Interviewed: Parveen Begum, CEO, Solisco

Parveen Begum - CEO of Solisco

Parveen Begum, CEO, of renewable EV infrastructure company Solisco talks to EV Powered about the EV infrastructure landscape.

What is Solisco and why is it important for the UK’s EV market?

Solisco is a British start-up company founded in 2016, with a mission to inspire and support the emerging Clean Energy and Electric Vehicle market. As committed environmentalists that recognise the importance of transportation for the UK’s economic growth, we want to do our part to support the adoption of EVs and bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. As the number of EVs on the road continue to grow, we must accommodate for the changes in the UK vehicle stock by provide greater charging facilities.

In the UK, public charging infrastructure has not kept up with the growth in EV adoption. Therefore, we use our expertise in zero-emission vehicles and clean technology infrastructures to support and advise private/domestic customers, organisations, professional bodies, and authorities across the UK and abroad. We also work to educate and lobby around the importance of EVs, and the need for accompanying infrastructure to sustain and drive uptake.

Finally, we produce our own unique Solar EV-Ports for the domestic market, as well as champion highly engineered solar carports manufactured in Denmark for the commercial and public sector, so that EVs can be sustainably recharged anywhere they are parked. The EV-Port uses Solar Photovoltaic (PV) modules which are used to convert sunlight into electricity. These systems transform ordinary carparks into innovative “energy hubs” that can also cater for the demands imposed on the network, by considering factors such as grid balancing, demand-side response, peak shaving, smart charging and in future Vehicle to-Grid technologies.

Can you give an overview of the state of the UK’s EV infrastructure, especially in comparison to the UK and abroad?

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), 76% of all EV charging points in the EU are located in just four countries, the Netherlands (26%), Germany (19%), France (17%) and the UK (13%).  Our government’s long-standing commitment is for almost every car and van in the UK to be zero emission by 2050. It expects to achieve this through a combination of government and industry investment, innovation and consumer demand.

There are also more than 30,000 charge points across the UK in over 11,000 locations. However, to cater for the forecast growth in EV uptake, the UK will need approximately six times as many charging points by the end of the decade. Currently the National Grid estimates that the UK stock of EVs could reach between 2.7 and 10.6 million by 2030 and could rise as high as 36 million by 2040.

This is being addressed in the Government’s 2018 “Road to Zero Strategy” which will see £1.5 billion invested between April 2015 and March 2021 to achieve a range of measures including chargepoints to be installed in new build homes, and the launch of a £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not match the ambitions of countries like Norway, which has a national goal is that all new cars sold by 2025 should be zero-emission. It will achieve this with a progressive tax system that increases the cost of high emission cars while reducing the cost of zero-emission cars. They also boast a range of other EV friendly measures including reduced car parking fees and no annual road taxes. 

How engaged is the public with EV? Do you think there are social and cultural barriers in accepting EV’s?

There remains a lot of social and cultural barriers to uptake especially within the mass market of automobile ownership. While they are dissipating, there remains a lot of misinformation regarding EVs which needs to be tackled. For example “range anxiety” is a fear of not being able to reach your destination before running out of fuel.

The average range of an electric car is around 181 miles. Given that research by KPMG’s Mobility 2030 team has found that 99.3% of UK car journeys are less than 100 miles, the public should have no problem travelling up and down the country. In fact there are now more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the UK than conventional fuel stations, according to research published last year by Nissan.

Another one is battery degradation; while it is expected that battery performance declines over time, the majority will last longer than the life of the vehicle they are placed in; and in many cases, EVs will surpass the total mileage that can be achieved by it’s combustion engine vehicle equivalent. Variable factors such as rapid charging, charging up to 80% instead of 100%, etc. affect the overall degradation of the battery and much research has already been done to promote healthier EV batteries, as well as create second life applications for them once they are replaced.

What can we do to maximise uptake?

The EV industry is doing a lot of myth busting but the Government could certainly do a lot more to sway the public. Given the scale of their commitment to EVs, it would make sense if it were supported by a well-publicised PR campaign to really get people thinking and change their perceptions.

In terms of infrastructure, we need to make EVs more visible by imitating the successful distribution strategies of the petroleum industry i.e. petrol stations! Their large forecourts and highly branded canopies are frequently visible and provide reassurance that a driver will be able to complete their journey. They are also welcoming as you can even stop for a coffee and grab a bite to eat. EV charging points on the other hand, are typically points in the wall or mounted into the ground. It may seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference to install solar carports over EV charging points; making them much more visible and enhancing the user experience.

Another option is to incentivise consumers to adopt the use of electric vehicles by rewarding them when they pay for EV charging. Think of an EV version of the Shell card or Tesco Clubcard scheme. Accrued points could be used to pay for future EV charging, home energy bills or even be cashed out using a mobile app. Lastly we need to drive forward charging installations that combine onsite renewable energy generation, so costs to users are reduced further and the energy used to charge is as green as their EV!

Is the Government doing enough to support the industry and companies like Solisco?

Government is doing its best with various grants and programmes. For example Solisco recently won a competition funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and Innovate UK to examine the UK’s infrastructure capability to enable EV uptake, as well as investment in EV development by the local automotive industry. Our Smart Energy and Transportation Charging Hub (SETCH) project took place over three months last year and was a great opportunity for us a company and a wider consortium of local authorities and university partners. Unfortunately, it was time consuming with a lot of paperwork and administrative processes, which can be difficult for smaller companies with fewer resources to support.

If the Government wants the EV industry to drive EV uptake, they need to make partnering with them simpler or they will not get the uptake they want fast enough to meet the demand.

On that same note, why not incentivise businesses like manufacturing, logistics or construction companies to implement EV infrastructure at their premises? Or when new developments are being put forward, consider these infrastructures as part of the planning permission requirement? If a contribution is made to the costs, we will likely see a supply increase. Government could also make more money available upfront to subsidise research and EV infrastructure.  For example, why not introduce a green tax on large companies whose premises generate too many emissions? The money generated could then be used for innovation projects to green those very same companies, so the problem is tackled, and a solution found, rather than just blind taxing them with no end result.

What are the exciting innovations in EV that we should be aware of?

There are so many but the big one is autonomy; EVs are at the forefront of driverless cars. Companies like Tesla have stated that they are “very close” to the stage where cars will not need a driver whatsoever. This will not only revolutionise how we work and play, but also make the roads far safer. That being said autonomous vehicles are still regarded with suspicion in the US, India and Europe due to trust and safety issues according to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Automotive Consumer Study, but I believe it will not be long before attitudes change.

Energy trading is another. A number of companies are working on systems that will allow you to sell energy from your EV battery to another, such as your neighbour or even back to the energy grid. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is also something that I am personally excited about.

Share and describe your vision for EV over the next 20 years.

Following on from the idea about V2G; it’s certainly is one I see already happening and it is very much what sparked our ideas for Solisco –  providing the platform to enable such energy generation/energy trading to take place to create a loop that is sustainable and green.

I believe the future landscape of using your vehicle for more than just mobility purposes is certainly where the vision for EVs stands. For example, after parking your EV and charging it at work under a solar canopy generating renewable energy onsite, you can then safely and easily discharge the car battery at home to power appliances and utilities using the renewable energy stored. And of course vice versa – having your own solar carport at home allows you to discharge at other premises for their advantage – for example, an airport could utilise your EV battery whilst you are away on holiday and subsidise your parking fees or even set up a payment to you for allowing them to use your assets! This vehicle can then even be used to make you additional revenue by being an autonomous shared vehicle – when you’re not using it – it can drive others around; much like the Ubers of today, but without the added expense of the driver!

As EV’s become more commonplace we will see a range of new categories and designs. The Tesla Cybertruck is one such example. We should also expect vehicle safety to increase because EV’s will not use engines, so any front-end crashes will have less impact. Combined with AI guidance systems, there will be a lot less road accidents, noise pollution and of course air pollution will be significantly reduced. I suffer with sinus difficulties when around engines, and when driving an EV, I feel a massive difference in the ease of my breathing. Many people suffer respiratory diseases without even knowing it is caused by poor air quality. So, hopefully over the next 20 years, we will start to experience cleaner air, drive down number of deaths and illnesses caused by pollution, and be at the forefront of renewable energy generation, ideally over many carparks and barren spaces across the UK.