructure.
EDs: How do you see Fastned developing over the next five years?
Fastned’s mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable mobility by providing freedom for electric drivers. We currently operate in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, and are targeting 1,000 stations across Europe by 2030.
The next five years will look very similar to the last five – a strong, continuously accelerating push to source, design, and build a network of high-quality, scalable sites across an even wider range of markets. Everything we’re doing will continue to grow in line with this ambition and making sure we stay in a market-leading position.
EDs: How do you think the world of electric cars will develop over this time?
There are clearly some global supply-chain issues to resolve in the short-term, but as a whole, prices will continue on a downward trajectory as greater production capacity is brought online and manufacturers intensify competition.
EVs will continue their shift from luxury items to workhorses for the masses, driving a continued boom in uptake. Over the longer term, there are fascinating opportunities around shared mobility and autonomous vehicles, but the next five years are all about riding the cost curve.
EDs: What role will charging play in this and how do you see it developing?
EVs drivers need the same level of freedom as petrol drivers currently enjoy; that’s where Fastned and other quality charging companies come in. Whether at home, at work, or on the go, charging needs to be done right to help people make the switch seamlessly.
We’re beyond the early adopter phase of the market, where EV “fans” accepted poor experiences in the interest of being at the forefront of a technological revolution. Mass market adopters will certainly not accept anything that’s materially worse than what they already have and will likely need an even better experience.
Beyond more, ever-faster chargers (I pray no one tries to coin a term for something faster than “ultra-rapid”), we will continue to focus on the needs of customers to ensure that they can continue to rely on us, and trust us to deliver an excellent service.
EDs: Will we see this rolled out in a different format from the current petrol station model?
I think it’s horses for courses. At Fastned, we love our “petrol station” model because it makes it so clear to customers what’s on offer; superfast charging to get you on the go again.
When you see our canopy as you’re approaching, your blood pressure should instantly start to reduce. Range anxiety? Gone. Because you know that Fastned will have enough chargers for you, that they’ll be working, and charge you up in no time. This model doesn’t work everywhere and superfast charging won’t be necessary everywhere.
EDs: Is there a need for a balance of convenience charging locations and hubs like Energy Superhub Oxford?
Exactly. Drivers have different needs in their journeys and the great thing about EVs is that they can be filled up at rates that align with drivers’ individual use cases.
If you’re a taxi or business driver, chances are that time spent at a charger means lost revenue for you – you’ll want the fastest fill-up possible. Popping into town for the day? Leave your car at a slow charger and come back to a full battery.
EDs: The rollout of Energy Superhub Oxford has been a huge success. Will this be a model for other charging hubs and how do you see hubs developing in the future?
We’re so happy that the hard work with all of our partners at ESO paid off. We worked together with Oxford City Council, Pivot Power, Tesla and Wenea (along with our excellent contractors) to deliver something pretty special. We’re certainly keen to explore further opportunities arising from this model; time will tell.
EDs: How important is the future of charging in the commercial vehicle sector?
We already see some very important use cases of our high-power charging solution for the commercial vehicle sector in the UK. In the case of our first London site, in Greenwich, we’re seeing 24/7 demand from e-taxis. In the case of ESO, both national brands and local businesses are charging their maintenance and service vans at the site.
We’re working with a growing EV fleet operator to support them with charging such that they won’t need to invest hundreds of thousands in facilities at their depot. All these commercial examples demonstrate that users place a clear value on reliable infrastructure that will get them on the go again quickly.
Because for them, time is literally money. If your e-fleet drivers don’t have off-street parking, access to a hub like ours at Oxford is a lifeline for your company’s ambitions for the transition to sustainable transport.
EDs: How will charge times change for all vehicles in the coming years?
In my opinion, we’ll see continued increases in average charge speeds on offer in the coming years. Ultimately there will be an equilibrium reached by the vehicle manufacturers – their engineers are trading off a number of factors including battery size (and so cost), driver convenience and bragging rights (i.e. mine’s faster than yours).
EDs: Is the current charging speed more of a vehicle issue than an infrastructure issue?
At all our new and planned sites, vehicle charging speed limits will be the limiting factor. If that changes, rest assured we’ll stick to doing what our name suggests, and keep the charge speeds on offer in line with what the market wants.
EDs: Currently, what do you see as the biggest barriers when it comes to the transition to EVs?
The answer to this question probably hasn’t changed in the 10 years that Fastned’s been established. Prospective customers continue to cite either the high relative price of EVs, or a perceived lack of charging infrastructure as the biggest barriers to EV uptake.
Despite these, EV uptake continues to grow at an exponential rate, prices are dropping with mass production, and ever-faster charging infrastructure continues to roll out. So, you could argue these aren’t really barriers. Maybe the question is “what will it take to speed up the transition even further?”
EDs: What do you think are the biggest factors in the mass uptake of electric vehicles?
I could quote all the usual surveys that cite the cost of vehicles and the availability of charging infrastructure. That’s certainly part of the story, but I think the truth is more subtle than that.
As I already mentioned, a big part of the story is explaining to prospective EV drivers how readily they can make the switch, and infrastructure seriously has a role to play here. I don’t believe that there isn’t enough charging infrastructure out there, and I know we and a number of quality operators will continue to provide it ahead of demand.
Much of what is already available is simply invisible, and if it’s invisible, it might as well not exist. That’s why, since 2012, we’ve been building highly visible sites at convenient locations.
EDs: What does the future of transport look like to you?
Here I usually get philosophical. We can talk about what it should look like in light of the climate crisis, or we can consider what it will look like based on current policy trajectories in the UK and globally.
The future of transport should look like one that prioritises active transport (walking and cycling) above all else, and then uses efficient, zero-emissions mass transit systems to move people around inside and between our urban areas. Instead of 30 million cars on the roads like today, there should be a fraction of this, all of course fully-electric, no doubt shared and autonomous.
Where are we actually going? Things are definitely moving in the right direction. Current policies and markets will see the cars that we are driving by 2050 fully-electrified and running off a near-zero emissions grid. The continued flirting with hydrogen will be over, save for a few heavy-duty freight classes.
Electric Vehicle technology is already so compelling that there is no going back in the transport sector, and market forces alone will deliver the bulk of what is necessary. We face some far bigger challenges in dealing with the energy demands of our poorly-built leaky homes and buildings, for example.
The encouraging news is that we’re not (quite) yet at the precipice. More and more voices are calling for the systemic change necessary to protect the futures of the next generations and the present for vulnerable nations and communities around the world.
EDs: What EV do you drive and why?
I drive a Kia e-Niro 4+ and absolutely love it. It is without a doubt the best bang for your buck that you can get when you’re trading off price, range, space (for two toddlers and their paraphernalia), and comfort. 17,000 miles in the last 15 months and not a single issue to report.
There is a growing range of EVs from existing and new brands coming to market to accommodate all car lovers and I look forward to seeing what new models we’ll see in the coming years.
EDs: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years would see me hit a decade with Fastned. We will still be in build mode and I intend to be looking after a significantly larger network of sites while working with a growing commercial team to deliver the most value for our customers, our location partners, and Fastned.