EV Charging – Returning the Power to the Consumer

IoT Leaders with Nick Earle, CEO of Eseye and Bryan Saignasith, Head of Hardware at Pod Point

Electric cars run on batteries. Well, batteries store energy, which means they could potentially deliver energy back to the grid at key points – to the benefit of both the grid and the consumer.

In this episode, Nick Earle, CEO of Eseye, interviewed Bryan Saignasith, Head of Hardware at Pod Point, about the future of EV charging, electric cars, and stored power.

What we talked about:

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Intro (00:01):
You’re listening to IoT Leaders, a podcast from Eseye that shares real IoT stories from the field about digital transformation swings and misses, lessons learned, and innovation strategies that work. In each episode, you’ll hear our conversations with top digitization leaders on how IoT is changing the world for the better. Let IoT Leaders be your guide to IoT, digital transformation, and innovation. Let’s get into the show.

Nick Earle (00:31):
Welcome to the latest edition of IoT Leaders, the podcast that attempts to shed light on the mysteries of IoT, where in each episode, we invite someone to talk to me about the challenges, the opportunities, and the experience that they’ve had in the exciting world of IoT. My name’s Nick Earle and I am the CEO of Eseye, an IoT company based out of the UK with operations around the world. And I’m delighted in this episode to welcome Bryan Saignasith of Pod Point, who’s head of hardware development for Pod Point and Pod Point are a leading provider of EV chargers. And we’re going to talk about the whole industry of electric charging in the home, and what’s going to happen in the future. So Bryan, welcome to the podcast.

Bryan Saignasith (01:18):
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Nick Earle (01:20):
Yeah. And instantly our listeners and viewers will be aware that you have a slight non-English accent. So maybe you can, although I know you speak absolutely perfect English and have been in the UK for quite a while, maybe you can just start off introducing yourself, sort of a little bit of your history and how you ended up at a Pod Points.

Bryan Saignasith (01:39):
Sure. Yeah. So obviously I’m French. I came from the Caribbean actually and I studied in France from a MEng. So that was a master of engineering in mechanical. I’ve studied primarily automotive markets. In my fourth year, I found an internship in Pod Point, a UK based company, which I ran straight to and this was my first time in England. That’s the time where I started discovering the joy of manipulating and working with IoT device. That’s where everything started. From that point, I went back to university and a role came back to Pod Point once my degree was finished and I have since been working for Pod Point. So that’s probably been about seven years now.

Nick Earle (02:26):
Wow. From university into Pod Point and you’ve been there, and I know you’ve done different roles. Maybe just to put them in context, you could just explain to our listeners, some of them won’t be familiar with Pod Point, but just in general, tell us just a little bit about Pod Point and then also the roles that you’ve done in the years that you’ve been there.

Bryan Saignasith (02:46):
Yeah, certainly. Pod Point is a designer manufacturer of electric charge point supply equipment. We operate primarily in the UK. As I said, we design, we manufacturer, and we operate equipment which are intended to charge electric cars. Pod Point is about 11 years old by now, and we’ve been probably the first one in the UK actually providing that service. It’s the leader in the market here. We also supply to other markets in Europe, such as Norway, primarily. Pretty focused on the UK, generally speaking.

Nick Earle (03:26):
I used to own a Tesla. I don’t anymore, but I loved it when I owned it. I had one of the first ones that came into the UK and I always heard the Tesla’s market share was the highest in Norway. Can you shed any light? I’ve always wanted to know why do people in Norway love electric cars so much?

Bryan Saignasith (03:44):
I think they were pushed by the government. I believe in the early stage of electrical interdiction, the Norway governments incentivized the purchase of electric car by actually making ICE, so internal convection engine, cars much more expensive than an electric car would be. They’ve increased the tax on normal convention engines, making obviously Norwegian people buy massively electric cars, which seems to have been a great move. I think one other point is Norway market is benefiting from the great renewable structure, right? They’ve got tons of mountains and therefore a lot of hydro electric generations and therefore they’ve got cheap electricity. I think that’s probably one of the main reasons why the government has been pushing the people of Norway to move to it.

Nick Earle (04:33):
Well, thanks for answering that probably. I always wondered that it had nothing to do with the traction on snow, which was great on my Tesla. So I know that you’ve done a few different roles, haven’t you in Pod Point? So you’re head of hardware development now, but you’ve done a few roles while you’ve been in there.

Bryan Saignasith (04:49):
Yeah, that’s correct. I started as an engineer working on different types of product development, everything from testing to general electronic design, to electrical and mechanical design, I got along with the general concept of how do you create an IoT product, which is pretty much what we do today. At some point I wanted to learn more about the business, generally speaking, away from project development. I found a gap in the operation department, which I was actually quite interested in. I moved away from development to operation and I took ownership of the technical support parts of Pod Points and slowly taking ownership of the supporting part as well. And that’s really the moment where I was not involved anymore in product development, but deeply involved in the operation day to day management of a business like ours.

Nick Earle (05:51):
Okay. You sort of circled the whole areas of IoT. You have broad experience. I think that’s relevant to this podcast. It’s called IoT Leaders because one of the things we found here at Eseye is that a lot of people need IoT to be demystified. It’s so fragmented. There’s so many different bits of technology, so many different options that people are really just looking for advice and how to get started, what to do and what not to do. On that subject, I know that once a bit comes up, a lot of it, when we talk about EV charging, which as I say, is clearly a boom area and is going to continue to boom for many, many years, people say, “Oh, you know, the issue of standards and protocols is really key.” What’s your experience, other than the standard itself, if I asked you what’s your experience of why a standard is beneficial for you in your role in trying to deliver these IoT products to market and meet the needs?

Bryan Saignasith (06:49):
Yeah, that’s a very good question. I think it, unfortunately, took me a little bit longer than I wish it did to understand getting into standard as early as you can, as a person, which wants to understand the project that you’re designing, is probably the best thing to do for anyone whether it’s, developer, whether it’s a manager. It gives you keys that will enable you to develop faster and in a more efficient way. It will allow you to eliminate time-wasting in trying to find bespoke solutions and ultimately come to a solution which has got… You’ve essentially been helped to design a solution because you have a professional working on the way the characteristic of your product, what are the boundaries? Then you still have the clever bit that must happen within it, but you have a good of a view of where to start from and what you’re trying to achieve. We’ve set boundaries.

Bryan Saignasith (07:48):
I just wish I got my head around standards way earlier when I started being a developer, because it would have just made me stronger in my approach to the design and the development of IoT, generally speaking, only because of the fact that you are working from something which is existing and you’re not starting from scratch.

Nick Earle (08:09):
It’s insane as you say that. Certainly we experience, with over 2000 customers, we experienced that a lot of people, they obviously understand the potential of IoT and the basics of IoT, but often when we ask them, “Well, what data are you going to measure and why and how often and in what way?” They cloud over a little bit and say, “Don’t know, I’ll kind of work it out as I go.” What you’re saying is interesting is that in your case, the answer to a lot of those questions was in the standard, the framework already. And that’s because a lot of, I guess it’s because a lot of different customers in the same industry contribute to the standards. You’re actually getting the collective knowledge as opposed to having to make multiple mistakes along the way. I guess that’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?

Bryan Saignasith (08:56):
All right. Yeah. I think that there is obviously differentiation between standard and open protocols, but in a sense, it’s the idea of a community working together toward a single goal. And everyone participating in providing one unified documentation to achieve that goal and to achieve that goal more efficiently. The open source principal have worked for a very long time and seems to be very efficient. I think my general advice, that’s for myself and anyone that I knew, I would always push them to read standards because it’s so important. And it unlocks things that you would not think could be unlocked.

Nick Earle (09:34):
Great advice for people who are listening.

Nick Earle (09:37):
Let’s broaden the conversation now, the market Pod Point you’re in and your competitors is actually much broader than EV charging. We call it EV charging, but actually it’s the electric vehicle supply equipment, the EVSE market. That’s much broader, isn’t it? Because that starts to take us into the whole supply chain from electricity generation to consumption, but all of the intermediary steps and particularly the role of the car, not just in being an electric car, but the car at the center of the home and what could happen for the car in the home on the EVSE market? What’s your views on where we are and perhaps what’s needed to really make that disruptive breakthrough with that?

Bryan Saignasith (10:21):
That’s obviously one of the big question of this year and the few years to come. It’s what do we do with an electric car that essentially remains parked in for over 90% of its lifetime? I’m sure there’s a better number, but 90% of a lifetime …

Nick Earle (10:39):
I use my car 5%. I almost cried every time I thought how much I paid for it.

Bryan Saignasith (10:48):
That’s one very key factor here is, it’s the first time that we actually have a load, which is in your house that has this capacity to take energy and potentially release the energy back, right? We were essentially talking about battery storage. A car is only a battery that has the capacity today to store energy. But what if that car in the future also had the capacity to deliver that energy back to the grids, depending on the need of the grids at any given point, right? We have to remember that we are very far away from 100% electrification of the automotive park. When that will happen, we will obviously put a significant load onto the grids. And somehow we will need to be clever as how to manage the extra load that’s been added.

Nick Earle (11:44):
One way of looking at what you’re saying is that, I think, and many people I’m sure do, think of it as a one way relationship. I mean, I bought my car, it’s in the garage. If it’s an electric car, I have a charger in my garage and I put energy off the grid into the car. What you’re talking about is a bi-directional relationship where the car can put energy back into the grids, which opens up a whole new series of possibilities in business models, doesn’t it?

Bryan Saignasith (12:14):
That’s correct. I think this is personal, but I’ve got this view. Today, you’ve got already two type of charging. You’ve got AC charging, which is alternative current, and you’ve got DC charging, which you find, generally speaking, in motorway, so very fast charging. Today, the concept of what’s called V2G works on DC chargers. So the ability to transfer the energy back and forth from the grid to the battery or from the battery back to the grid. Now, the issue with doing this on DC charging is when you use a DC charger, often what you need is to have your car charge very quick, because often you just are traveling from A to B. And the last thing you want is for your battery to be discharged to help the grid to cope with a lack of energy at any given points.

Bryan Saignasith (13:04):
What becomes interesting is if we have that same concept on the AC charger, and why do I think it’s completely possible? You have an onboard charger in electric cars. The onboard charger functionality is to convert AC to DC, which is what the car does when it’s plugged into your house. Now, if that inverter on both chargers had the ability to do it backwards, and therefore use the AC charge point to feed back electricity, back to the grid, you have the best use case because your car is going to be plugged at home for over eight hours. That’s the minimum you would stay from going to work and going back to work, coming back from work and going to work in the morning. That’s when it opens a lot of opportunities because you then have this ability to continue to use an equipment, which is not too expensive from a customer point of view, yet allows the energy provider and the customer to organize a change of tariff methods.

Bryan Saignasith (14:11):
The customer, which owns an electric car, could potentially help the electric grids to sustain the demand at any given point, because there is a back and forth. And I’m not obviously saying that this technology is currently being studied so it’s not just in my head, right? There is some active progress on enabling this today.

Nick Earle (14:32):
We talk about some of that because there’s also quite a few players, different players, people who aren’t in the car industry are saying, “Oh, that’s the role that we will play.” But before we get onto that, I guess what one thing you’re saying is it’s not just, “I have some power, I don’t think I’ll need it, and therefore I can sell it back to the grid.” I think the idea of peak consumption when suddenly the grid suddenly is in danger of a brown-out, as they call it. And the idea that you could access this during, I guess, something like a middle of the sports game or something like that, is that what you’re thinking of?

Bryan Saignasith (15:09):
Yeah, correct. I think there’s this well-known story about the World Cup and at the midterm, everyone going in the kitchen and turning the kettles on and that creating a significant spike on the grids. I think if we had the ability to use this car, which obviously is plugged, because you’re watching that football game and use that energy to feed the different electric appliance, that requires that energy for short period of time, then it would put way less constraint to the grid at that given point. I’m sure the general electric manufacturer as well, the electricity provider will certainly want to have this kind of functionality in the future.

Nick Earle (15:48):
You know, I was a few years ago, reminded when you said that I considered putting some solar panels on my house. And one of the big selling points of the company that I was talking to was exactly this was that if you actually look at when we needed, I was likely to have a surplus of electricity and it was almost being sold as a small business. I could actually make money by selling my power and there’s a lot of people trying to do this. We’ve heard similar aspirations from people who make the electric meter. They say, “Oh, well, we’ll be the home hub if you like. We’ll be this interface, the control points.” The electric companies themselves are trying to do it, it seems to me, but they don’t have this remote, offline storage. Right now it’s been these little smart hubs, these little devices that measure usage and it’s really struggling to prove the value points of that.

Nick Earle (16:53):
Even the car companies themselves like Tesla, they’re actually, of course having batteries that you hang on the wall. It seems to me like the common trend on all of these is sort of the democratization of power management. In that, it’s a common trend on all our IoT use cases, but not necessarily a well-known trend. What is happening is not just the IoT enabling of a single device, like in your case that the EV chargers that you have, they communicate back to Pod Point during their usage, but the power that the responsibility the control point is transferring to the user. That’s a really big change because it’s always been the brands. The big companies have the power, the big companies have the brands. You bought from them cause they were the big companies. They were safe. They had the brands. But what you’re describing is a fundamental shift where the consumer, in fact, millions of consumers are actually now going to be determining whether or not this and how this model works. That’s a pretty big shift, isn’t it?

Bryan Saignasith (18:03):
Yeah it is. I think we tend to forget one thing. The electric car, today, is probably the first ever load in the mass consumer market, which has this ability to draw a significant amount of power. When you think of your typical car, we talk about seven kilowatts. To put this in perspective, an electric shower is probably between seven and 10 kilowatts, an oven will probably be up to four kilowatts, depending on the oven you’ve got home. Now, my point is, when you need to use your oven, you need to use your oven. You can not stop using your oven because the grid needs electricity. Likewise, when you need to use your shower, you need to use your shower. But when it comes to the electric car, because your period of charging is actually quite long, the fact that someone, an electric provider, the grids, is asking whether you could close your charge for a period of half an hour, it’s not going to have a significant impact from your point of view.

Bryan Saignasith (19:08):
At the end of the night, your car will likely be fully charged or very close to be fully charged, and that’s fine by you, right? So essentially it means that we have an electric appliance, if I can call an electric car an electric appliance, which can be controlled and which can help the consumption of electricity to be controlled much better than it’s ever been in the past.

Bryan Saignasith (19:33):
You talk about smart meter, but a smart meter is only just allowing to understand the transfer of energy. The smart meter has no impact on the control of that transfer whereas the electric car comes as a tool that we can use and manipulate to organize a more flexible consumption of that energy. And you will find very few other electric appliances that can be used that way because of the length of time that you need to plug your electric car for it to actually charge. If you set aside the concept of V2G on AC, just simply closing the charge and stopping an electric consumption, energy consumption that also have, and can have, a significant impact on peak. As we talked about earlier, when you’ve got everyone turning the kettle on for two minutes, you can pause everyone’s car charging for just two minutes. That’s going to have no impact whatsoever on the customer point of view. Yet it will have a very positive impact on the grid.

Nick Earle (20:38):
It seems to me like it could enable another fundamental change. We see disintermediation in supply chains happening all the time. We’ve talked about it in previous podcasts of supply chains getting disintermediated, driven backwards from the consumer. But right now, as a consumer, I have a fixed relationship with electricity supply company, someone who provides my electricity. Unless I go to USwitch or some of the service and switch, which I can, typically I don’t, but I have a relationship with them. It seems to me that once you put a hub in the middle, in this case, the electric car, charged by a Pod Point charger and Pod Point technology, then you can almost set up a marketplace.

Nick Earle (21:25):
I’d be interested on your views on this. You can always say, well, “Why do I have to have a fixed relationship? Can’t I buy a sort of like a commodities market? Can’t I buy and sell electricity on a market?” Because now the car is almost acting as a switch. It can switch between different providers of electricity, including new entrance, who don’t have to have the meter inside your house. Don’t have to have an account with you. It seems like it could enable quite a fundamental disruption in that sort of marketplace type concept. Does that seem reasonable to you?

Bryan Saignasith (22:03):
You got it right. I think, in my view, energy broking, if I can call it that, there’s a huge opportunity when you link up electric car, energy broking. I think today, in the UK specifically, you have few electric provider, which that’s their core model that they start to engage way more on customers which have electric cars, because they can then organize, alongside with the customer, better period when the cab will be charging. And when you think buying and selling electricity, essentially, if you know, when you will have a certain amount of energy consumed, it helps you to have a better forecasting, meaning cheaper cost of the electricity that you’re buying on the market.

Bryan Saignasith (22:56):
I think you’ve said it very well. To me, this is already happening. One thing that we’ve seen already today is some electric provider will give you a specific EV tariff and that’s probably one of the reasons behind it, because by telling you can have eight P per kilowatts between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM they’re incentivizing you to where it’s the charge happening during that time, which is great for them because that’s when they actually can get cheaper electricity.

Nick Earle (23:29):
It’s starting to happen. Yeah. Another, another example of IoT enabled disruption, because for all of this to work, you’ve got to have almost real-time data fed back from the devices themselves, the chargers, the cars, the consumers, the devices in the consumer’s home measure the consumption. We always say, “People don’t want IoT devices. What they actually want is the data from the IoT devices to create innovative and disruptive business models.” And that’s certainly disruptive. It’s probably one of the biggest disruptions that we’ve talked about so far in this series, IoT Leaders podcast, because there’s a sort of front foot and back foot or proactive and reactive effect of this. It’s a huge opportunity for the car companies, but companies like Pod Point, actually for energy brokers. I like that phrase.

Nick Earle (24:19):
There will be new companies and you already see them. UK TV companies I’ve never heard of offering to sell me my electricity. They’re clearly trying to do this, but at the same time, it’s both an opportunity and a threat for the more established companies. And that’s something that we will explore in future podcasts is these ideas are great and it’s good for small innovative companies, but how do big companies react? That’s a lot to do with just the size of the company and the lethargy. It’s hard to be innovative in a big company, but the change is happening. With the disruption, the disintermediation of the supply chain, you start thinking about brand new models that frankly were just unthinkable a few years ago.

Nick Earle (25:04):
I thought the innovation would be a little tiny box in my house that had a little dial that showed me what my consumption was. I could compare bar chart graphs to the previous months and I’m thinking, well, this is cool, but I don’t think I’m going to do anything differently with the data other than look at it. Well, that’s cool. Turn the heating down or something. Then I can switch electricity supplier in 20 minutes and it’s almost as easy as they say on the TV advert, but not quite. Now what we’re defining is just a totally different model. As a consumer, I’m at the center of this model. And I think that is one of the more fundamental effects of IoT.

Nick Earle (25:40):
We talked a lot about it and clearly Pod Point is one of the most innovative companies in this space. I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot more going forward, but there are other innovative companies. One thing we always ask about in these podcasts is, as we get towards the end of them each episode, we say, “What other innovative companies have you seen out there?” Because just doing the cellular connectivity which we do in the device design, we enable obviously you to connect all of your charges and meet these standards, but there are other innovative companies out there that are really key to the IoT value stack. And it comes back to your learnings, you talked about standards, but do you have another, perhaps even a suggestion of someone we can invite to a future podcast? You can talk about another element of this value stack.

Bryan Saignasith (26:29):
Yeah. I think the first thing that comes to mind would be a company I’ve been in touch with for a while now. They’re called Device Pilot. It’s a UK based company. Essentially I think the core model is to work the data analysis of product, like we do IoT products. It’s all about the ability to visualize the data in a different way. And I think from people like me, engineers, we’re obviously good with the numbers. We understand how to make spreadsheets and the like. Today, when you look at how deep we can go in analysis of data and what we can get from those analysis, you want to have platform that helps you to give a sense to your data. And when doing that, allowing you to have some very strong queries running simultaneously and providing you insights that you could have, but it would take you ages to get.

Bryan Saignasith (27:35):
I think those guys are doing an amazing job on that. I’ve used them for personal projects and others, but the work they do is very important for IoT company, especially small business, often lacking the resource that you would want to actually spend time on doing that bit, the data analytic, which has insight, but are they big enough for you to consider the cost of having them in your business model? I think that they help you to not think about that question anymore. So yeah. Strongly would recommend.

Nick Earle (28:19):
I’ll give you my view on that. It’s the phrase you use, give context to the data, to help you make the decisions. I often use an analogy, which I’ll share with you, with people when I talk about the value of data. People say, well, I’ve got the data. But the problem is you’ve got too much data and it’s really hard to know what the data means. I’ll use a car analogy because I always say often, it’s the trend of the data, the way the data is moving. The trend is much more important than the absolute value. So what I’ve often said to people is, “If I said to you, the temperature of the water in your radiator at any point in time in your car radiator was, I don’t know, 92 degrees centigrade, is that good or bad?”

Nick Earle (29:07):
And people say, “I don’t know, because I don’t know what the temperature of water is supposed to be in a radiator.” Of course, non electric car example. And of course the point is, well, that’s the point? You don’t know. But if I said to you, “It’s four degrees more than it was 10 minutes ago.” “Oh yeah. Well, that’s bad because the water is heating up.”

Nick Earle (29:25):
So your point about when you have, IoT enables tens of thousands of data points. We have a proliferation of sensors, we can measure things at a very granular level. What happens is when you start on an IoT project, you get more data than you ever had, but it’s also more data than you can interpret and contextualize and analyze. So the idea of a management dashboard or a portal that actually is graphically based and can help you put rules in and triggers and events and alarms to help you interpret the data to make the decisions is a really important stack because otherwise the data just overwhelms you. Especially in the case of EV charging, which is just going to become tens, if not hundreds of times bigger in the next few years, because of what’s happening at the government level, what’s happening with the green agenda, et cetera. The amount of data is just going to exponentially grow.

Nick Earle (30:28):
The challenge is going to be the analytics, the interpretation, and the action that you take, because it’s very easy to take the wrong action on the wrong data. And I guess that’s why you’re saying that’s important.

Bryan Saignasith (30:40):
Yeah, indeed. I think just to call, to top out on this one, if you give one data sets to two different person, they can give you two different results, because it’s all about the definition of what you’re trying to get. If the output that you’re expecting is not clearly defined, then the same data sets could give you two different point of view. We see this today with the media. They’re very good at making different sense to one single truth, right? I think that’s what I like with their platform is this ability to allow you to see multiple point of views from one single dataset, but without having to spend so much time every time you want to change the definition of the outcome you expect. That’s got such a value because ultimately you have to define what you are trend, what you want to see. That’s very important. Having the ability to manipulate what the definition is and get to the results of different definition very quickly has such a beneficial aspect in my view.

Nick Earle (31:45):
Maybe a future podcast idea could be around the theme of the lies, damn lies, and IoT data. Maybe the laws of unintended consequences.

Nick Earle (31:55):
But anyway, listen, Bryan, let’s leave it there. We could go on for a very long time, but it’s been very, very informative and a very exciting area. I mean, frankly, if we did another one of these in a year’s time, we’d have two to three times as much material because of the speed at which the EVSE market is moving. Thank you again, not just for being on the podcast, but also from my point of view of being one of our customers. And I hope our listeners and viewers indeed enjoyed this podcast. Just as a reminder, we will be doing regular episodes of the IoT Leaders podcast, we’ll be publishing. And if you have any suggestions or any of the listeners have any suggestions, please reach out of people who you think would make interesting guests on the podcast.

Nick Earle (32:39):
But in the meantime, thank you again, Bryan, and best of luck with Pod Point. It is really a very interesting world that we’re moving in, where consumers eventually drive the whole EVSE market backwards from their own home at half time during the England-France football game.

Bryan Saignasith (32:58):
Indeed. Well thank you for having me.

Nick Earle (33:00):
Yeah. Thanks for being on. Okay. Thank you everyone. Thank you. Goodbye.

Outro (33:04):
Thanks for tuning in to IoT Leaders. A podcast brought to you by Eseye. Our team delivers innovative global IoT cellular connectivity solutions that just work, helping our customers deploy differentiated experiences and disrupt their markets. Learn more at eseye.com.

Outro (33:26):
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