Nick Woolley, Co-founder and CEO of ev.energy, is no stranger to entrepreneurship. He started his first business while still in school and later became Strategy Manager at National Grid before launching ev.energy in 2018.
Nick combines his business management acumen with a strong drive to make a positive social impact, applying his skills to push towards decarbonisation. This led him to specialise in electricity networks and then emobility tech.
He talked us through these experiences and motivations when he sat down with us last week.
EDs: You founded your own startup while still studying for your undergraduate engineering degree at Oxford. What did this teach you about starting your own business?
Starting a business early was hugely rewarding and taught me that running a business was a viable career.
My first business was in tech – we wrote code to help people trade online. I started the business whilst I was at school, and it expanded through university in the early 2000s, during the tail end of the dot com boom.
There was nobody in my family or friend group who’d ever done anything similar but once you get going, you realise that in places like the UK, you just follow the rules and you are off.
At the end of my degree, I had a great job in consulting lined up but I turned it down choosing to run my business instead.
EDs: Following this you carried out PhD research into electricity networks. What was it that interested you about this particular subject area?
Throughout my career, I’ve tried to maximise the opportunity I have to make a positive impact on society. My first business was in technology. The world of technology was fun but it became somewhat less exciting (in my opinion), with the rise of social media. It felt like the opportunity for me to do something really useful was diminished as technology drifted towards the mainstream.
The world of energy was different and there was more scope for me to play an impactful role.
My PhD helped me understand the challenges faced in managing a low carbon electricity grid and also exposed me to the world of artificial intelligence.
Climate change is the biggest challenge that the world faces. The world of energy is in dire need of modernisation and so I wanted to use my technology skills to play a part in decarbonising power networks.
EDs: How useful has your expertise in both [IT] software and engineering been during your subsequent career in emobility?
Both software and energy expertise are critical in delivering our vision at ev.energy. As a power systems engineer, I was aware that electric vehicles (EVs) could play a massive role in helping to decarbonise the energy system. Every electric vehicle consumes a lot of energy – about as much as a typical residential home in the UK.
This is a challenge for energy networks, which have limited peak capacity, and also means we could end up using expensive, dirty, coal and gas to cover energy demand at peak times.
By connecting millions of electric vehicles together and controlling the flow of energy, we create a “virtual power plant” where each electric vehicle consumes less CO2 and reduces grid capacity requirements.
At the same time, we want to simplify electric vehicle charging for vehicle owners, through software that is delightful to use and delivers this greener and cheaper charging experience.
EDs: When was your first interaction with emobility? Was this in a professional capacity or as a consumer?
My first interaction with e-mobility was probably during my PhD, about 13 years ago. During my PhD, everyone was talking about the “Smart Grid”. “Vehicle to Grid” was often talked about as one of the key tools for a future Smart Grid.
The idea that you could take a bunch of electric vehicles with batteries and use them to manage the grid was an awesome and really compelling concept to me. Ever since that point, I’d been looking for the right opportunity to start a business in the space.
EDs: What was it about the sector that appealed to you?
As an engineer excited by new technologies, it’s great to see that electric vehicles are greener, quieter, faster, more technologically advanced and simply easier to drive. They also take less time to refuel; you nearly always leave your house with 250-plus miles of range, ready to drive for four-plus hours in any direction.
On a consumer level, they are better than the alternative, which is critical if a technology is to become widely adopted and successful.
But I was also very excited about the idea that you could use an electric vehicle to help balance the grid. You can use them to manage the grid for free (whilst they are not being driven); the customer buys the electric vehicle to drive.
This makes them a super low-cost source of flexibility, which is much more appealing than other technologies, like for example home batteries, where the asset owner needs a return.
EDs: What led you to found ev.energy?
The trigger point for me to get into EVs properly came around seven years ago. I had the privilege to be working on solar and batteries for National Grid in California.
Whilst in California I was exposed to Tesla on a scale that I’d only read about in energy journals. It was clear that Tesla had made it and that EVs would be the future. I bought my first electric vehicle shortly after and began laying the foundations with the first successful smart charge of my own vehicle about five years ago.
I then managed to convince Chris (my co-founder) it was a great idea and we were going.
EDs: Can you explain the importance of new technology and IT solutions in the advancement of the emobility and energy sector, particularly with a sustainability focus?
Charging is the most challenging thing about an electric vehicle. The owner needs to find somewhere to recharge and the grid needs to manage demand.
The software to help us manage charging is pretty poor at the moment – many of the charging apps have one or two star ratings. Electric vehicle owners are getting a mixed charging experience. We need to make charging easier for drivers inside and outside the home, so it isn’t a barrier to adoption.
Technology can also play a big role in integrating electric vehicles into the energy system. Most electric vehicle owners come from work, plug in their cars and start charging immediately. This creates havoc for electricity companies and the grid because peak charging is expensive, high carbon and hard to manage.
Through smart charging, we can ensure electric vehicles are charging when the grid has capacity, using low-cost renewable energy. This reduces carbon emissions by up to 30 percent and shaves hundreds of pounds a year off a customer’s energy bill.
EDs: What major advances in this field are you hoping to see in the next five years, particularly thinking about decarbonisation?
Decarbonisation is a challenge that covers three key areas; transport, heating and industry.
Transport is on the way to be being cracked. Electric vehicles are amazing consumer products, and their growth is likely to accelerate. We are rapidly decarbonising electricity, with over 50 percent of energy frequently generated by renewables in markets like the UK, so EVs are getting greener all the time and technologies like smart charging make them even greener.
I’m confident we’ll decarbonise light vehicle transport completely – I’d like to see 100 percent EVs on the road as soon as we can – 2030 would be great.
The harder to crack areas of decarbonisation are heating and industry. There’s a big geopolitical incentive to move away from gas now, which I think will be good for decarbonisation. Industrial cement and fertiliser production still need a lot of work. I am optimistic that we will find solutions – nothing is impossible if we apply ourselves.
EDs: What would be your dream EV to drive and why?
My dream EV is a Tesla Model X, which happens to be my current car. I’ve got two great kids, so my dream EV needs to be practical. The Model X is just massive, which is pretty much ideal for all their junk and my bike.