Ev.energy aims to be the “Android” of electric car charging – Financial Times | CarTailz

Europe’s need to wean itself off Russian gas as supplies are halted amid war in Ukraine means the continent faces an energy shortage – just as winter approaches. Short-term power outages, a return to nuclear power and more gas supplies have all been suggested to bridge the gap but remain problematic. However, one answer may already be out there on our driveways: electric cars.

In the UK alone, more than 1 million electric vehicles have been sold in the last ten years. And they contain batteries that together hold as much electricity as multiple power plants could generate. Harnessing this vast reservoir to power homes and help “balance the grid” could prove key to keeping the lights on for months to come.

Ev.energy is convinced of this – and as an energy technology company, it has exactly that as its goal. It has written software for electric car chargers that “talks” to vehicles and the power grid simultaneously. Currently it allows vehicles to be charged during low demand hours, but it will eventually allow them to put their electricity back into the energy system.

“Electric vehicles will be the single largest source of energy flexibility in the future,” says Nick Woolley, CEO of Ev.energy. Bringing the cars together under one system creates a “virtual power plant, and that’s going to be very important for the grid,” he explains. “When you control this power plant, you control the grid.”

According to calculations by National Grid, by 2050 the UK will be using at least twice as much electricity as it does today. That requires at least four times the amount of clean generation currently being achieved and twice the grid capacity. To cope with this, the grid must become smarter and demand managed. Electric cars, which are expected to be near-ubiquitous in certain parts of the world within two decades, allow for a huge buffer in this.

“People are concerned about electric vehicles and their impact on the power grid, but in reality they are part of the solution,” argues Fiona Howarth, chief executive officer of Octopus EV, an electric vehicle leasing company owned by the Octopus Energy Group.

Nick Woolley © Dave Bird

Woolley first understood the magnitude of the power demand challenge while serving on National Grid’s strategy team. “That [power] Networks are worried because it will overload the local network; the National Grid is concerned because they will have massive peak demand; and energy companies are concerned because they have to pay very high prices for their energy,” he says. But when he also factored in the demand for millions of electric vehicles, he discovered a power plant-sized gap in the market.

Ev.energy is not his first foray into running a business. Although an engineer by training, he initially alternated between positions with the Boston Consulting Group and running his own ventures. He ran his first business – a small business helping people trade online – from his bedroom while earning his PhD in Energy Systems.

His first serious business was called Kudos Web Solutions, which developed software to help companies launch their own websites. The best-known customer was the online fashion retailer Boohoo. But Woolley later sold his stake in the company to his business partner and went back to consider opportunities in power.

“The energy sector is arguably the most exciting place to start a business today because we fundamentally have a huge problem with climate change and I am very optimistic that we can use technology in the right ways to help solve this problem,” he says.

Ev.energy has raised $12.8 million to date from investors including Canada’s Energy Impact Partners and Arctern Ventures. It has also signed deals with more than 20 energy and utility groups – including Eon – and several grid operators, including UK Power Networks and Southern Company in the US.

Formerly supported by German car manufacturer Volkswagen’s incubator program, Ev.energy is now a commercial customer. It also received project funding from Innovate UK, which helps promising young companies. “For the company, which is still in the early stages, they went international early on,” says an early investor in the company.

While a lot of companies are “talking about this big global ambition,” “most don’t really know how to get there and end up focusing on the UK, and they almost always end up hitting a hurdle,” the person adds.

“Being in the Texas market and California, they’re really picking the early adopters to prove the value in those markets,” says another early supporter.

Ev.energy has registered 100,000 vehicles in its charging network and is aiming to increase that number to 1 million within three years – a number that Woolley says could grow to as much as 3 million if registrations grow fast enough. It has millions of dollars in revenue and is currently focused on growth rather than profits.

Ev.energy app displayed on a mobile phone

The Ev.energy app “talks” to electric vehicles and the power grid during the charging process

However, achieving growth should not require large resources or funding as the business does not need to spend on infrastructure or physical hardware. An increase in EVs on the roads should see the network grow with the market. “We don’t need huge amounts of money,” says Woolley. “We simply need great engineers. Basically, we need to build EVs at scale, and that will make our platform valuable.”

Through his connections with National Grid, Woolley was able to draw on expert advice in refining the product. Graeme Cooper, an EV advocate who heads National Grid’s Future Markets division, was one of the company’s guinea pigs in 2017. Still, as an early adopter of electric vehicles, he was pleasantly surprised when he plugged in his Tesla and found that the system allowed him to set when he needed to charge the vehicle and how full the battery needed to be. Everything else was determined by the app itself.

“I entered the energy tariff, he found the signal and made some decisions [about when to charge]. These guys did some clever things,” concludes Cooper. Five years later, he’s still using the system to charge his current vehicle, an electric Mercedes-Benz. His most common use of the app is to reset his password, which he rarely uses because the technology “just works well.”

Ev.energy estimates that delaying charging until later at night can save consumers up to £800 a year, especially when combined with solar panels bringing the power straight to the car. This winter, it should also help relieve the grid, which Ev.energy can pay to delay power pick-up during periods of high demand.

Woolley cites examples from California, where power outages occurred consistently when high temperatures created unsustainable demand for air conditioning. Flexible EV charging can reduce grid demand by 96 percent “just by listening to their needs and the grid needs and meeting both together,” he says.

Over time, the feedback into the grid will increase this effect and not only reduce the demand in the grid, but actually function as a “virtual” power plant.

But developments like these bring their own risks to Ev.energy’s business model. For example, hardware vendors could start running their own software systems. Or the business gets so big that the energy companies that currently fund it see it as a competitive threat.

Some automobile manufacturers are already tapping into the potential of vehicle-to-grid technology. Ford’s F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its flagship pickup, includes two-way charging that allows motorists to draw power from its battery. Advertisements for the vehicle show builders using this facility to power construction tools on site. But others are more imaginative: Online videos show people using Ford technology to charge Teslas, a plug-in Ferrari supercar and even a rural wedding after a local power outage.

Production of F-150 Lightning pickups at Ford

Production of F-150 Lightning pickups at Ford © Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

However, car manufacturers are largely reluctant to offer charging software themselves. Even Tesla, whose Supercharger network is the only noteworthy proprietary offering on the market, doesn’t offer it. In fact, most of the cars that stand on Ev.energy’s smart charging system today are Teslas.

Woolley claims the chances of automakers trying to compete in smart charging are slim. He even says that Ev.energy’s global reach can also prevent direct competition from hardware manufacturers.

“The challenge is that the energy in the UK, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Texas is completely different. . . it’s just completely fragmented everywhere, different rules and regulations. If you’re that charging company, you need to figure out how to sell your global product because you probably want to sell your devices everywhere,” he says.

Woolley compares the role and potential of Ev.energy’s technology to that of Google’s Android mobile operating system. He thinks it can benefit from a range of hardware vendors — in this case, charging groups. But he adds, “The question is, who will Apple?”

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