We must remove the obstacles to electrification by adopting smart-charging technologies

 by David Watson, Founder and CEO of Ohme

There are seismic changes underway in the automotive world, as the UK gears up to meet its 2030 climate targets. Electric vehicle numbers are going in the right direction – in 9 years, there will be nearly 10 million EVs on Britain’s roads, close to 1 in every 3 cars.

OEMs clearly mean business as Jaguar Land Rover and Ford have already announced that their models will be entirely electric by 2030. However, the journey to electrification is not simply a case of ramping up the numbers of EVs on Britain’s roads. The industry must wake up to the importance of smart tech to make mass adoption possible. 

Smart charging, specifically, holds the key to unlocking the EV technology revolution by maximising infrastructure capacity, lowering the cost barrier to adoption, and gathering data on charging patterns and driver behaviour. Without it, Britain’s ability to meet its climate targets hangs in the balance.

How will our infrastructure cope?

Our national grid will struggle to handle such an huge influx of EVs draining its resources, without smart-charging helping us  balance the grid. If 10 million EVs plug in at similar times, for example before work in the morning, the unprecedented demand could cause the grid to collapse under the pressure. Ohme’s own calculations show that if numbers of this scale plug in at once using dumb chargers, this could add 70 GW to peak demand. Even if just 30% of these owners plugged in using dumb chargers, it would add 21 GW to peak power requirement – a 33% increase in the power required. 

By using smart charging technology, we can prevent such a surge by shifting EV technology demand by time and location to ensure the grid isn’t overwhelmed, allowing electricity to be consumed effectively and sustainably. 

At the same time, this smart tech solves the problem of managing renewable energy surplus. At the moment, the industry struggles to harvest and store excess wind power, for example, when demand is low and supply is high – when the wind blows and we’re asleep. 

The bottom line is that we can’t afford wastage when confronted with such ambitious climate targets. Today, the industry’s solution to this problem is huge, expensive investment in infrastructure – namely megabatteries, backup generation capacity and grid reinforcements. But by using smarter technology, we can achieve the same goal, without the cost. Smart charging enables drivers to draw surplus energy from the grid into their EV batteries at off peak times, turning the car batteries themselves into the perfect storage solution – effectively utilising our natural resources at all times of the day.

Affordability is key

We will never remove ICEs from Britain’s roads unless we can demonstrate that switching to electric doesn’t have to cost the earth. And while the cost of buying an EV might be falling as more affordable models come on to the market, for many, EV ownership still remains out of reach. Bringing down the running costs of  EVs through smart-charging will be critical if EVs are to become mainstream, particularly in a post-pandemic economy.

Smart charging solutions allow consumers to tap into cheap energy by identifying the  best times to charge. In fact, in some cases when there is surplus energy on the grid from renewables, drivers can even get paid to charge their vehicles, dramatically reducing running costs over time.

EV owners can additionally unlock a short-cut to huge savings by combining a smart-charging app like Ohme’s with a time-of-use (TOU) tariff. For example, using the two together brings the approximate cost of driving 10,000 miles down by £280 annually for Nissan Leaf drivers, and by a jaw-dropping £350 for Tesla X drivers.

Joining the dots with data

Smart-charging does not only protect the grid and benefit consumers, it can also help energy suppliers. Smart-charging technologies deliver the ability to ‘connect and control’ the nation’s charging infrastructure – providing the data for energy companies to be able to direct power to where it’s needed, when it’s needed. 

Smart charging also provides an invaluable connection between energy companies and energy consumers, unlocking the data that will help them better serve their customers by understanding their behaviours. By working with smart charging data platforms, OEMs can unlock powerful insights into driver behaviour. This powerful insight can also shape an OEM’s strategy from vehicle design right through to add-on services such as insurance and after-sales care.

Data is key here – it allows us to build a smart, networked system which is able to manage large fluctuations in energy supply and demand whilst providing powerful insights to help both energy companies and OEMs shape their service offers. 

The time is now

The industry is laser focused on production, but the EV revolution can’t be realised in Britain without the right tech to support it.  The answer to breaking down the barriers to mass adoption is staring us in the face – smart-charging technologies. 

Smart tech improves affordability, protects and preserves our infrastructure, and joins the dots between EV stakeholders. It’s a triple win for EV owners, energy companies and car manufacturers, and its adoption at scale will see us well on our way to meeting our 2030 climate targets.

Interface hears from Andersen EV’s co-founder and technical director David Simpson on how the design-led start-up is harnessing the tech…

Interface hears from Andersen EV’s co-founder and technical director David Simpson on how the design-led start-up is harnessing the tech to bring smart electric vehicle charging to the residential market.

Andersen EV was born of its founders’ frustration at the lack of smart, and stylish, home charging systems for electric vehicles. Back in 2015, technical director David Simpson (and his co-founders Mandy Simpson and Jérôme Faissat) could see the potential to build a business in tune with the ramp in e-car and hybrid vehicle sales.

“We saw a real lack of innovation in home charging,” recalls Simpson, who was keen for the company to find its niche utilising cutting edge design with high-quality materials. “Our business is built on three pillars… Design is paramount, we’re not making a futuristic car gadget with flashing lights, it’s an architectural accessory and one that should be discreet. The second pillar is technology. Both Jérôme and I have worked in the IT industry and appreciate what’s needed to bring the advances in commercial charging to the residential market. The third important factor is that we’re proud to be a British business developing products sustainably. We’re not contributing to a throw-away culture, our boxes are upgradeable.”

The big technological challenge for Andersen EV was how to bring smart charging to a consumer audience in a way that isn’t complex to use. “It should be just like setting up your Apple TV or your Google Chrome card so we’ve aimed for a user-friendly way of setting up your charge point to the cloud,” explains Simpson. “We’re also keen to develop features that build a service for customers who are asking: How can I charge faster? How can I charge more efficiently? We want to help them navigate the smart energy landscape and build on machine learning to make more user-friendly, economic products.”

Simpson explains the ‘Andersen difference’ is about setting expectations and exceeding them with transparency across the board – from pre-sales to installation via user experience and customer support. “We’ve tried to build on American standards,” he adds. “We’ve assembled a whole API spec which means you can plug our products into a smart home and simplify the smart energy experience. They are accessible to our customer to control and monitor via a range of devices – iOS, Android, Alexa etc – using our Konnect app. It’s key to tracking energy costs, aiding smart energy use at the right time of day and integrating with solar power systems to avoid use of the grid.”

Simpson notes there are still big eco challenges for electric vehicles to overcome… “A Tesla, for example, is 45% efficient from energy source out of the ground to forward motion – with all the wastage throughout the manufacturing process, wind resistance and transmitting energy across power lines it’s just 45%. And with wireless charging, when you can’t be bothered to plug the vehicle in to a charge unit, you’ll lose 10% of power so it’s only 90% efficient operationally.” Simpson points out it might not sound much of a sacrifice but if a whole street is doing that it clearly indicates a challenge for the EV industry to address to boost its eco credentials. Which is where he feels the Andersen difference can make an actual difference today. With the benefits of wireless charging perhaps five years away, Simpson identifies the emerging trends of vehicle to grid, local battery storage and the integration with solar as vital to the progression of the home EV market. “You might not be able to have an oil refinery at the bottom of your garden but you can generate enough electricity for the journeys you need to make,” he adds.

Andersen EV has recently partnered with Novo Energy – a leading energy consultant to some of the UK’s largest companies delivering energy purchasing, energy management, energy regulation, energy construction and sustainability polices – to deliver smart energy and green air into its charging units. Allied to this, Simpson is excited to be on the road to certification with three major car manufacturers. “Our boxes have a real synergy with some of the premium automotive brands,” he says. “We already have many of their customers coming to us indirectly because the key message we offer is customisation. All we do is live and breathe charging but the car manufacturers have other challenges, which has created an opportunity for us.”

More than just a pretty box, Simpson stresses a charge point is a mission critical item. He’s proud the industrial grade electronics and PCBs found in Andersen EV products are all designed in house and manufactured in the UK, guaranteeing that the supply chain delivers the correct parts to the highest quality standards. But what about when the supply chain can’t deliver what you need? One of the biggest challenges for the company was finding a cable with the necessary flex but still capable of sustaining heat to charge. To meet its particular specifications the Simpson collaborated with a UK supplier to design his own bespoke Evoflek cable for the wall mounted A2 unit. Next, he’s keen to develop a motorised winder for the cable for winding and unwinding.

The tech behind the finished product is bespoke too: “Every time we upgrade Konnect, we’re giving our customers more from their hardware,” pledges Simpson. With a lot of customers keen to make the most of that hardware and charge faster, Andersen EV will be standardising its boxes (such as the forthcoming floor mounted untethered P1) to be future proof at 22kw, allowing speed benefits for those who want to get their home electricity supply upgraded to 3-Phase. Its customers are already ahead of the curve with 20% upgrading against a UK average of 1-2% of homes 3-Phase equipped.

Conservative forecasts estimate 140 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2030 so the potential market for Andersen EV is huge. It’s a sign of the times that vehicle manufacturers are approaching Simpson and his team to meet the needs of a market set to expand massively from the four million EVs currently in use. Simpson believes the transition will be rapid and that over the next ten years consumers won’t consider buying anything else. He cites the price per kilowatt of battery power down from $750 in 2011 to just $140 today as indicative of dynamics changing.

“Our sales are up 25% each month,” reveals Simpson, who expects the company to grow significantly over the next 12 months thanks to £1.5m recently raised to fund European expansion. This will include working on new models with the goal of finding a niche in the new build market to take advantage of changes to European law which will increase the number of charge points that must be made available on future developments.

Simpson believes the future challenge in the UK is around charging more smartly and delivering a better user experience. “We’re looking into developing a middle-ware software product that allows us to use the existing UK infrastructure more effectively utilising machine learning to build proton models for a more efficient charging experience. This would work for local authorities and housing associations who want to install charge points but can’t afford to dig up the streets everywhere.”

When it comes to keeping that business traffic flowing, what has Simpson learnt during a varied career, including a stint at General Motors, that will help Andersen EV stay in the right lane? “You shouldn’t build something just because you can,” he warns. “If you’ve got a very complex product with lots of features, it’s very hard to scale it. Therefore, part of the thinking behind Andersen EV was to simplify the technology and develop features beneficial to the greater good.” With the dynamics of the EV industry changing fast, coupled with a ramp in eco tech, the smart money is on the Andersen difference reaping rewards for Simpson and co.(