Evnex, a Christchurch startup that solves a major EV charging issue, raises millions from Movac, Tindall

Christchurch startup Evnex, which offers technology to address a key issue in electric vehicle charging, has raised $2.7 million in a seed round led by Movac and supported by Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1.

“Up until now, the electricity industry has been concerned about the growth of electric vehicles and the risk that they may or might place on its networks,” founder and chief executive Ed Harvey tells the Herald.

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“We’re bridging the gap between the consumer and the electricity industry.”

With public chargers too slow for a quick “fill” and go in any case, most EV charging takes place at home – leading to a 6pm spike when people arrive home and plug in.

The most obvious grumble for EV owners is that the charging process can take literally a night and a day. Or even longer.

Most EVs are sold with a trickle charge cable, that can take up to 50 hours to charge an electric vehicle at around 1.4 kilowatts per hour via a standard 240v household plug (see more on charging time specs below). Like its competition, Evnex offers fast home chargers, from $2100, that can reduce that to between three and nine hours. Wi-fi and a smartphone app let you schedule a charge, and keep tabs on progress.

More uniquely, Evnex also addresses an EV headache for power companies.

That startup has entered a trial with Vector in Auckland, which was recently expanded from 120 to 200 homes, most clustered in the same central area. Evnex’s home-charging unit’s software talks to the lines’ companies’ load-balancing systems.

And close control is required. An April 2020 Transpower report said charging an EV cost the equivalent of paying 40c a litre to fill your car.

That’s the upside.

Two more households' worth of energy

The downside: Vector CEO Simon Mackenzie recently said, “You might have one household worth of energy on a property and by virtue of putting a charger in your home – and not a fast charger or a supercharger, it’s just a pretty standard type of charger – that’s like adding two more households’ worth of energy on your existing load.”

So it’s no wonder the lines company is turning to companies like Evnex for a finer degree of control (and to Amazon to help it create its New Energy Platform – although, ironically, Amazon Web Services’ planned data centres for Auckland will also be power hogs.)

Harvey sees such tightly-integrated systems as the future, rather than homeowners buying whatever system they like, willy-nilly, then their lines company lumping it. All up, his six-year-old company has relationships with 10 lines companies. Andit’s not a closed shop. Evnex’s cloud software can also be used to wrangle other companies’ hardware, if need be.

Movac partner Mark Vivian says Evnex’s smarts are sorely needed if NZ is to cope with its fleet of EVs growing from around 30,000 today to an estimated 1.5m by 2035.

“The fragility of NZ’s electricity network was recently exposed, with record winter electricity demand leading to blackouts across the country,” he says.

“Mass EV adoption is only going to add to this grid load. Electricity utility providers are acutely aware of the need to be able to manage distributed residential and workplace EV charge points in order to avoid significant capital upgrades. This is where Evnex’s smart EV chargers and integrated software solution come in. Evnex has developed an AC (alternating current) charger and interoperable software which enables electricity distributors to dynamically manage the times that EV chargers draw power.”

Electric dreams

Harvey says the seed money will be used for a push into Australia in the New Year, and for boosting staff numbers from 15 to 25 for its operation, where all hardware and software is designed and made in Christchurch – where the founder got his electrical engineering degree then worked for medical device maker Dynamic Controls for three years – while converting his Honda Accord to electric on the side – before founding his own firm.

The new funds will also be used to bolster a recent switch from working through resellers to direct sales. Harvey used the pandemic to reassess his company’s modus operandi, and decided that direct sales and total control over installation were the best for quality.

Coming ready or not

The potential for a surge in EV ownership to stress our power systems is a clear and present danger, and one that featured in an April 2020 report by national grid operator Transpower, plus a Climate Change Commission effort released in February this year – each of which came to very similar conclusions.

National grid operator Transpower predicted around 1.5 million light electric vehicles on our roads in 2035, with “nearly 100 per cent” of our fleet electric by2050 (some see hydrogen fuel cells eventually capturing the light EV market; Transpower’s report saw the technology restricted to heavy vehicles because it takes twice the electricity to create hydrogen through electrolysis as it does to charge an EV).

Transpower said for consumers, this was good news. While electricity bills will go up as EV charging is added to household bills, the cost-saving over fuelling an ice (internal combustion engine) car with petrol will mean the average household’s total power bill will fall by an estimated 25 per cent by 2035.

The national grid operator says If people do ditch petrol and diesel light vehicles in anticipated numbers, the country will save $550m by 2030, $1.5b by 2035 and $3.4b by 2050.

It’s probable that EVs will push toward the mainstream. The Government’s new Clean Car Discount scheme woke up the market, with light EV sales quadrupling to 1944 in July.And, more, nearly every major carmaker has said it will leave ice production by beyond 2030. That will be a major contributor to NZ and other countries meeting their emissions targets.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, of course, the potential thumping for power infrastructure.

Transpower’s report said around 40 new, grid-scale, generation and batteries projects required to 2035 budgeted at $50m per year from 2030 and rising to $300m per year by 2050 – which it says will be easily offset, in national terms, by savings from reduced petrol purchasing.

Transpower said the need for heavier network and generation investment would be eased, in part, by smarter EV charging.

Home solar installations were also name-checked for their ability to take the load off the grid – but with installs, including home batteries, easily running to between $20,000 and $30,000 – it will take some time to hit the mainstream.

That puts a big focus on smart charging, an area where Movac’s Vivian says, “We see Evnex as well-placed to continue to penetrate the growing New Zealand market. And we hope to see them spread their wings internationally, starting with Australia.”

Movac now holds an 8 per cent stake in Evnex. The Wellington-based venture capital outfit invested in the startup via its $250m Fund 5 – which includes $30m chipped in from Crown agency NZ Growth Capital Partners’ $300m Elevate fund, which is in turn bankrolled by the NZ Super Fund.

Public and private EV charging options

Harvey says modelling indicates that, long-term only around 5 per cent of EV charging will take place on public charging networks – where even the fastest charge takes around 15 minutes to get to 80 per cent, and most a lot longer, and a costly “hyper-charge” nullifies most of the savings over petrol), around 15 per cent of charging will be in the workplace and 80 per cent at home.

As Driven recently summarised, portable home trickle chargers, often sold with new cars and plugged into a 240v mains socket, produce around 1.7kWh of charging power, which adds around 11km of range per hour. Broadly speaking, it’ll take at least overnight or 12 hours or more to charge a typical PHEV [plug-in hybrid EV] or EV like an Outlander, Mini or MG.

Some longer range, larger battery EVs like the Kia Niro or Tesla Models could take up to 50 hours to fully charge on a home three-pin standard wall socket. As Driven put it: “Imagine driving your new $100,000 EV home on a Friday night to discover it can’t be used until Sunday night because it’s charging.”

There are also public chargers, located via apps such a PlugShare and found in shopping centres, petrol stations or public areas. They charge your EV at around 24kWh which adds around 150km per hour.Many of these are free, though some will evolve to pay-to-charge – generally around $5-$10.

New 175kWh-300kWh hyperchargers are starting to pop up on public networks around the country. They offer 400km of range in as little as 15 minutes but come at, at a higher cost: around $50 per “fill” – and you have to do your homework first to make sure the DC current used by hyper chargers won’t degrade your EV’s battery.

That leaves home as the most practical charging options for many. Evnex’s AC smart chargers for the home come in single-phase 7.4kW (providing around 40km of range per hour) and three-phase 22kW (around 80km). The three-phase option is not supported by all home wiring or EVs.

If you’ve got two EVs, you’ll need two charging units. There’s wi-fi connectivity to a smartphone app for scheduling a time to charge, and monitoring progress.

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