A charging journey

Electric vehicle charging network Instavolt continues to go from strength to strength. Transport + Energy caught up with the company’s chief executive officer, Adrian Keen to talk about the early days, the opening of the UK’s largest public rapid charger motorway hub, its relationship with leading consumer brands, and much more. 

Headquartered in Hampshire, the team at Instavolt bring many years of experience from the electrical engineering and energy services industries.

Backed initially by a £12 million investment by private equity firm Zouk Capital and having secured an additional £56m, the company is on track to be the largest owner-operator of rapid DC charging stations in the UK.

But it has taken a lot of hard work to get to this point as Adrian Keen alludes to: “When I go back to when we were first trying to get our chargers in the ground, we’d be knocking on doors of forecourt operators, leisure centres and retail parks telling them we could provide EV chargers. We were met with reactions that suggested we were five years too early.”

All of that has changed now with Instavolt recently announcing a rollout of partnerships with a number of partners including McDonalds, KFC and Costa Coffee. 

Keen says the locations of these sites are ideal as the brands are synonymous with where consumers feel confident that they can go and get a reliable service. 

InstaVolt was recently awarded a contract to install rapid electric vehicle (EV) chargers at up to 200 Costa Coffee Drive-Thru sites across the UK. It has also partnered with fast food firm KFC on the roll-out of 450 rapid chargers at its drive-thru restaurants and in December 2020 began its roll-out of EV chargers at up to 1,200 McDonald’s Drive-Thru sites nationwide.

“Successful charging infrastructure is about matching dwell time with charging speed,” Keen remarked. “You could even say our partners have done some of the hard work for us in terms of selecting locations as they get high footfall and they’re accessible to everyone.” 

With rapid charging taking around 30 minutes, Keen says the dwell time is a great fit with drivers often taking a break to grab a coffee, something to eat and refresh themselves.  

There has been a glut of announcements from the Hampshire-based business recently with the company recently opening new eight-bay and seven-bay rapid charging hubs at a Welcome Break service area on the M6.

The new hubs, which are located on the northbound and southbound parts of the M6, will enable EV users to rapidly charge their vehicles on one of the UK’s busiest motorways.

The firm has a plan to deliver 5,000 rapid chargers by 2025. But how will it get there? 

“We’ve got a very clear plan to get there,” comments Keen. “We need land, which is of course why we’ve worked so hard to secure the big national partnerships, with others to be announced soon. And we’ve got the resources in a highly skilled team. We’ve also got the supply chain and the support from our investors. So, I think they’re the ingredients you need. We’ve just got to keep making sure electric cars come to the road, which I think will happen. We’re on the journey now. We have got a controlled rollout with clear targets. We’ll be at 1,200 by March 2022. And then 1,000 a year for the next four years after that.”

Further expansion of motorway hubs sits as part of this strategy, but Keen wants the firm’s chargers to serve urban, ultra-urban and even rural areas.

“There’s no part of the country that shouldn’t be receiving investment. Our network today is broadly national. You could go from John O’Groats to Land’s End on our network. But of course, there are lots of black spots to fill in. So, we’re not geographically biased, we’re building a network for the entire country.”

And how important is it that the transport and energy sectors work together in order to achieve decarbonisation?

“I think these sectors are starting to work together really well although there still seems to be a lot of similar conversations happening in individual groups, so let’s bring them together,” notes Keen. 

Collaboration will be key with the CEO pointing out that this needs to happen at all levels. 

“It could just be a couple of ideas being shared. And all of a sudden you mitigate something, and you can tackle it. 

“I use the analogy of tackling climate change. You know, a lot of people sit on their hands and think, well, we’re going to wait for some massive things to happen. But actually, you know, you go and change light bulbs, etc. And you think about the journeys you take, and you may swap one out and walk instead. If you start to multiply that across your street, and then your town, and then the country, the impact is huge. We can’t wait for other people to come and tackle this. We can all make a difference. Collaboration is more key than ever.”

Educating consumers will also be important on the journey to electrification and myth busting sits as part of this. 

Over to Keen. “I think that the knowledge is out there and loads of people now sit up and take note. You’re now starting to see lots of stories about cleaner electric vehicles in the newspapers.”

Perception is key though and the angle of these stories needs to reflect the good work taking place across the sector, something which in Keen’s view doesn’t always come across. 

“When you look at the results of public surveys you’ve got some people putting their head in the sand saying it’s nine years away. Others say they’ll buy three petrol cars in 2029 so it won’t affect them.  

“So, it’s that’s that sort of mindset we have to tackle. It’s probably a product of the myths and existences out there. I do speak to journalists and at industry events I try and say let’s shine a light on all the good work being done with charging networks. 

“People talk about Ecotricity, but I think Dale did brilliantly. Ten years ago, someone had to go first. But people say oh, you know, I’ve read loads of articles. It’s all really, really bad. And with charging, there’s a long way to go. But in the article, there may have been a number of positives. But then the tone of interview is around the infrastructure not being ready. 

“But really the message should be that this is legacy stuff. The networks that are deploying chargers now are amazing. And these four or five dominant charging networks are changing the shape of things to come. So, let’s change the tone. Don’t be so negative about it.” 

With a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030 and Government announcements around climate change, Keen believes these deadlines are helping to focus minds. 

“There’s more awareness than ever but I still think the country is probably a little bit pessimistic. But that’s probably my parents generation, as when I speak to my kids they are very environmentally aware. My kids love my Tesla more than a supercar. I think that’s pretty cool, because when I was a kid, it was a Lamborghini on a poster on my bedroom wall. They love the technology and the fact that battery technology is better than fossil fuels. This is a great thing and will help with the transition.”

Before wrapping up our conversation Keen also highlights the important role of local authorities in helping with the rollout of charging infrastructure.

The company recently partnered with Somerset West and Taunton Council to facilitate a rollout of charging stations in its car parks.

“I think they’ve got access to an awful lot of land, particularly in London, and in cities where the land will be suitable to open up some parking bays for rapid charging.”

Keen notes that places such as leisure centres and health centres are ideal sites for rapid charging but managing agreements is key. 

“It can suddenly become a procurement exercise,” he comments. “But under the rapid charge motorway, where we’re leasing land, it’s not and is more of a property deal. So, councils may need to think about it just a little bit differently. But the councils we’ve worked with have to be applauded for their forward thinking and seeing it for what it is. Some councils are moving really quickly, and others are gradually getting more up to speed. But they have a huge role to play. I don’t think councils should run rapid charging, as they don’t run petrol or diesel forecourts. They’ve got a core set of skills and they’re under enough pressure already.”

For Instavolt the journey continues……

Images courtesy of InstaVolt.

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