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Current± Disruptors: Octopus Electric Vehicles' Fiona Howarth discusses the supplier's EV plans

Image: Octopus.

Having separated Octopus Electric Vehicles to be a standalone business last year, Octopus Energy is making a strong commitment to the electric vehicle transition.

Under the new banner, a green power supply service for EVs, Electric Juice, has been launched. Now, Octopus Electric Vehicles has partnered with Engenie and Marston’s to provide renewable energy to rapid charge points at eight Marston’s pubs, with 400 charge points to be installed by the end of 2020.

Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles, spoke to Current± about the importance of EVs and where this new partnership sits in Octopus Electric Vehicles’ ambitions.

How did the partnership between Engenie and Marston’s come about?

Ian Johnson, the CEO of Engenie, actually dropped me an email through a friend of a friend. Octopus Energy and Octopus EV were people he wanted to work with. We’re very active in the space of trying to help make it easier for people to transition to electric cars and give great energy tariffs that enable them to charge up when the grid is off peak times. He was aware that we’d been doing a lot of it and wondered if there was an opportunity to work together and since then we’ve been working out our partnership and in parallel Engenie have been working on a partnership with Marston’s.

So this is us launching that partnership to bring renewable energy to cars when they’re parked and people can be charging up their cars while they’re eating, spending time with family and friends or going to the shops.

As part of your ‘Discovery Day’ event to celebrate the launch of the partnership, there was the opportunity for the public to test drive an EV. How important is it for consumers to be educated about EVs?

It’s such a fantastic opportunity for people to try EVs first. I think if people have heard about electric cars, they have a number of classic impressions that people have of EVs. One, things like they don’t go more than 100 miles, which is nonsense, it can go a lot more than that on a single charge. The second is, like a milk float they don’t go that far and they’re not really a vehicle for everyday use. In fact, again quite the opposite. They go pretty normal speeds, they accelerate very fast, and they’re really fun to drive.

So what we find is that people get into the cars and take them out for a drive themselves and they’re just blown away.

How is it that these “classic impressions” have become so widely believed?

Electric cars have come a long way. I am totally part of this camp- even as early as 16, over 20 years ago, I was really excited about the concept of electric cars. . .Now I didn’t quite get it but at the time the technology wasn’t there. And then about two years ago, I was talking to somebody about their Tesla. . .And they were like, ‘it’s brilliant, you can get maps that tell you where to charge or you can just charge at home, you need to try one.’ So then I went and drove one, I drove three in the same day at one of our very first events, I drove a Nissan Leaf, a BMW i3 and a Tesla. And at that point I just couldn’t believe that they’d got so good and I didn’t know about it because I actually had such a passion in the space.

I think it’s just that the technology has moved so far now, even since two years ago it’s moved on even further and we’ve seen new cars come out. . . People just don’t know until you get speaking to someone and until you go see it for yourself. It’s those early stages of the market and that transition- you’ve really got to see it to believe it.

What else do you think needs to be done to encourage mass adoption of EVs?

I think there’s a lot of stuff [being done] already. The government are obviously doing a lot in terms of giving grants. You can get up to five grand off a car, more off a van. There’s a lot there. There’s obviously also grants for charge points, so if you get a charge point at home or workplaces can also get money off charge points as well.

Also lots of local authorities are doing great things, they’re putting in say public charging in car parks, or giving priority parking for EVs, that kind of thing. . . It’s a total game changer. Obviously the congestion charge you’re exempt from, you don’t pay road tax unless you’re a luxury electric car like a Tesla, but for a Nissan Leaf or a BMW i3 and that kind of thing, you don’t pay road tax. And obviously now there’s the ULEZ that’s just kicked in, which is all over the news in London. So all of these things are really helping to prompt people to think about changing.

What does the future hold for Octopus Electric Vehicles? Is there anything you think is super exciting that’s coming your way?

Obviously we’re doing this with Engenie now so we will be able to start to look at how we loop in energy charging on the go.

We’re open to partnerships with other charge point operators as well, which is very exciting. On the energy supply side specifically, I mean obviously we just want to make it as easy as possible for people to move to EVs and to access cheap energy. About two weeks ago we launched a partnership with Octopus Energy EV and Ohme to do a smart charging cable. That cable basically takes the Octopus Agile tariff, where the pricing comes out a day ahead, and the cheapest time of day can vary depending on what the wholesale markets doing. What the cable does is, it’s got a box in the cable which talks to the platform that looks at the pricing signals and it starts to optimise and charge your car when it’s absolutely cheapest based on that daily pricing signal. So because it’s a cable it can be type 2 to type 2 so it can be retrofitted with all charge points that have already been installed and it can also be used with any car.

As part of the work we’re doing on V2G, but also more generally on smart charging, we’re working with the DNOs that are becoming more DSOs as they’re looking to establish those flexibility markets themselves. So we can get more localised pricing signals as well. So actually, even on your street you can start to say okay, actually there’s a lot of electric cars charging up right now. The DNOs giving out the pricing say don’t do it right now, I’m going to give you much cheaper electricity in two hours’ time when everyone’s not charging.

We’re looking at how do we take that and turn it into a pricing signal for our customers so they can get that value, so they can have more staggered charging and that kind of stuff. Basically smarter charging, not just at a generation level, but at a local network level too.

Editorial

Alice Grundy Junior reporter, Current±

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