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Podcast S01E02

Smart Charging – revolutionising the electric vehicle sector in Europe

Smart Charging – revolutionising the electric vehicle sector in Europe

Jon Slowe speaks to Jordan Brompton of MyEnergi, Jorg van Heesbeen of Jedlix and Alexander Lewis-Jones of Delta-ee about smart charging. With electric vehicles set to revolutionise the transport sector in Europe, they discuss the challenges this brings to the electricity system and the charging technologies that help.

Episode transcript

Episode 2: Smart Charging - revolutionising the electric vehicle sector in Europe

Jon Slowe, Director, Delta-ee

Alexander Lewis-Jones, Analyst / EVs & Electricity Research Service Manager, Delta-ee

Jorg van Heesbeen, Co-founder, Jedlix

Jordan Brompton, Co-founder, MyEnergi

Jon: Welcome to Talking New Energy, a podcast from Delta-ee, the new energy experts. We will be talking about how the energy transition is developing across Europe with guests who are working at the leading edge of this transition.

Electric vehicles are set to revolutionise the transport sector in Europe. The recent Geneva motor show was bristling with new models of electric vehicles and car manufacturers are tripping over themselves to announce their future plans to electrify their fleet. This will have an impact, and in many ways a huge impact, on the electricity sector. It will increase demand, maybe not by quite as much as some people think. If you electrify all of Europe's fleet, then that will only add around one quarter onto total electricity demand, according to Eurelectric.

The biggest impact will be around the timing of demand and the majority of charging will take place at home or at work. And if many vehicles are charged at the same time this will create two types of challenges, first, overloading the distribution infrastructure. In many countries the network simply won't cope with many cars on one street charging at the same time. And secondly matching the amount of electricity generated, or stored or provided through demand response, with the timing of demand. Will there be enough generation when millions of cars are charging at the same time?

The good news is that electric vehicles may be able to solve the very problems they bring and also help to solve wider electricity system challenges. They can do this through helping customers as well and helping customers to make the most of the electricity they might be generating themselves. So in this episode, we'll be hearing from three guests, all of whom have got fascinating perspectives on smart charging. First of all, Alex, Alexander Lewis-Jones, our in-house expert at Delta.

Hello Alex, and can you summarise in a nutshell what you do at Delta?

Alex: Certainly. Hi Jon. Thanks for having us. So my role here is the product manager of the electric vehicles and electricity research service. This is a subscription package which offers insights on the EV charging industry and we cover a range of different topics there, but typically a lot of reports and case studies and viewpoints on how the technologies and the EV charging customer is evolving. So that's my role and we work with a team of EV enthusiasts across Europe.

Jon: Thanks very much Alex. So you'll bring your passion and your breadth of looking across Europe to the debate. Secondly, delighted to welcome Jorg, co-founder of Jedlix, a Dutch-based smart charging company. Hello Jorg. And can you tell us in a nutshell what Jedlix does?

Jorg: Yes, for sure. Jedlix is a software company and we develop smart charging software for electric vehicles and with our platform and apps built on top of that we help to integrate the charging of electric vehicles with energy markets and grids in the end to lower the cost of charging and help with the integration of renewable energy.

Jon: Thanks very much Jorg and, last but not least, hello Jordan. Jordan, likewise, can you give us an elevator pitch about MyEnergi?

Jordan: Okay. So MyEnergi, we are UK based manufacturer of hardware, predominantly specialising in electric vehicle charging with renewable energy and smart home devices that self-consume on-site green energy. So mainly the domestic market. We were the first manufacturers to bring out a charger that bridged the gap between somebody who's got solar panels and an electric vehicle allowing them to charge directly off their green power and you know, take pressure off the grid.

Jon: Thanks very much. So we've got Jorg from Jedlix, a software-based company, Jordan from MyEnergi, a hardware-based company, both active and at or close to the leading edge of developments with smart charging, and Alex our in-house EV expert at Delta.

So first of all, I'd like, Alex, a bit of help in breaking down what we mean by smart charging. I guess from a high level I think of it as charging an electric vehicle for the benefit of some aspect of the electricity system as well as for the customers’ needs of filling up the tank so to speak. So Alex, how can you break this down a bit, break this high-level concept down a bit further?

Alex: Yeah. I think that's a good summary and I think with smart charging there's a lot of different terminology out there covering a range of different concepts, but essentially it's about having connected and controlled charging technologies that allow us to shift that time of the charge to accommodate some electricity system benefit so we can look at this on two levels. It could be a local level so there could be some, you know, capacity requirements, that means that you need to shift it away from a particular time or it could be at a grid level to make sure that we are balancing our supply and demand.

Jon: Okay, and how much smart charging is going on? I mean in a way, I guess the EV sector’s in its early days aside from a market like Norway. Car sales are picking up quickly, but they're still relatively small numbers. So is smart charging the pilot or demonstration or commercial phase, how widespread is it?

Alex: Yeah, really good question. And like I said, there's a lot of different concepts and a lot of generations of smart charging out there. So if we have, if we look at a lot of the local load balancing elements, well, a lot of that technology has been commercialised and available for many years and is in this successful in certain segments, but for…

Jon: Alex, by load balancing you mean influencing the timing of charging so you don't overshoot your connection, basically, that your connection to the grid, you have a certain capacity, and that you don't go over that capacity or charging your electric vehicle doesn't cause you to go over that capacity?

Alex: Agreed, yeah, so this is where this can happen on different levels, but maybe you look at some of the larger users of electric vehicles, take an airport for example, and they'll have a limited constraint capacity of how much electricity they can charge from but might have 20 different vehicles wanting to be charged at one time. So you might have to balance the load between the different charges at that particular time. So for those scenarios for the where there's an obvious capacity constraint, we are seeing smart charging solutions coming through and I think the Netherlands is a good example of a market where we do have a, there's a financial incentive at all levels to avoid exceeding your capacity because there are steep charges there. When we move on to other technologies such as you know, the ones that provide the generation matching, so that again that could be on a local level. So with the with solar PV on your roof or what a grid level of renewables that is starting to come in. But yeah, like you say the EV market is still pretty new so it's a series of niches for me at the moment.

Jon: Okay, so I guess trying to sum that up its there's some activity and has been for a while almost at the local site level of either avoiding going over your capacity connection or maximising self-consumption. But integration with a wider electricity markets, that's less widespread today.

Alex: Yes, I think there's the technologies are there but we're waiting to see the electricity markets evolved to accommodate the maximum benefits that we can get from these technologies.

Jon: Okay, and one more question for you Alex before we move on to Jordan and Jorg. You have thought a bit about the different ways in which smart charging can happen, haven't you, in terms of home-centric, car-centric or charger-centric smart charging?

Alex: Yeah, so when we, we did a report on smart charging last year and we look went out to the market, looked at all these different technologies that were out there and we started to see that there were, there were different approaches to where the intelligence was. Where is the smart? Where's the controller? And we wanted to understand that because when we understand where the controller is, then we can understand who might be holding the customer relationship and who might be leading the development of this technology.

So predominantly, we look at the charges, the charging hub where themselves, and what kind of controls are linked with those units and we see that prevailing across the market. Then there are ones that might link in more with the vehicle itself, bearing in mind that there's a lot of new investment and interest in vehicle intelligence. So is there more of a car-centric controlled approach, and of course, you know coming from a you know, the energy side rather than the transport side. What about the home? What about the building? Is the controller going to be in there? So that is how we've kind of defined the market in terms of a charger-centric, car-centric or the home-centric models.

Jon: Oh okay, so three different architectures, I guess, for where that control and communication can sit. Let's now turn to Jordan and Jorg, founders of two companies that are at the leading edge of smart charging and hear a bit more about your companies and how you relate to smart charging in a way that Alex has described. Jorg, would you like to go first and tell us a bit more about Jedlix and how you're enabling smart charging?

Jorg: Yes, of course and thank you for giving me the opportunity to present here. The smart charging use case of Jedlix mainly focus on use cases in front of the meter, I would say it, so helping to keep the grid in balance from a TSO perspective trading on the energy markets together with utility partners of Jedlix and we have done some implementations to support congestion management on the on a DSO or DNO level, where the later one I would say still let's say in a more experimental phase than it's a full commercial phase.

Jon: Okay, so less about load balancing and maximising self-consumption of photovoltaics, for example, as Alex mentioned and more about integration with the electricity system be it the distribution infrastructure, the balancing of the system or the markets. Is that right?

Jorg: Yep, correct.

Jon: And one thing I'm quite fascinated by is your shareholders. Jorg, can you tell us a bit about who backs Jedlix or where you came from?

Jorg: Yes, our history dates back to utilities. Eneco is a shareholder of Jedlix and some of our founders have background there and the company is basically founded by people coming from the e-mobility team and energy flexibility and trading team and last year Renault joined as a shareholder in the company and both companies are still active shareholder and we hope to expand it further this year with more strategic partners on board, to grow the platform.

Jon: So a great sign of the coming integration or yeah integration between the electricity and the transport sectors.

Jorg: Yes.

Jon: And you’ve mentioned that you're focused on electricity systems values rather than customer side of the meter to values. How about the charger-centric, car-centric, home-centric framework that Alex outlined? Where do you fit in there?

Jorg: Obviously the car-centric one. I would say our main USB is to help OEMs build smart charging services based on the connectivity and controls of the vehicle. The most vehicles, about 90 percent of all vehicles being sold nowadays has connectivity on board. We enable that infrastructure for our OEM partners.

Jon: Okay, so the, let's get this right, the car plugs in, the customer says when they the driver says when they want to charge by and then you're communicating through the car if that's right, to influence or control when the charging actually takes place?

Jorg: Yes, this is correct.

Jon: Okay, and how in one hand sounds simple on the other hand implementation is often a lot harder than the simple concept. How hard is this to do? Is it straightforward? Has this been years of effort to get this to work? How hard is the technology to do this?

Jorg: It's it has been quite some learning by doing. So we are engaging with many OEMs car manufacturers on this topic for a few years now and the technology involved is quite involving, lot of cars now also get 4G quite soon 5G connectivity on board. So the amount of data, the controls all the control we have is evolving quite fast, in the end all for the better. But you obviously have to deal with yeah, the servers and integrations with our car manufacturers, with our partners here. So you have to comply with the rules, make sure that everything is secure. So this is just as important as just being able to control the charging and have an integration there.

Jon: I can imagine that's quite some work to do. How many different OEM partners are you working with at the moment or how many can you actually implement this solution with?

Jorg: So we have currently have operations which have been published with BMW, Renault and Tesla. Luckily, they are quite doing quite well in the EV domain as you may know. And we expect to disclose a few more partners over the course of this year and then we have I would say quite the line-up but obviously we hope to have more, yeah more partners on board so we can skill and be of relevance to our to the other side of the platform the utilities and operators there and maximise volume.

Jon: And can you give us a feel for numbers of customers? You know, how many cars are connected to the Jedlix platform. How many customers are you working with talking tens, hundreds, thousands?

Jorg: We do not always officially discuss this but, some things you can find online, but we have most of our activities we have launched in the Netherlands two years back and recently started to test operations in Germany, France and Belgium, but let's say gross most of our customers these are a few thousand.

Jon: Okay, so this is real, it's real business, it's not a concept, it's not a pilot, it's something that you're actually doing. That’s great. Jordan how about MyEnergi? So you're you know, we've already established your more hardware and software compared to Jedlix.

Jordan: Yeah.

Jon: You're coming at this from a bit of a different angle. Can you tell us a bit more about your smart charger and the route that you're on?

Jordan: Yes, so we here at MyEnergi the two co-founders which is myself and Lee Sutton have been in this, in the renewable space, for quite some time and we're Electric Vehicle drivers ourselves. So really the zappi, our charger, came from what we actually needed and wanted as EV drivers and we both have solar panels on our homes and we just found it increasingly frustrating having to run in and out when it was sunny plugging the car in and just doing everything manually and luckily for us we had experience within this sector, so several years of experience, with creating smart products that maximise on-site generation. So we already had a product that we’d sort of brought to market which diverts surplus power to a hot water tank to make the most of it instead of exporting it to the grid and we thought you know, we could do this with the electric vehicle, we could divert the energy to the electric vehicle. So we got about designing it and sort of testing the market because we’re only, it was only a really, really small company, so it was me sending out some tweets, reaching out on forums and saying would anyone want this product, would anybody be interested? And a couple years later we've got eight thousand devices on the market, we're starting to export to other countries. We cleverly built in demand side response and frequency control capability so that we could bring this in in the future because that's the way that we saw the industry might go, which is a lot of talk of it, a lot you know early on at the moment with our, with the UK government and I'm sure it's the same, you know, globally as well, but that talk seems to be, you know, being speeded up. Either we find that it’s still quite an early adopter market when it comes to actual electric vehicles and it's still being quite within it, not electric vehicles, early adopter. Smart charging and all that sort of concept is still, it's not yet mass market is it so, but it's great to see that we're starting to think along those lines and sort of solve problems now instead of flooding the market and then panicking, thinking what we're going to do. So we come at it just from more of a user point of view and trying to solve problems that we had as users.

Jon: And how, similar question to Jorg, how hard has it been technically to do this and I guess you've learned from diverting solar generation to a hot water tank instead of exporting to the grid is it…

Jordan: Oh it's a completely different kettle of fish. It seems crazy the amount that we've had to learn as we've sort of gone because lots of companies interpret regulations different ways. So there's some regs, the European regs, around the market and how to build a charger so that's what we did but then we were the first to sort of take this plunge in Innovative technology with the renewable energy side. And also we've decided to build in a lot of other features just smart schedule charging, load balancing, things like that which then throw up lots of scenarios where different homes have got all the technologies going on in the home. They’ve got batteries or they've got, you know, all the power diverses, they've also all the electric cars work in different ways because they've interpreted the charging regs a specific way that we don't know. So the thing, we are hardware but there has been a lot of firmware and software that we’ve needed to adapt and change to different vehicles, to be able to survive basically, because it's such an interesting new market that it's impossible to sort of not be adaptive basically because we found that the Renault Zoe in particular charges a different way to all other car charges so we had to instead of, you know, we're not going to write to Renault and say you're doing this and we think you should be doing this, we just adapted our software to be able to accommodate the Zoe and it's been the same across the board. So it's been a massive learning curve but our customers are extremely supportive, extremely engaged and absolutely loved the product because it's something that actually it's giving the power back to the customer. So we're very customer focused and you know, we speak very closely with them and just try to create the ultimate product that they would want really.

Jon: And I guess you've got that partly from your own background, but also from, well, one of your shareholders who is very famously customer-centric if you tell us a bit about that.

Jordan: Yes, so I presume you’re talking about Sir Terry Leahy, one of our private investors, yeah, he's the ex-CEO of Tesco and that was, you know, it was just such a natural fit when we met him and spoke to him. I mean we've been approached as a small company, we've got these products on the market that we’re selling well. We got approached from investors left right and centre. But when we spoke to Sir Terry and Bill Curry of the William Curry group, our ethics as founders of the company just sort of all aligned and Terry’s focus is very much the customer. It's the customer, it’s the customer, it’s the customer. At the end of the day they're the ones that are going to drive this whole industry forward, they’re the ones that are doing it already, like I don't think, and I might be speaking out of term, but I don't think the energy providers and the car manufacturers would have been inclined to move as quick as they have been doing if it wasn't for the likes of Tesla and customers responding well to that sort of changing the game and forcing this into action really. So Terry's drive to us, pleasing the customer, perfectly aligned with ours and we've got, we feel we've got, a really nice board to take the company forward as we grow.

Jon: Well it’s great to hear about your progress and putting the customer first and then doing whatever you need to and it sounds like it’s a huge amount of work in the background to deliver on that.

Jordan: You wouldn’t even believe. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work but yeah, thank you.

Jon: You’ve just given me a quick summary of it, yeah. Jorg, can I come to you, your background is with a utility, you've got Renault as a shareholder. Can you tell us a bit more about the customer and how Jedlix works with the customer? What's the customer proposition? What's in it for them? How do you package that up for them and provide them with something that they really want and can use?

Jorg: Yes, well one of the reasons to focus on the car-centric approach is that this allows us to deliver such service fully software-based. So we build upon let's say the communication infrastructure already present at the vehicle. So that's one important thing as part of the proposition and then a reason to join our service from a customer perspective is that it’s basically three fault. First of all, there's financial rewards. We pay our users to join the scheme and where they basically don't have to put in any effort and just do some settings up front and then we work on the background. So money talks and this is also definitely also the case for our users and then second and third depends a bit on the type of person but obviously the more early adopters driving EV are also quite, found that they, with our service, they help with the integration of renewable energy on the grid. So that's definitely also one of the reasons we always see when asking our customers and for that reason to join and maybe last thing also good to mention is that by using our service there's also a bit more insights and control in the charging process. Which in general is of convenience to our customers.

Jon: Okay, so offering the customer more control or a better user experience in charging their car, some money and helping to facilitate, yeah, a smarter energy system.

Jorg: Yes.

Jon: Jordan, how does that compare to your, what you've learnt from customers in terms of their needs, their wants? And then Alex, I'd like to ask you after that, your observations on where, how well the industry is doing in terms of really putting customers at the centre of this.

Jordan: Okay, so we, you know, as mentioned previously just focus on the customer and we like to give the customer the power back. So we bridge that gap, so anybody that's got sort of we're trying to promote the renewable side of it and try and encourage customers to get solar panels. What we’ve found is there's a direct link so people who've got solar out there are now automatically starting to think electric vehicles. Someone that's got an electric vehicle is now starting to think “how can I charge this?” or you know save some money on this so that's exactly what we did as users ourselves, just wanted to maximise that benefit and promote that renewable energy is something were hugely passionate about and I think that moving forward for electric vehicles to really take off until the energy system not to suffer so much. It's a natural progression to promote renewable energy on the homes and give the power back sort of to the customer. I mean, with the price of the technology coming down, the price of Solar coming down, parts of batteries and things like that, it's just towards, it's an absolute no-brainer and completely forward. So we just focused again saving the customer money. It's given them an immense amount of flexibility and control over their charging through their own device and through their own systems, and yeah, just to mirror what Jedlix said really, it's tenfold. Sorry, I'm going off track.

Jon: No, that's alright. I guess at the moment we are that innovators part of the market with electric vehicles to some degree with solar panels as well. So what will be fascinating in the next year's is as electric vehicles become more mainstream and maybe solar becomes more mainstream how we see those customer needs and wants changing. Alex from your perspective the whether we're thinking transport industry or energy industry, how well are they doing with putting the customer at the centre of this you think?

Alex: Well, I think we've got two really good examples of the customer-centric approach and communicating those benefits to the customer. It's not necessarily representative of the of the two sectors completely and I think one of the struggles we are seeing at the moment with the transition to electric transport is it's just helping guiding the customer to understand all these new technologies and understand oh I’m, you know, I'm using kilowatts and kilowatt hours instead of litres that I’ve put in from some petrol station with big neon signs. We're really clearly communicating how much things are costing me. This is, you know, learning a lot of new metrics and a lot of a lot of increase engagement compared to say your monthly utility bill. So there is there's a lot of learning going on on both sides, I think, both for the customer in understanding; okay, this is what an EV means, this is how I interact with energy more if I've got, you know, maybe that, you know, like Jordan was saying maybe I could get solar panels and this, you know, over a few years this could be really financially optimal for me as well as being helping me to be green. From the industry side, from the companies, there, we're seeing them testing out a lot of different propositions and seeing how they act in the market and one of the, I think one of the takeaways we're finding is that convenience is key. We can give customers a lot of options and you can have control and make sure you don't feel like somebody's taking over the control of your car or your home but equally people want whatever, you know, reduces the impact on their lifestyle. So as long as they can drive and they can charge as greenly and as cheaply as possible, they will welcome your system with open arms.

Jon: I think we've heard from two companies that are really are putting the customer at the centre but from different perspectives and let's hope that the energy and automotive sector keep doing that as we go forwards. Time is as usual getting the better of us, so I'd like to ask each of our guests for the single biggest challenge, I guess, Jorg and Jordan for the future of your company in the next years and Alex the single biggest challenge for the growth of smart charging in general. So keeping it brief for time, Jorg, do you want to go first with your biggest challenge for making Jedlix a huge success in the future.

Jorg: Well, one of our biggest challenges is that we try to monetise the flexibility coming from the electric vehicles, and we see a lot of developments at a TSO or TNO and in general the energy flexibility marks being more accessible for these types of flexible assets. But here still quite some work to do in some countries where the market design to operate on these markets and but also the qualification requirements to be able to bid in are still sometimes a hurdle for software-based more charging solution with distributed assets. So this is something we're working on closely with the TSO’s and regulators and they're quite willing to help but there is still some work to do.

Jon: Yeah, well, I guess the electricity sector is rightly conservative, but it has to keep up with the coming wave of electric vehicles it will be seeing in the next years. Jordan from your perspective, the biggest challenge?

Jordan: Honestly, it's gross at the moment, which is a nice problem to have but it's also you just a problem that we never knew we’d be faced with this soon. We just, it's really, really painful growing and scaling up to be able to actually meet the demands that we've got and it's trying to stay focused and not get pulled in all different directions with the amount of opportunities that are out there at the moment. So it's just trying to scale up to meet demands, increase the capacity because as mentioned we manufacture everything on site and it's just trying to find the right teams help take it to that next level. So really it's a nice problem, they are headaches. Growing pains for a reason.

Jon: Well you've done well so far and I'm sure you'll do well going forward. And Alex, very briefly from your perspective.

Alex: So I think yeah, touching on both of those points, as new technologies grow and new electric cars come to market and so many more players get involved, it is about the integration of technologies so that we can, you know, we, all cars can use the right or the same charger, use the same, use the same flexibility markets to access the maximum benefits if we can get everybody talking to each other that would be great and that would deliver the greatest rewards to the end customer and therefore boost the smart charging industry even further.

Jon: Thanks, and I guess that's always a bit messy in the early stages, but it's getting through those early stages into a nice integrated approach as you described as quickly as possible. Well, I think it's been fascinating to hear today about the developments of smart charging. As I said at the beginning electric vehicles are coming and they're going to come I think quicker than some people think, they'll bring challenges to the electricity system, but smart charging, with the likes of Jedlix and MyEnergi, we've seen how they can offer those solutions. So, thank you to Jorg, thank you very much. Thank you Jordan.

Jordan: Thank you so much for having me. I've never really done anything like this, so I appreciate it, I get nervous.

Jon: No worries at all. And thank you Alex.

Alex: Thanks John. Thanks for having me.

Jon: And thank you to our listeners. We hope you found it interesting and we look forward to welcoming you back next week to our next podcast.

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