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Feature: Interview with James McKemey - Head of Insights, Pod Point

London — The UK 's leading home EV charging company talks to S&P Global Platts about a looming step-change in EV demand, smart charging, network constraints and the EV Energy Taskforce's recommendations.

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UK electric vehicle charger company Pod Point anticipates a "spectacular year of growth" for the sector as company car tax is removed and EV purchase costs fall.

"We've had more leads than ever in the first few weeks of January," Pod Point's Head of Insights James McKemey told S&P Global Platts January 24.

Pod Point has shipped over 78,000 EV chargers to date, the majority 3.6 kW-to-7 kW home units.

It has partnered with Tesco and Volkswagen to provide free charging across 400 supermarkets, and with Lidl to provide rapid charging at 50 stores for 23 pence per kWh.

Now the company is bracing for "an intimidating but exciting period" of rapid growth, McKemey said.

Zero BIK

"The arrival of a zero percent BIK [company car tax] rate in April is significant. Full battery EVs are expensive, but that will change over the next two years. This is when we expect to see disruptive, exponential growth with EVs becoming cheaper to buy [than conventional cars] through the early to mid-2020s," he said. "We've trebled our hiring capability."

A high-end executive car cost in the region of GBP1,000 a month in BIK tax. "For a Tesla Model S that is going to be zero, rising to 1% next year and 2% the year after. Leasing companies are getting wise to this. Any way you frame it, we are looking at a step change this year," he said.

Network constraints

Inevitably mass adoption of EVs will lead to constraints on local networks caused by evening peak charging, but Pod Point data show there is plenty of potential for grid-friendly flexibility in how charging is done.

"When we look at our charging data, there is a substantial peak at 8pm. We then have some interesting steps after midnight, showing people shifting consumption to their Economy Seven period," McKemey said.

While a heavy-use EV driver can save "an absolute fortune" by doing this, most drivers were not taking advantage of time-of-use tariffs, or at least were charging through the 8pm peak anyway.

"Personally I have a concern around how far you can go with incentives and tariffs to protect the network," McKemey said.

Ultimately, in his opinion, the peak/off-peak differential was not yet that compelling, and in people's minds as long as charging worked, fine - they were already saving on fuel costs.

"The disengaged consumer is in the majority. That is why I'm in favour of the default opt-out measure," McKemey said.

This was a reference to the EV Energy Taskforce's January 14 proposal (one of 21) that private EV charge points are set to smart charging by default, requiring drivers to opt-out of this function rather than opt-in.

"Those that want to override it on a regular basis are probably not burdening the system too much because they are in a minority," he said.

Smart meters

Other taskforce suggestions on domestic smart meters and interoperability were less welcome.

"If I'm honest we would not want installation of a smart meter alongside home chargers to be a pre-requisite," McKemey said.

Pod Point gets the advantage - the smart meter unlocks diverse home charging tariffs and EV drivers can really benefit from those. However, the smart meter rollout has been far from perfect.

"If we were beholden to the installation of a smart meter that would be quite a barrier to us," he said.

One of the recommendations coming out of the taskforce report is the need to communicate the benefits of smart charging.

"I do think that is a challenge. It requires quite a lot of prior knowledge. There is a real danger this comes across as effectively rationing your energy and denying you the ability to charge when you wish," McKemey said.

The reality of the situation, however, was that smart charging would be adopted without fuss or bother if the opt-out default setting was approved and applied, because of the amount of flexibility offered by smart charging.

Inherent flexibility

McKemey explained this by describing the three states of smart charging: unplugged; plugged in and charging; and plugged in but fully charged or waiting to charge.

"State three dominates. Three quarters of the time people are plugged in, they are not charging," McKemey said.

The average UK passenger car mileage per day is 22 miles - equivalent to an hour on a 7 kW charger.

The average driver gets home around 6pm and does not go out again until the next morning, so is plugged in for a lengthy period.

Pod Point's data also show people tend to charge once every third day.

"This starts to build a degree of diversity into charging. There is more diversity than people might think, and there is an opportunity to build flexibility here," McKemey said.

Storage

Home batteries were another route to calming evening peaks, but they were expensive, units just about paying back over a 10-year asset lifetime.

This could change for certain applications, notably in new-build housing areas if provision of EV charges is made obligatory.

"Providing enough power for 100% active provision [of charging] is quite difficult. We're learning how many chargers you can put on a circuit using load managing systems to protect incoming supply. Inevitably, however, if you get to 100% in all buildings, you are very often going to have to upgrade supply," McKemey said.

Depending on how far you have to go upstream to reinforce the network, this can be eye-wateringly expensive.

"Home battery costs start to look a lot more interesting when you are faced with upgrading the network. And of course battery costs are falling. So we see that opportunity writ large," he said.

Interoperability

While Pod Point was supportive of the concept of interoperability across chargers, as discussed by the EV Energy Taskforce, it was concerned this could result in stringent specification changes to its hardware, firmware and software.

"We want to make charging as easy as possible. We're not convinced of the need for a grand unified access methodology, and some of our initiatives (such as free charging with Tesco) only work on the basis of people using our own platform," he said. Lose that and you may lose the free charge, he said.

There was a good compromise. The arrival of contactless cards for rapid charging "essentially can become a very effective ad hoc access methodology, and this is something we are rolling out very soon," McKemey said.

This reduced driver concerns around having multiple charge cards because rapid charging "can be those critical charges you must have to complete your journey," he said.

Adopting a Netherlands -style top-down Elaad system across all charging, however, was probably a step too far, with the costs "outstripping the real benefits," McKemey said.

Two questions

In the nine years McKemey has worked for Pod Point people have asked him the same two questions: how far do EV's go? And how long do they take to charge?

"Range anxiety is broadly solved now as EVs get towards 200 real world miles," he said.

"The second question on charge time in my view is the wrong question -an internal combustion engine mindset question."

We view cars as mobile objects. They're not - they are stationary objects that occasionally move, he said.

"The idea of driving around and refueling at the same time is not a good system, it's just one that is familiar. A far better system would be to put energy in during the 95%-plus time the car is parked, not during the 5% of time you're trying to get somewhere in it."

Pod Point predicts that in a mature charging eco-system about 60% of charging occurs at home, 30% at work.

Today the workplace fraction is lower but it is a fast growing channel. Beyond that it's the public and commercial realm, split between destination charging (shopping) and high-powered en-route charging, which Pod Point puts at around 3% of all charging.

"We're not saying en-route chargers are irrelevant, we need a mix. But what you will find is that if you get a home charger, and your 200 mile range car is charged up every morning, the number of times you use an en-route charger is far lower than you expected when you made the switch from an ICE car," he said.

"Once the driver gets used to this idea charging becomes a really convenient experience, a top-up model much more like mobile phone charging than refuelling."

McKemey has coined his own paradox: the faster the charger, the longer you spend watching your car being charged. "Detouring to a high powered charger and watching it charge is far less convenient than you think. The beauty of the 7 kW charger is, no-one uses one of those in places they don't want to be," he said.

While expensive, en-route chargers "now need to increase in power as batteries get larger. A 50 kW en-route charge is not good enough for people with 60-100 kWh batteries - a two-hour stop off is not a fast charge."

"That's not to say 50 kW is not an important part of the mix, just that increasingly they are more of a paid-for faster charge at a convenient destination - just like those in our supermarket rollouts," he said.