It’s a term owners of electric cars know all too well: “range anxiety,” or the fear of running out of juice before finding a plug point. Just ask the Norwegians, who are the world’s biggest electric-car enthusiasts on a per capita basis. A list words of the year (link in Norwegian) produced by Norway’s Language Council in 2013, includes “rekkeviddeangst”—yes, that’s “range anxiety” in Norwegian. Even the newly inaugurated Formula E championship for electric race cars requires the use of two vehicles per driver, for precisely this reason.
Indeed, “range anxiety” is one of the leading reasons (paywall) for the lack of mainstream adoption of electric vehicles. One way to get around the problem is to build cars with better, longer-lasting batteries. Another is to deploy an extensive network of chargers. The former is something that has eluded scientists for years. The latter is is hobbled by expense; only one (relatively tiny) country, Estonia, has so far managed to set up a nationwide network.
But what if there were a way to set up a network without large capital outlay? That’s what one British start-up, Pod Point, is attempting in the United Kingdom—and it just raised over £1.2 million ($1.9 million) in direct equity funding from the public to help it achieve that goal.
On the surface, Pod Point isn’t very different from Charge Point, an American firm. Neither is putting its own money into building out a nationwide network of chargers. Pod Point’s model is to sell (or lease) hardware to businesses that can offer charging stations for a fee, or for free, depending on the buyer’s preference. Sainsbury’s, a big supermarket chain, has installed 176 chargers at its stores across the country. Heathrow and Gatwick airports also use Pod Point chargers.
CEO Erik Fairbairn says this model encourages charger installations in the precise areas where there is demand, as spotted by stores or keen-eyed entrepreneurs. And chargers in high-traffic public places, such as supermarkets, help alleviate range anxiety. If there are chargers wherever your car is likely to be waiting around—the supermarket or the office, for instance—that means less thinking about how much power is left to get you home.
Pod Point makes its money from the hardware, but also from services. Customers use its software to manage pricing. Individuals use its app to pay for power. And there is a novel third way to bring in revenues too: Fairbairn says Pod Point is in talks with the national grid to help with supply at peak times. “We can pause everybody’s charging for 60 seconds,” he says. That allows the utility to balance demand elsewhere with supply on the grid. For this, Pod Point will charge a fee.
Pod Point is still small. The company has shipped some 17,000 chargers, most of which are in private homes or used for internal business purposes (such as charging fleets). Some 1,300 are for public use, says Fairbairn.
But now the company is focused on growth: Pod Point has raised more than its goal of £1.2 million on Seedrs, a crowdfunding website, and there remain nearly four weeks left for the campaign to close. In exchange, the firm is giving up 7% of its equity. Investors have good reason to be confident: Fairbairn says the company makes a profit. Nor is adoption of electric vehicles likely to slow: sales of pure electric vehicles in the UK between January and October this year grew 144% over the same period last year.