Pod Point discusses why travel shouldn’t damage the Earth
With the company having recently hit 60,000 charging points shipped, Pod Point’s CEO talks to CSO Magazine about future goals for the forward-thinking firm.
Pod Point was founded on the belief that travel should not damage the Earth. With that in mind, Erik Fairbairn created the firm to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution within the industry. In 2008, the company’s Chief Executive Officer assessed his options for reducing environmental damage, and concluded a business strategy. “I felt very strongly that the obvious choice for me was electric vehicles (EVs), and I saw three things which needed to be solved in order to enable the technology,” Fairbairn reveals.
The CEO found business potential in either manufacturing vehicles, working to renewably source the energy used to power EVs, or developing the technology used to charge them. Finding a gap in the charging point market, Fairbairn used his experience in the automotive sector to launch the company, which later became the largest EV charging company in the UK. Having previously worked in the product development side of cars, Fairbairn’s engineering skills translated to the new project. “I'm an engineer at heart. I think engineering is a thought process, whereby you look at something and measure it, then tweak it and measure it again. It’s a process I've found quite applicable to business generally, so I often come at problems from an engineering process perspective, having found parallels in a whole range of forms of business. It results in me being a slightly data-driven CEO.”
The business aims to deliver a Pod Point to every place you can park, which the company has assigned into four categories: at home, at work, at a destination, and on route. Fairbairn, noting his aspirations sound ambitious, compared his strategy to Microsoft. “It's a little like when Microsoft said, ‘We're going to put a computer on every desk.’” The company recently reached its 60,000 charging bays shipped mark, which the CEO remarked as a substantial metric to motivate staff. However, in order to achieve its goal of connecting all of the UK, Pod Point would need to install a total of 10mn stations across the country – this would reach a ratio of one station per three vehicles.
Pod Point’s operations currently run in the UK and Norway; Fairbairn targeted the Nordic nation due to its sustainable advances. Around 60% of new vehicles sold each month in Norway have an electric plug on them, compared to the UK’s 4%, the CEO revealed. “I feel that we're really dealing with a market which the UK is going to feel like in five years’ time,” Fairbairn states. The company’s vision is far wider than two nations in Europe, with plans for more than just domestic expansion. “Our motto is “Travel should not damage the Earth” not “Travel should not damage the UK.” In time we’d like to expand our operations outside of our two markets, but we really see the UK marketplace expanding very quickly, and to an extent we’ve got our hands full with the two markets that we’re dealing with currently,” he continues.
Fairbairn’s company recently signed a deal with the UK-based supermarket chain, Tesco, to supply 2,400 bays to 600 of its stores. The scale of the agreement will see the retailer install an additional 15% of the total public charging points across the country. Pod Point referred to the “landmark deal” as “democratising” to the industry, with advanced and environmentally-friendly technology being integrated into the mainstream. Tesco announced in 2017 that it would run off entirely renewable energy, aligning the two with the firms’ values and making the deal a perfect fit. Pod Point uses renewable power wherever possible in its own operations, as well as actively influencing its customers to initiate and link their own green energy projects to their chargers.
Despite previous limitations surrounding the variety of EVs on the market, Pod Point’s CEO argues that the coming year will see a rise in EV variety entering the mass market. “Up until now, EVs have been limited by the range of different cars you can buy. I really think 2019 is going to be the year where, all of a sudden, there's an EV that's right for everybody, and that's really going to move the market up.” Fairbairn calls this the “second wave of the EV” and with it he hopes will be attached a growing population that use renewable power and green advances. “There is a very strong correlation between people who buy green energy, have solar panels on their houses, and have EVs. The more people that incorporate these sustainable technologies in their lives, the more that becomes the norm,” the CEO claims.
As well as the external hardware used to power vehicles, the firm has developed software in the form of an app that is incorporated into the process. “Software is equally a part of the product experience, in the same way that the hardware is. The concept that we should think about the two separately is outdated – for us the whole thing is a hardware-software amalgamation,” the CEO says. Pod Point is also working with data to gain a greater understanding of how the UK is using EVs. Data is enabling the firm to better understand how and when to manage its energy flow, as well as gauge the best locations to target for new charging stations.
Pod Point sees a future that is simultaneously environmentally conscious and equally technologically unaware, in regards to its charging points. The company forecasts a growing population that deems environmental damage as unacceptable, with an awareness surrounding both the tangible aspects of the damage, such as visible air pollution from combustion engines, and less tangible aspects, such as global warming. In the same expectations, the firm aims to continue developing an infrastructure that continues to be used without revealing the high levels of technology incorporated within it. “We ensure the extent of technology we use is hidden from the majority of consumers. We hide how smart our chargers are so they feel like an entirely simple-to-use, easy interface,” Fairbairn notes.
In the coming years, Pod Points aims to keep up with a forecasted “astronomic technology adoption curve,” in which EV adoption grows at unprecedented rates. As well as the its upcoming milestones, Pod Point has aspirations on a much wider scale, making it a company of the future.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere