UK EV charge point installation ‘coming back strong’ after lockdown: Pod Point

London —
UK electric vehicle charger company Pod Point has seen strong sales in recent months and is recovering ground lost during the early lockdown, the company’s Head of Insights James McKemey told S&P Global Platts July 27.

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The company has just completed installing chargers across 200 Tesco car parks as it rolls out a 600-site program with Volkswagen, and is now back to pre-Covid levels of monthly home charger installations after a lockdown-affected April and May.

“We were in a phase of strong growth pre-lockdown, and it seems largely to be returning,” McKemey said.

While the outlook was uncertain for workplace and retail charging growth due to work-from-home patterns and reduced footfall, McKemey remained positive.

“We don’t know how much awareness of environmental improvement due to lockdown will carry over into a recovery, but we’re heading into a sustained period of economic difficulty, so decisions need to be long-term and sound. Nobody is going to advise investment in diesel passenger cars, and the CEO of Volvo has been forthright in his belief that electrification will accelerate,” he said.

New normal

For a time, Covid-19 restrictions affected Pod Point’s operations hugely, McKemey said. The company initially continued installing for NHS and keyworkers, as well as maintaining its network, but suspended all other work.

“We have a lot of NHS customers – they get very good offers on leasing electric vehicles – but going into their homes can be a relatively high risk operation, particularly if that key worker has been on a Covid-19 ward.

“We are now installing for everyone again, providing the install passes a risk assessment process, and we have now reached a new-normal where we do those assessments on every site we go to,” he said.

This would continue until government advice changed. Meanwhile the company has not needed to furlough any staff during lockdown and anticipates installing another 200 Tesco sites by the end of the year (the company has around 60 installers on staff).

“The rate of growth in this industry is so substantial that we are apparently coming back strong, even though there are some sites we can’t get to,” he said.

BIK extension

Nevertheless, Pod Point would support a one-year extension to the UK’s zero percent BIK company car tax rate introduced in April on electric vehicles because it thinks the impact of the incentive has been much less than it would have been under normal circumstances.

BIK was set at zero for EVs for a year in April, rising to 1% in April 2021 and 2% in April 2022, to be held there for three years.

“We’re not seeing anything like the uptake or use of company cars that we would have done, and looking at the progress of the coronavirus, I’m not sure we’re going to be back to normal by April next year,” he said.

Protecting grid

On the regulatory front, application of a proposed measure to ensure chargepoints charge smartly by default is still a few years away, although the proposal has been well received, McKemey said.

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

“We’ve not yet established the market substantially enough for this to have an effect, we’re not remote-managing charging points yet to protect the grid. We will have to do that, but not for a year or two, and I do expect the [default opt-out] measure to go ahead,” he said.

Paid to drive

Meanwhile some of the more innovative suppliers are coming out with interesting products for EV drivers.

Pod Point is now owned by EDF, which offers time-of-use tariffs and is trialing vehicle-to-grid technology, while Octopus’ Go tariff offers a very aggressive 5 pence per kWh rate between 12:30 am and 4:30 am.

Octopus also offers a dynamic tariff that tracks wholesale prices. This flexibility has seen drivers pay to recharge during hours of negative pricing this summer, when wind and/or solar oversupply were combined by very low weekend demand.

“Early adopters of EVs are hyper-engaged so the excitement around this has been extreme, and it is a little artificial because demand has been so low on the system, but it is a fascinating indication of the world we’re moving towards,” McKemey said.

Looking ahead, McKemey was anxious to see progress in Project Rapid, with the government supporting grid connection funding of en-route rapid charging, while he was agnostic on the potential for vehicle-to-grid technology.

While acknowledging the concept, “we think you can get to so much of the value using demand side response through our standard smart chargers alone, without having to make costly equipment changes, but time will tell,” he said.

Parking bays

Pod Point is anxiously awaiting news on last October’s consultation on UK building regulations, and the potential inclusion of an active charging point for every parking bay built for residential premises.

The EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2018/844/EU) calls for 100% passive provision of charge points for residential parking bays.

“That means the cabling and grid supply, but not the charge point. The UK is proposing to go one better and put the charge point in. There are good reasons for that – actually seeing a charge point you can use acts as a big incentive,” McKemey said.

Further, charge points have load management systems to maximize the amount of charge from the available load.

“One of the challenges of building a block of flats is providing enough power. If you just say I need 100 times 7 kW of additional power for the car park’s communal supply, that is going to do horrific things to the cost of grid connection,” he said.

Pod Point’s Array Charging load management system, however, can triple the number of points on an individual supply.

“And as we learn more about charging behavior, we see that diversity is increasing. Many of our shared residential car parks allow 50% diversity,” he said.

From an initial 100 x 7 kW, “actually you only need 50 x 7 kW. That is still quite high, but a third of that [via load management] allows you a much lower grid connection and still cover 100% of provision.”

In short, if UK building regulations require charge point infrastructure to go in for parking bays, this would have an upfront cost but could save overall on the supply upgrade cost from the distribution network operator.

“It’s a good regulation for our industry and the mood music is positive, so we’re hopeful of hearing something positive later this year or early next year,” McKemey said.