Peter McDonald

In the first of a new series, Nissan’s former fleet director explains why he left the OEM world for Ohme.

I worked at automotive manufacturers for over 20 years – and they are awesome in their scale and impact.

OEMs are doing incredible good; any initiative to decarbonise transportation is purely theoretical, unless you can build electric vehicle sustainably at scale. The manufacturers make huge investments to build a product that’s then relied upon by customers for their livelihoods for many years ahead. Working within an OEM and being involved in efforts to launch and commercialise EVs is hugely fascinating and rewarding.

However, this shift generates a few new questions for all of us.

Firstly, can the grid cope with the additional pressure and can the grid do this and shift to renewables at the same time? In addition, can it balance supply and demand to prevent repeat of the recent fuel supply customer anxiety?

A big learning point for me is that to enable EVs to travel by the cleanest energy (which is the whole purpose), investment is required in the electricity grid. The grid is relatively dumb, it only knows a power outage has occurred when two households phone in so the outage can be triangulated.

The electricity grid doesn’t know if the demand being requested is for your toaster, or a patient’s life-support system in a hospital.

Energy supply has to work or we threaten life; it’s too critical to fail. As we decarbonise energy supply and put more load on the grid, we’re going to rely more on renewables (currently only 23% of the national grid mix). Renewables are more volatile in their supply, as the sun doesn’t always shine, but sometimes it does a lot. There will be more energy supply volatility, and demand will need to shift through price mechanisms to distribute energy consumption across the day, to increase efficiency.

I think the energy technology space is so exciting and so open for disruption.

I’m now a firm believer that technology can play a massive enabling role in this energy transition. Currently, what you could refer to as ‘dumb’ vehicle charging doesn’t solve the problem and banning vehicles from charging at certain times isn’t a great solution.

As we decarbonise energy supply and put more load on the grid, we’re going to rely more on renewables.

In many use cases, EVs can be charged overnight at houses across the UK and they can be the ultimate grid offset. Smart charging devices that harness energy flexibility pricing to give control to the grid to charge when it’s most efficient can save the consumer money and solve many stakeholder issues simultaneously.

It’s a challenge the automotive OEMs could certainly answer themselves with sufficient focus and resource. But to fix it effectively, it requires consideration of the vehicle, the grid and the charging hardware. Solutions need to be interoperable, working across multiple energy providers, multiple OEMs and in multiple markets. That’s quite a big ask to come from a single car manufacturer, it requires a system-wide response.

Ohme is at the heart of this innovation, with software and hardware available now that can solve the simple ‘dumb’ use cases as good as any other charging provider but has a number of unique features such as the best quality data-stream, which enables grid flex and the best fleet management.

So, stepping out from the relative security of OEMs into a new emergent domain involves a little risk, but it’s incredibly exciting. Today, Ohme is known institutionally but not by the general public. But we’re at the very forefront of energy technology at a time when the market is still being established. The UK is the most highly deregulated energy market in the world and one of the earliest EV adoption markets. So it’s likely that the UK will be an incubator for this market.

Successful ventures have the chance to go global and, for me, being part of the revolution was too exciting to ignore.

Peter McDonald is mobility director at Ohme. Prior to his current role, he spent two decades working for automotive manufacturers including Nissan, SEAT and the wider Volkswagen Group.

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