Tackling inequality around electric vehicle (EV) chargepoints is a key focus of Connected Kerb’s current work, with a number of projects looking at this underway.
It is working with the London Borough of Lambeth to demonstrate how affordable and accessible public EV charging infrastructure can be deployed to tackle inequality.
Alongside this, it is also running the Agile Streets project, which includes the installation of 100 new on-street chargers in East Lothian, Glasgow, Hackney and Shropshire, to demonstrate the use of a smart metering system as a new business model to manage public EV charging, incentivising EV drivers to allow a flexible charging schedule.
Current± caught up with Connected Kerb’s CEO Chris Pateman-Jones to discuss how the projects are addressing inequality.
What are your goals for the Agile Streets project?
The aim around it was essentially coming back to the core principles of what Connected Kerb is trying to do; we try to provide the most affordable, accessible and reliable charging infrastructure for people who have to park on the street, essentially trying to provide a similar level of convenience and affordability as they might get when parking in driveways. The challenge is at the moment that’s not the case, and that’s a really big problem if you’re trying to do what we are, which is to try and accelerate the transition to net zero or at least zero emission transport.
If you don’t have a driveway, you have less reliability, less convenience in where you charge and actually on top of that, you have to pay a lot more for your charging. Now the flip side of that is you don’t have to pay for the charging point that you’re using on the street, you just pay for the power. But still, we think there’s a long way to go in terms of trying to improve the affordability of charging.
The second part of it as well is, we’ve always got our eyes on the future. We plan on deploying hundreds of 1,000s, or millions of our charging points across the UK. If we do that, that’s going to have an impact on the grid. So you have to start to be smart in the way that you use the grid, and this whole project is around the intelligence with which you interact with the grid and the affordability of the charging activity.
How are you addressing the payment inequality you mentioned between public and home charging?
We’re one of the most affordable – I would actually argue the most affordable – network out there anyway. I say that because we have no membership fees and we have no minimum charges, so you pay literally for what you use. Even more importantly than the actual cost, it’s the transparency. So when you plug in with a Connected Kerb charging point, you know what you’re going to be charged.
We would say even normally outside of this project, it’s very affordable. The part that we think that’s exciting about this project is essentially you’re mirroring user behaviour with times when the grid is giving you cheap power.
With public charging, you haven’t been able to do that at all, and that is one, a disadvantage for the user, but two, when you start to see this scale, that is going to start to present problems with the grid. What we’ve tried to do here is to put smart meters into the charging points. We already actually had smart meters in our charging points, but then lay on top of that some of the digital technology which would mean that we can now schedule charging for people who park on-street. People tend to be very long dwell in terms of the places where they use our charging points. Essentially all the app does is it says would you like to optimise your charge and when would you come and collect your car, and then you as the user are handing over responsibility for us to make sure that you’re always charge.
Once the trial is over, is the plan to roll this technology and flexible charging out across the network?
We see this as huge. It’s a competitive advantage against everyone else in the market, but ultimately I hope everyone copies us, which might sound odd. It’s a bit similar to us using all recycled materials in our kit; it’s a competitive advantage, but I’d quite like everyone else to follow us because it’s the right thing to do.
I give huge credit to my innovation team, and also Samsung and Octopus who were working with us on it. It’s something that I’m assuming will become the norm in a couple of years across the market. If the project performs well, we’d like to deploy across the rest of our network, and that network is now is now getting pretty large.
You’re also running a project in Lambeth. How did this come about?
Lambeth were already thinking about this, and this is something that I think they’ve been aware of for a little while in terms of they have a number of [areas] – the same as Southwark does – that are traditionally lower income, and particularly even aside from the income bracket, where people don’t have the opportunity to put charging infrastructure in because they may have a dedicated space, but it’s away from their house, or they’re in shared parking. I think they knew that was an issue for a while and were looking for an opportunity to try and resolve it.
How easy is it to get councils on board for these sorts of projects?
It’s a difficult question, because things are changing so much all the time. The size and scale of ambition within councils has dramatically transformed even in the last year. There seems to have been an epiphany moment with a lot of the public sector that this is now the area where there needs to be huge amounts of investment.
What I think’s been really positive that we’ve seen over the last year is councils starting to work a little bit more together, particularly in London, but also some of the combined authorities working together to try and push the agenda. I think it becomes difficult, though, because obviously there are different interests across different councils. But we have seen county councils taking the lead on some of this stuff.