Niall Riddell is a passionate and determined person who has always cared about the environment and the world around him. He is an engineer who spent 15 years working in large utilities before determining that he needed a change of pace and set up his own business.
Along with André Pinho, Niall set up Paua, a digital solution for making public charging of electric vehicles (EVs) as easy as possible. At Paua, they live and breathe public charging, which enables transport decarbonisation and cleaner air.
Paua, who offer their electric fuel card solution, recently partnered with Osprey and Fastned. We caught up with Niall, who was a speaker at the recent EV Summit, to find out more about his journey and where he’s going with Paua.
Tell us about your life and what’s your interest in sustainability?
I grew up in the highlands of Scotland after a stint in Devon, hence my English accent. My father was a naturalist and we identified that there were no Peacock butterflies in our region of highland Perthshire. At age 10 we were transporting caterpillars and larvae up the M5 to re-introduce a species that had gone locally extinct. They are still there.
One of my early bosses, Chris Anastasi, potted an opportunity for a secondment for me at the Committee on Climate Change. I had never heard of them and nor had the world at that point because it was 2007 shortly after the Stern report was released and debated. I joined the team and spent nine months preparing analysis that went on to become the worlds first legally binding carbon targets. A number of things stuck with me from this period.
After returning to the world of large utilities I picked up a role leading strategy forecasting for EDF Energy. I missed the Solar boom in 2012 despite a hugely rigorous and economically robust process administered by dozens of individuals. The speed of technology change started to fascinate me.
I started volunteering for a community energy company, Repowering London, in 2014 to understand more about solar deployment in cities and social governance. Here I learnt first-hand about energy and passion from Agamemnon Otero and Afsheen Rashid. This is where I met my co-founder André Pinho and realised we had common interests in energy and technology.
What made you move from energy utilities towards mobility?
At the committee on climate change, it became pretty clear to me that the strategy was to decarbonise electricity to a low carbon energy vector and then decarbonise everything. After 10 years working across the energy generation technologies (coal to nuclear, wind to solar) I was drawn into the world of energy flexibility, virtual power plants and battery storage.
In my corporate finance role, I found myself assessing a number of business cases latterly that of investment into a rapid electric vehicle charging network at the time operated by Chargepoint Services. It was obvious to me that the timing of this investment in infrastructure would align to the growth of electric vehicles, with similarities to the solar boom I had missed several years before.
Thanks to the foresight of one of my managers, Robin Melvin, I landed a role leading the electric vehicles team at EDF Energy. “It’s just a smart plug” someone once said to me but the impact of EV’s on home energy (60 percent increase on consumption per house) was clearly significant.
I spent a period working through business to consumer solutions (smart tariff, smart charger from EO and lease car from Drive Electric), looking at business to business solutions and investigating the world of vehicle-to-grid. I gained the privilege of being exposed to forward thinking companies such as Ubitricity, Nuvve, PodPoint and others over that period.
Throughout this entire experience there was always the nagging doubt that much of this new mobility system failed the “granny test” that Chris Anastasi had taught me years before. How do we make it so simple that your grandmother can do it? This is what we are trying to achieve with Paua.
As someone with a family, why is sustainability important to you?
My kids are two and five and as all parents tell you “they grow up so fast”. Ultimately they will inherit this planet that we leave them.
I regularly play the apocalyptic outcomes through my head; permafrost melting, Amazon dieback, Arctic sea ice melt and consider what this might mean for future generations. It is potentially a scary sequence of events and one that is hard for us to fathom. The decision to try and build a small part of our sustainable ecosystem made sense to me. As an engineer, I continue to believe that technology applied well can manage our existence on this fragile planet.
What excites you about charging of fleet vehicles from your time at Paua?
Fleet is the quick win that will make the biggest and fastest contribution to CO2 reduction. Fleet accounts for 20 percent of total EU vehicles, contribute 40 percent of total kilometres driven but over half of the total emissions from road transport.
Enabling more fleet vehicles to be decarbonised can further reduce our transport-related emissions. Transport remains the highest emitter in the UK.
Public charging is a crucial component of most fleets electrification strategy. Whilst home charging and depot have been the mainstay to date, we see public charging becoming increasingly important for those without driveways, for longer routes to be electrified, enabling fleets to buy smaller battery sized vehicles and to make the experience easier for drivers. Ultimately public charging can save time and money for fleets and enable them to save the planet.
Fleets drive twice as far as private drivers (18,400 miles/year versus 7,200miles/year) further justifying the need for the best possible public charging experience.
Where is the future of charging going in your view?
It was recently announced by the Government that they wanted to make charging an electric car as easy as using a petrol station. It is my view, this is a relatively low bar to set and that in the 21st century we should be seeking to make the electric vehicle charging experience altogether better than a petrol station.
Imagine a scenario where you pulled into a parking space and got on with your day safe in the knowledge that your car was charging. We can deliver this with the technology available to us today but we need to commercialise two steps; plug & charge and wireless charging.
The first of these is a current focus for Paua as we seek to demonstrate that any modern electric vehicle can be “plug & charge” capable with Paua’s network of chargepoint operators. We recently demonstrated this solution with a Renault Zoe and a Mer EV charger in a car park in Reading.
The second one, wireless charging, requires further work on infrastructure and automotive integrations but is within our reach.
The other areas that I see the charging future move towards are much higher levels of digitisation and consequently more able to pass the “granny test”. Much of the chargepoint experience in the future will likely reside within technology within the car.
As for infrastructure, this can only continue to improve. The rise of high voltage in cars (800v seems to be the current target) leading to super charging speeds of 200kW or more means that we can see a future for 15-minute charging stops.
What are the most exciting things in the world of public charging currently?
For me, it really is the pace of change and how fast things continue to improve. There seem to be few automotive original equipment manufacturers left who haven’t announced an electric model or a date for a full phase out of internal combustion engines.The constant pace of change is what gets me up in the morning excited to see what we can do to decarbonise our economy next.