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Interview: Connected Kerb on how to tackle the big EV charging issues

Connected Kerb CEO Chris Pateman-Jones speaks to Natalie Middleton about what’s really needed to get the UK’s electric vehicle revolution on track.

Connected Kerb CEO Chris Pateman-Jones

As the UK migrates towards fully electric vehicles in the countdown to 2030, there is much discussion and debate about how best to take charge of the transition and simultaneously tackle the charging infrastructure.

But while many in the industry think that the answer to charging is simple – to install lots of charge points and focus on rapids – Chris Pateman-Jones, CEO of charging specialist Connected Kerb, says there is a lack of realisation of just how many charge points are needed and what speed.

“The Government statistics – or rather the independent statistics through the SMMT by Frost & Sullivan – say about 2.8 million charging points are needed by 2035. We’ve currently got 30,000 in the UK so there’s a long way to go.”

While the Government has focused on getting rapid infrastructure out there – which Pateman-Jones says has been important in an early adopter market – the big challenge now is the slow-fast charging to encourage mass mainstream adoption.

“The ubiquitous charging on residential streets; that’s the difficult part,” he adds. “The charging that helps the grid rather than the really fast charging that puts a strain on the grid.”

The figures show just why it’s needed too. While the market typically talks about 40% of people not having access to a driveway, Pateman-Jones says that when you add in those who do have somewhere to park but don’t control the land and/or don’t have a power supply, it’s more like 62% of the population who don’t have a driveway or the ability to home-charge.

A different approach

This is where Connected Kerb steps in. Founded in 2017, the start-up is focused on “bringing digitally enabled, environmentally friendly and low-cost charging infrastructure to residential, workplace and long stay parking” to use the words of Pateman-Jones, who joined in 2019.

Giving details of the rationale behind the firm’s solutions, he says: “It is all about being as long-life and sustainable as is possible. And as reliable as it can possibly be for the user, and as accessible so it’s easy to deploy. So to be accessible it needs to be at scale in residential areas and workplaces. And in order to do that, it needs to be really visually discreet.”

The Connected Kerb solutions are designed to tackle this.

“So when you look at our system on the street, all you see is the socket,” says Pateman-Jones. “There’s nothing else. The charger is obviously beneath the ground. And that’s unique. With all of the [other] units you see out there, the socket and the charger are one single unit; so when the socket gets broken – by someone sticking a chocolate bar in it or whatever – then it needs to be replaced along with the whole charging point.

“When someone breaks one of our sockets, it takes roughly 45 minutes to replace it and about £300. So it’s a completely different situation and it also means we can deploy them in a way that is also really visually discreet.”

He continues: “The reason why we say we are the most sustainable is because our units last 2-3 times longer than anyone else’s and because they are the most sustainable. We make them out of recycled vehicle tyres, recycled plastics and recycled steel.”

So far in 2021, Connected Kerb – whose chargers cover the 3-22kW spectrum – has deployed about 400 units, but it expects this to rise to about a thousand by the end of the summer.

“I can’t prove this but I would argue that we’re the fastest-growing network at the moment,” says Pateman-Jones.

Making charging convenient

While there is still a long way to go on charging, Pateman-Jones says the positive thing is that we are seeing some of the local authorities really starting to switch.

“So you speak to some of the councils now and they are talking about multiple thousand charging point deals and that’s great. So then we can start to really tackle some of the inherent issues around EV charging; that some people are being left behind and some people don’t realise that the cost of charging is less important than the convenience of charging. And the speed of charging is less important than the convenience of it.”

But although some local authorities are getting onboard with charging, others are struggling with their role in deployment. That’s despite the 2017 introduction of the Government’s On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme, which supports local authorities with charge point costs – it covers up to 75% of the cost of installing EV infrastructure to help tackle the problem of EV drivers without off-street parking, with the local authority supplying the other 25%. For 2021/22, OZEV has allocated £20m of funding.

But Pateman-Jones says many local authorities are struggling with the time and resources to get to grips with what’s required of them. This has been exacerbated by the extra pressures being heaped on them in the pandemic.

He continues: “We’ve been saying that if the Government are serious about this green recovery, they need to spend a lot more time helping local authorities to understand what’s going on.

“Some of them are so cash-strapped that they don’t have the time to spend in those areas. And what they’re often doing is putting people in the roles where it’s not their area of expertise and it’s sort of dumped on them. And they’re doing a great job and trying their hardest but they don’t have the expertise in that area. So you either need to get people who do or you need to help those people to make sure they’re fully up to speed.

“So that’s a really important part because otherwise you’ll get them being led by people who have the most money and can put across a very convincing argument that one solution is better than another. Whereas what’s needed is a jigsaw of solutions.”

One other way that Pateman-Jones has said the Government can adopt a far more proactive approach to charging is by adopting large-scale deployment on its own estate, helping to kickstart the EV revolution.

“This is probably the biggest infrastructure project in the UK at the moment, to hit the 2030 target. So we need to be moving to that target and if the Government were to step in and say, ‘Across the whole of the MoD we’re going to deploy charge points for all of the soldiers and all of the staff we’ve got so they can shift to EVs,’ that would set a benchmark out there. I think that’s the sort of leadership that can be quite powerful.”

Such a move would then have a significant knock-on effect on the transition to EVs among the public sector fleets, bringing benefits to drivers, he added.

“I think the other part of that is that often in the Government, because they’re state employees, they aren’t the highest-paid employees but they often have [access to] very good company car schemes. We’re talking government fleet. You can then transition those vehicles much more quickly.”

While any work by the Government on deploying charging infrastructure would still need to be a shared piece, he continues: “I think the local authorities would feel more comfortable if the Government were to be stepping in as well.”

And he pointed out that it is something the Government is working on to some degree already – Connected Kerb is working with the Ministry of Justice to deploy its 22kW chargers at some of the prisons –  but he said there’s room for this to be stepped up.

Connected Kerb is also ramping up its support to help local authorities tackle charging; in May it announced a new project to bring EV charging revolution to hard-to-reach areas, helping to tackle EV inequality. The project is being run in partnership with Kent County Council, but it’s also intended to provide a blueprint for local authorities across the UK to deliver sustainable, affordable and accessible EV infrastructure in hard-to-reach UK communities.

The right government mechanisms

One further way the Government could help with charging point procurement, speeding up the roll-out of the charging infrastructure, is by providing the right mechanisms to support UK business, according to Pateman-Jones.

He comments: “The whole concept of Brexit, either side of your perspective on it, was that the Government did talk a very good game around it having a positive impact for UK business in terms of being free from procurement rules.

“Most of the operators that are deploying charging points in the UK seem to be overseas multinationals. But the UK has more e-mobility start-ups than anywhere else in the world at the moment. And that’s LinkedIn statistics, not mine.

“There is a huge opportunity for the UK government to create unicorns if you can procure in a way which preferences to sustainability; ie you prefer manufacturing in the UK and you’re not shipping.

“There are also other reasons to do that; it’s not just to support UK businesses but also from a supply chain perspective. Supply chains are really constrained globally at the moment so if you can manufacture local you can overcome some of those things.

“Clearly I would say that because we manufacture in the UK and we are UK-owned and UK IP.

“But there is some logic to it as well, particularly with the plans for a green recovery and creating UK jobs.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.