Spotlight on... Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles
23rd March 2018
Fiona gives the lowdown on all things EV, from how Vehicle-to-Grid charging is game-changing for the renewables industry, to how drivers can unlock cheap prices with Octopus Energy’s new Agile tracker tariff.
Why did you join Octopus (and help found Octopus Electric Vehicles)?
As an engineer, I’ve worked on burgeoning tech in both the renewables and automotive sectors for years. In 2003, I was working on the development of hydrogen-powered cars at BMW. At the time I knew electric cars were coming, but they were miles away. Hydrogen cars were even further away. I went away and explored different sectors, but always kept my eye on EVs. And now they’ve come of age. Their time is now.
The cars have come a long way, the price of batteries have come down, they’re really fun to drive. Tesla have completely changed the game. They’ve set a bar, and other companies are really trying to meet it. Imagine the switch from Nokias to smart phones. We’re going through that transitory phase where you can walk by a car park and see predominantly internal combustion engine cars (that’s petrol and diesel engines), but come back in five years, and the proportion of electric cars will be significantly higher.
I love renewable energy. I love cars. This had the perfect sweet spot allowing me to combine both! A role I could really get my teeth stuck into.
What is OEV working on at the moment?
Currently we’re working on two really exciting things. Firstly, we run events where people can come and see electric cars and talk to our experts about the cars, charging, and any financial incentives on offer. They can even get behind wheel and test drive an EV for themselves!
Secondly, we’re working on Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) charging tech. We’re going to be running a trial with a consortium including Chargepoint Services and Energy Savings Trust, part funded by a government grant recently awarded by Innovate UK.
In June, we’ll be rolling out a bundle offering where customers get their electric car, a V2G charger, and everything else they need for their EV – like insurance, servicing meters, repairs – for one monthly price.
So, what is Vehicle-to-Grid?
Instead of just taking electricity from the grid, V2G tech allows EV owners to use the electricity from their car to support the grid at times of peak demand.
So, you can charge your battery up off-peak (say, when lots of solar power is produced in the middle of a sunny day and no one’s home to use it), and then at peak times (between 4 and 7pm daily) you can give this back to the grid, give it back to your neighbours, so that they can also be running off renewable energy.
V2G tech is game-changing for renewables. Could you talk me through how that works?
The big question has always been how to store renewable energy. Its production is instantaneous, and if it’s not used, you lose it. Worse than that, even – if too much is produced, it can cause problems, as you have to keep a balance on the grid, demand meeting supply.
For example, sometimes in the UK, wind turbines are actually paid to switch off if an oversupply is expected. Which is bonkers! This is renewable energy we should be getting onto our grid, into homes, into our cars – and we’re paying to switch it off! Mad.
Solutions to this have been around for a while in a few different forms, like domestic batteries and pumped storage. But these only have a certain level of capacity available. The development of V2G tech means we have a new source of storage on the grid.
And EV customers could benefit heaps from Octopus Energy’s new half-hourly tariff offering as well, right?
Absolutely. Agile Octopus is a tariff offering half-hourly rates based on the wholesale market. Getting cheaper-than-average rates 21 hours out of the day means customers can unlock really cheap pricing to charge up their car.
The tariff is great for anyone that has discretionary energy – when you don’t have to use it at a particular time. For things like your dishwasher or storage heater, which can run at any point of the day or night, or of course, your electric car, which you can charge at any time, the Agile Tracker is PERFECT.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Not having enough time! We’ve got a very small team, we have LOTS of opportunities, and we’re all running at 100 mph, which is great fun… but I’d kind of love to double the number of hours in the day.
What's the best part of your job?
I love my team. They are passionate, smart, and hardworking. They always find the fun side. Truly “work hard, play hard”. We’re all pulling in the same direction to achieve our shared goal.
And I love the overarching purpose of what we’re doing. If we get this right, we could really make a massive difference.
Any message for people thinking of switching to Octopus Energy?
Octopus Energy offers great customer service, fair tariffs, and we’re committed to innovation.
Any message for people thinking of moving to an electric car?
Drive one. They are great. They are SO fun to drive! And if you don’t believe me, please try one for yourself. Hopefully with us at an event! (Keep an eye on our site. All details of our upcoming events are updated on OctopusEV.com)
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