Paul Barker grabs a socially distanced cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – James McKemey, Head of Insight, Pod Point.
Pod Point has grown into a major player, in the electric charging point arena. The company’s head of insight, James McKemey, explains how he sees the market developing as increasing numbers move to electric vehicles.
QWhere does Pod Point sit in the market and what are its strengths?
Until February, we were the last sizable independent charging infrastructure in Europe; now we’re majority-owned by EDF. And what that’s given us is a solidity of financial backing that means it’s not quite so scary when we see that our primary competitors are BP Chargemaster, Shell and Engenie.
In terms of scale, we will be if not the largest then one of the largest providers of home charging units. We’re at well over 2000 installations a month now. We’re very, very strong in workplace as well, and that’s a really key market.
And then in the public network we’re a major player, but there are lots of bits; it’s sliced and diced in different ways. We have traditionally looked to sell our charging infrastructure to hosts, as we call them, someone like Sainsbury’s, who support their charging points and then we allow them to set whatever fee they want to place.
We’re over 3000 [public] points, and somewhere in the region of 70,000 home charges between the UK and Norway, which is our other key market. That makes us a major player.
THE MENTALITY AROUND THE NEED FOR PUBLIC CHARGING
Pod Point head of insight James Mckemey says the quantity of electric vehicle charging taking place on the public network is likely to be lower than might be expected.
“We want to make easy-to-use charge points available in all the places that your car gets parked. So you go round and quickly work out where does my car spend time parked? The first place is at home,” he tells Company Car Today. “In the UK about 60% of households have off-street parking, but PWC found it’s about 75% of drivers. In that 40% of houses with no parking, there are many people with no car.”
He says therefore around 75% of car owners will be able to charge at home. “In the fullness of time, by our own modeling about 60% of all energy will flow into cars at home,” he predicts. “The next segment is work, and we think that’s about 30%,” leaving 10% as public usage.
QHow are things going to progress in terms of electric vehicles and in particular public charging?
Typically, if someone is interested in electric vehicles, the first thing they will ask is how far will it go, because they want to know what the range is. And that’s understandable. We say if you’ve got a car that can do more than 200 miles in all weathers on a single charge, that is a solved problem for anyone who has a charging solution – usually home or work.
The next question they ask is how long it takes to charge, and we will say that that is actually kind of the wrong question, because a lot of time, it doesn’t matter.
If I ask you to think about your car, you think about it as a mobile object because that’s how you experience it. And it isn’t. Your car is a stationary object that very occasionally moves; a car moves less than 5% of its life, if it’s an electric car I can use 95% of its life to put the energy into it.
Q What does that mean in terms of the requirements of a public charging infrastructure?
If we go and ask the general public whether there is enough charging infrastructure, they’ll say no. Firstly, they’re right; there are 30 million cars and you wouldn’t want to have 30 million cars’ worth of charging infrastructure yet. And secondly, it’s because when they go to the petrol station it says petrol and diesel, and there’s not one that says electric, and that’s what they’re thinking is going to be. Actually, the bulk of charging is done at home or at work.
And in our modelling of public charging we’ve said destination is about 7% of charging, and on-route about three. Which is completely counter to what you would expect. So when people first think about getting an electric car, they go: ‘right where’s my nearest superfast charger, because that’s what I need because that’s how I operated my car before’.
McKEMEY selects his stand-out cars
FIESTA XR2 MK 1
It is the best-looking small car ever. I had three mk 1 Fiestas and I just thought the mk 1 XR2 was this squat awesome little thing, and I’ve never lost that. They’re incredibly rare now.
TESLA MODEL S
We’ve been operating an entry level, ex-demo Tesla Model S since 2017. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned. I would like to have something cheaper now because I can; in 2017 it had to be the Tesla to have an electric car that actually did everything we needed.
If anything, it’s that. I think things are going to have to go very well to justify it, but if I can have one of those in the future, that’d be magic.
QSo is public infrastructure a bit of an illusion in terms of the take-up of electric cars for the wider population?
Well, it’s a tricky one because you buy a car for 100% of your journeys. It’s no good me saying 99% of your driving isn’t that long; the day you’re stuck and you can’t find a decent charger and you’re worried, then you’ll be cursing your car.
The reality of driving an EV every day is it’s incredibly rare that you need it. Unless you’re a work driver and you’re doing laps of the UK because you’re a travelling salesman. Then that’s your life and you’re going to know that network.
It matters, and we need to fix it. Yes, you’ll go months without touching anything, and that’s fine; that’s the solution that we need to get to.
QWhat do you see as the main barriers to adoption of EVs?
We say there are five. Three are core; range, infrastructure and cost.
Range is increasing, that one is increasingly solved.
Infrastructure will never be solved in my view, it’s a moving feast, you have to have the infrastructure at a level where you’re just ahead of the demand utilisation. I think we’re there at the moment, but we haven’t got it in a holistic way. With the exception potentially of the Tesla supercharger network, the on-route network could do with being a bit better, we need more 150 kilowatt charging, and for it to be more reliable.
If you want to get an EV and you’re willing to learn how to use a particular network, I would say do it now, but if you’re talking about mass market of people that won’t be interested in learning a network, very soon we’ll be in position.
I’m optimistic about our industry. We do a good job collectively, and we’ve got to do things to improve but if we keep going at that rate, it’ll be good.
Then vehicle cost is actually probably the brightest point of that whole situation because the cost is all to do with the battery. The internal-combustion engine is an unbelievable feat of engineering, when you think about all the moving parts and all their roles, but you just don’t need it when you go to an EV. All you need is an electric motor and a battery, so why are the cars expensive? Because of the batteries.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance is probably the leading analyst on the price of these things. They’re talking about getting to $100 per kilowatt hour, which is generally the point at which you can get price parity, in 2022, so your hatchback with over 200 miles is going to start to be cheaper to make as a battery electric than with an internal-combustion engine.
QAnd at that point everything falls into place for EVs?
Once you take those three and you flip the equation, things start to look radically different. You start to think ‘right, the year is 2028, the infrastructure’s pretty sound, we’ve got it everywhere. Electric cars are outperforming petrol cars in every conceivable way, they’re cheaper to buy and three or four times cheaper to run. Why would I buy a petrol car?’. Buying a fossil-fuelled car starts to become the weird decision. As our CEO likes to say, don’t think about it like petrol versus diesel, this isn’t co-existence. This is Blockbuster/Netflix. You’re going to get to a point where you’ve got better technology which is much cheaper and every bit as easy to use, if not easier.
QAnd what of the other ‘lesser’ barriers to mass adoption?
We think the couple of other barriers are the availability and choice of vehicles, which is still very limited.
They are coming to market fast, but when you compare them to the amount of petrol models, quite often you’d have conversations with people and they’re saying well I’m thinking of going for the Audi e-Tron or the Tesla Model 3. What person goes and looks at a petrol small saloon or a massive SUV? So that choice has to come, and not only does the choice but actually the supply as well.
And the final one is actually what we class as soft barriers, perception, education, things like that. Understanding that these things will be suitable for you.
QHas the Government done enough and is it doing enough?
In the history of Pod Point we have had the end of New Labour, we’ve had the coalition and we’ve had two very distinct flavours of the Tories. We’ve had consistent support throughout, so we would be wildly remiss to be complaining.
We’re of the view that electric vehicles are going to win anyway, no matter what the Government does, but Government can help them win quicker, and I think we’d want to do that from an emissions standpoint at the very least.
What we ask is, do everything you can to secure cars into the market. Our biggest answer is to leave the market to innovate, but do everything you can to secure supply into the UK. The more vehicles there are, the more the charging infrastructure business model start to work. You’ve actually developed a thriving private sector charging infrastructure industry in the UK that is ready to do this. They’re already doing it, but they’re ready to do it at scale.
We are an early market that is evolving; my view of the infrastructure world is that it’s much better than people think it is. But I still recognise there is a way to go to get it where it needs to be. The biggest, biggest thing you could do to make the infrastructure brilliant is to actually put a load of EVs on the road.
THE JUSTIFICATION OF EV’S
“The year is 2029. Your standard saloon will do 350 miles on a single charge, it’s costing less than a petrol car equivalent and to run it’s virtually nothing. There is always rapid charging available at every motorway services you go to, there is charging in every destination you go to. I’m running out of reasons not to do it.”