Richard Stobart is the CEO at char.gy. The company is building a national public charging network of on-street charging using lamppost chargers. These are convenient for people who can’t charge at home and help people charge where they park.
From his experience of living in London without a driveway, he realised the opportunity to create on-street parking using infrastructure that already existed. The char.gy lamppost charger was born.
This style of charger is vitally important, in both urban and rural areas, especially where people don’t have driveways. It also removes the need to drive to a charging location and moves away from the classic forecourt fuelling model.
We caught up with Richard to find out more about char.gy and how he sees the electric vehicle (EV) space developing in the coming years.
EDs: Can you tell us a little about your history and how you ended up in the emobility space?
Before char.gy, I ran a digital agency, Unboxed. We worked across both the public and private sectors, successfully selling digital products and services to commercial clients and local and central governments.
At the time, around six years ago, I wanted to replace my diesel Volvo with a hybrid that had a 20-mile electric range. Living in London, unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a driveway, and I would use most of the car’s electricity driving between charging points and back home again.
I was standing outside my house one day and I thought, how difficult could it be to use the electricity supply from the street lampposts to charge my car? So, being the sort of person I am, I started developing an idea for a simple plug that could sit on the lamppost and be controlled by an app.
Fast forward and it turns out that it’s not all that simple. Lampposts are, of course, owned by local authorities, and perhaps not so obviously, operate under different rules to home and business electricity supplies.
Both of those things, plus my inexperience with hardware, made for long nights in the beginning but I persuaded some friends to invest and some people from Unboxed to be seconded to the project, and after 18 months, we produced our first real lamppost charger.
Before that, one was literally inside a cardboard shoe box. The next was a metal box and eventually, we 3D printed a metal enclosure with the final shape and continued to evolve from there.
EDs: What does your role at char.gy entail?
My job title is CEO and part of that is being an ideas person; thinking of where the company needs to go next to succeed. We started with zero funding running a lean team as cost-effectively as possible, whereas now that we are funded by Zouk through the Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, we’re trying to do things as quickly as possible.
There’s a real step change in the way we do things now and part of my role is removing any barriers to expanding our charge point network and ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Another part of my role is helping people at char.gy do the best work they can. I’m not a command-and-control type of person and a great aspect of my role is seeing people achieve their goals through their unique talents and methods.
EDs: How do you see char.gy developing over the next five years?
We’re squarely focused on making on-street charging as accessible as possible. At the moment, the proportion of people with EVs who have driveways versus the people that don’t is much higher than it should be. That’s because when we’re so used to convenience, people are far less likely to invest in something that’s not super simple.
If you walk around big cities now, you see green number plates absolutely everywhere. We know the demand is there. Our task is to roll out charge points to as many areas that lack off-street parking as we can.
EDs: How do you think electric cars will develop over time?
This may sound odd for someone who runs an EV charging company but I think and hope that electric cars will need less charging than today as batteries and motors become more efficient. That’s an important factor to get more from the EV supply chain which is very constrained and also to make electric cars affordable to more people.
In the next 10 years, we probably won’t actually be driving our cars, rather our cars driving us. To get there we need the world to transition to electric vehicles, and to do that, we need to make charging available to everyone.
At char.gy, we build, install and manage the hardware and the software, so we experience first-hand lots of positive feedback from customers who have enjoyed switching to an EV. For us, it’s really exciting to be able to put the infrastructure in and see demand skyrocketing.
EDs: What role does on-street charging play and how do you see this developing?
An on-street char.gy conveniently located right outside the front door, analogous to a charge point in one’s driveway, is a crucial step for the 40 per cent of people who don’t have driveways to transition to EVs. Not only does that make owning an EV easier but also makes it cheaper because it’s how people without driveways can access cheaper electricity for charging.
As EV ownership continues to grow, we think that public charging will polarise into everyday charging in residential areas because that will be the easiest and cheapest way to charge. Whereas as-fast-as-possible rapid charging points will increase in places convenient for charging while on a journey.
EDs: Is there a need for a balance of convenience charging locations, shops, work car parks, coffee shops, gyms and residential locations?
Partly, some people envision charging forecourts but the EV is much better suited to the laptop model. Generally, you plug your laptop in to charge when you are at home or staying somewhere for a longer period of time.
When you’re popping out for a coffee, you don’t normally plug it in but you can if you absolutely need to. Personally, I don’t believe that the destination charger model is the best model for meeting people’s everyday charging needs.
EDs: Is simplicity to charging and payment key?
As with anything new, early adopters are more accepting of jumping through hoops. Charge points have traditionally been complicated to use. You either had to pre-register for a card or the user interface was really complicated. In some cases, you could only prepay on a website, not via an app, and all sorts of nonsense like that.
Early adopters might have been prepared to put up with it but the early majority certainly are not. Most of us just want everyday things to be as simple as possible to use. Imagine it’s cold and raining, you’ve got a child in a pram and you’re trying to charge your car and you’ve got to type in a credit card number.
We want the experience to be as seamless as it can be and we have already invested a lot in making the whole process really simple to use. We want our charge points to be as easy to use as a door.
On top of each of our charge points, a web address takes you through a quick onboarding process, allowing you to use Apple or GooglePay and immediately start the charge. We’ve also rolled out QR codes which people have become more accustomed to using thanks to COVID – they could be the only silver lining to come of it.
EDs: How important is the future of on-street charging in the commercial vehicle sector?
It’s very important in the commercial world because, by nature, commercial vehicles are used throughout most of the day while people are at work. Drivers and employers want the vehicle on charge when the driver is off the clock. This makes things difficult for those who do not have a charging point nearby or off-street parking for a charger to be installed.
The Association of Fleet Professionals has highlighted that kerbside charging is of critical importance for their members’ EV plans because working drivers are far less likely to have a driveway to charge on.
EDs: How will charge times change for vehicles in the coming years?
How long people charge per session is likely to stay constant for charge points on lampposts, as the bottleneck is the supply. As long as people charge for less time than they sleep, we think lamppost charging is the perfect solution.
When people charge is changing. We are already seeing charging times changing with the rising cost of energy. Electricity bills can be a huge financial drain on people without the ability to charge their vehicles at the cheapest time of the day.
We launched our ‘Night Saver’ tariff at the beginning of this month to address this issue. Our new tariff allows drivers without residential charging access to affordable electricity rates priced at 29p/kWh from midnight until 7am the next day.
EDs: Is the current charging speed more of a vehicle issue than an infrastructure issue?
The driver’s time is the critical issue. If you’re parked up for a long time, for example when you’re sleeping, the charging speed is largely irrelevant. That’s why we think that lampposts play a fundamental role in public charging infrastructure. While we have the ability to put in new grid connections if required, we’ve found that on residential streets the lamppost charger is king.
We think that the maths of residential charging from lampposts (or bollards taking the power from lampposts) presents a viable solution. There are 30 million vehicles in the UK, 40 per cent of which park on the street. The average vehicle drives 8,000 miles, that’s 377 hours of lamppost charging per year per average vehicle, or 38 10-hour slots per year, less than one per week.
There are over 10 million lampposts in the UK, of which at least 30 per cent are well placed for charging. Meaning that in the future,12 million cars could share 3 million lamppost chargers for less than three 10-hour slots per week.
As the density of EVs increases, we may implement faster chargers but there is a limit to how fast you can make the charger. If someone plugs in at six o’clock they’re not going to wake up at 2am to unplug their car, and even if they did, someone else is not going to utilise the spot.
Reducing the time that the charge finishes by several hours isn’t going to change anything. For the drivers we support, it’s much better to have more charge points than faster charge points. Given the way people charge and the plentiful supply of lampposts, we don’t see speed as a barrier.
EDs: Currently, what do you see as the biggest barriers when it comes to the transition to EVs?
For us, making infrastructure available requires a lot of effort because lampposts are owned by local authorities. While we are doing everything we can to make the process as cost-effective and easy as possible, we fund the cost implementation of the hardware, software, electricity and maintenance, and we even give local authorities a revenue share. It can still take a long time to get the charge points in.
EDs: What do you think are the biggest factors in the mass uptake of electric vehicles?
Firstly, when buying an EV, you have to have somewhere to charge regularly which is why we would like to see charge points on every lamppost where there is no street parking in the UK.
Secondly, there has been a huge component shortage which has had a negative effect on the availability and price of vehicles. On a base level, the cost needs to come down and the second-hand market needs to develop.
EDs: What does the future of transport look like to you?
We’re living through an exciting transport revolution. We now have car clubs, electric micromobility schemes, the transition to electric and autonomous vehicles, and investment in public transport. All of this, plus a push towards active travel, will encourage people to take fewer car journeys.
Autonomy and autonomous driving are also coming fast down the road, and after a few years, it will become the technology that we will grow to rely on to an extent where having a mere human behind the wheel will be far too dangerous.
Ultimately, I think that the more cars you have off the road, the faster journeys become. So, I think the future is bright for both driving and transport.
EDs: What EV do you drive and why?
I used to drive a Renault Zoe, with a winter range of 50 miles (80km) between charges. It was a great car for someone trying to build a charging network. It would charge for 45 minutes on a rapid charger for longer journeys and take four hours overnight on a lamppost.