Petrol driven cars are set to disappear from Britain’s roads rather sooner than expected. Under the government’s updated “Green Industrial Revolution” plan, every new car sold from 2030 onwards must be either electric or an approved hybrid. This replaces a previous deadline of 2040.
All except the most hardened climate change skeptics will see this as a good thing, but a rapid transition to battery-powered mobility does pose certain short-term problems, not least in terms of providing a workable and user-friendly charging infrastructure.
As things stand, even a rapid charging point will take around thirty minutes to pump up a battery from empty to full. Arguably that’s not too bad, but it compares unfavorably with the two or three minutes required to fill a petrol tank. Yes, you’re helping to save the planet but a half-hour wait is less than convenient.
The alternative is to charge at home. That can take several hours but it can be done when the owner is watching TV or going to the pub. The problem is that in Britain only a minority of car owners have a driveway or garage and, thus, easy access to a socket. Home charging and on-street parking are not really compatible, especially for apartment dwellers. The alternative is driving to a commercial charging point and hanging around. Not an appealing prospect.
One answer is an extensive network of on-street charging points that anyone can use. You park at home or close to a place of work, find the nearest point on the street, plug in and leave your car there until the battery is full. Simplicity itself. But here’s the problem. Providing enough street charging points will be a massive undertaking. We are talking about serious infrastructure and infrastructure is notoriously expensive to build.
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So is this a good space for startup? Connected Kerb thinks so.
Founded in 2017, Connected Kerb aims to be a key enabler in the transition to electric cars in Britain. Essentially, the company offers a charging platform that can be deployed on residential streets and outside apartment blocks. To date, the young business has won a brace of awards for green innovation, having piloted its platform on a limited number of London streets. Last week, it led a seminar on electric vehicles as part of London Climate Action Week. All good for the profile, but the company is not entering an uncharted space. There are already a significant number of charge point operators and some – like BP-owned Chargemaster – are backed by large corporations.
So when I spoke to Connected Kerb CEO, Chris Patton Jones at the beginning of London Climate Action Week, I was keen to find out what his company could bring to an already well-attended and competitive party.
There is, he believes, an opportunity to create a network that matches the needs of consumers by placing charging points close their houses and places of work, rather than expecting them to drive to the car parks and filling stations where commercial chargers currently tend to be located.
“It’s not about the time you spend filling up, it’s about dwell time,” he says. As he sees it, if you charge at a garage, your dwell time is at the very least 30 minutes. Connect to a street charger outside your home and dwell time is 30 seconds. “You plug in and then you do something else. It might take eight or nine hours to charge but you’re doing it at a time when the car is not being used.” As such, there is no need to pay a premium for using a fast charger.
This could be a huge market. According to a report by “growth pipeline” company, Frost and Sullivan and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the U.K. needs to deploy around 500 charge points per day to meet expected demand between now and 2035. All well and good, but the challenge facing any business entering this space lies in attracting sufficient investment to lay down enough infrastructure to make a difference.
So how does Connected Kerb propose to do this? One key strategy is to come to market with a cost-effective solution.
Keeping Down Costs
“The average charge point has a life of about seven years,” says Patton-Jones. We put most of our kit beneath the kerb, with just the charger itself above ground. This increases the life expectancy to 10-15 years.”
To reduce costs further, the company aims to time deployment in sync with other contractors – such as utilities – when they are digging up the streets.
Patton-Jones says this approach positions Connected Kerb to market itself as an attractive investment opportunity, allowing it to draw on finance from infrastructure funds.
Last year, Connected Kerb deployed roadside chargers in the London Borough of Southwark. In August the company secured £720,000 in government funding to take part in an “agile streets” project, which will see 100 more charge points being made available. With second-generation kit now ready, Connected Kerb plans to deploy around 1,800 units by the middle of next year, with local authority partnerships playing a key role.
Scaling up will also allow the company to build revenue streams around data. These range from services based on information gathered about driver behavior through to enabling the Internet of Things and hosting 5G connectivity through the company’s underground hubs.
Despite a new 2030 date for all-electric new car sales, the EV revolution still depends on public buy-in. When Connected Kerb took part in a London Climate Action Week seminar, the company stressed the need not only for a proactive strategy on infrastructure but also called for more education. “There is still anxiety about range, despite most cars being able to travel 250 miles on one charge,” says Patton-Jones. The government, he feels, could be doing more to sell the electric vehicle concept – and that should include proactively publicizing its own incentive schemes. He cites subsidized purchase as an example. “The government has a salary sacrifice scheme making it tax efficient to buy electric vehicles. It’s a good scheme but no one knows about it,” he adds.
Equally, he argues the government has a part to play in fostering the green mobility sector. “The U.K. has the biggest number of e-mobility startups anywhere in the world,” he says. “There is an opportunity to support them through procurement.” And in particular, factoring environmental impact into procurement criteria.