Innovation Heroes

TRANSCRIPT - All Roads Lead to Electric with Keegan Tully

June 8, 2021

Peter 

This episode is brought to you by Pure Storage. Visit shi.com/pure to learn more.

 

Keegan 

I think that sort of user experience is one of the hardest things for prospective EV buyers to wrap their minds around. They're so used to working in this gasoline space where you have to go to a centralized location to get your fueling. But the reality with EVs is that the fuel source is already at your home, and it's pretty much everywhere in a place like Canada.

[music plays]

 

Peter 

Welcome to SHI's Innovation Heroes, a podcast exploring the people and businesses giving us hope in our drastically disrupted world. I'm your host, Peter Bean. We've known for a long time, way before COVID, that the way our transportation system currently works is not sustainable. From concerns about climate change, to fuel production, we've had our hands full. A global health crisis was really just icing on the cake. Just take a look at what happened in Texas with their energy grid if you don't believe me.

 

Reporter 

From a frigid Dallas, and the concern right now are these rolling outages, these periodic blackouts, that have been going into effect since early this morning. That leaves up to 2 million Texans without guaranteed warmth for what looks to be an incredibly frigid night ahead.

 

Peter 

Switching from fuel to electric is no easy feat, not at the industrial level or for consumers. People are worried about how many charging stations are available, the distance between them, and of course the price tag. [cash register dinging] But what if you could be assured that you are never more than 30 minutes away from a charger, or that the range on your battery was more than enough to get you where you needed to go? What if you didn't even need to hassle with payments-- just plug in, have your car talk to the charger, and have it bill directly to your account. These are the kinds of things that innovation heroes are working on behind the scenes, from Tesla's cutting edge cars and charging stations, to local and national governments rolling out the infrastructure, to coders, and developers, and open source activists. Everyone rallying together to make our roads smarter, more sustainable, and maybe just a whole lot more fun. On today's show, I'm joined by one of those pioneering road warriors. Keegan Tully is the Director of Business Development at Ontario Power Generation, the largest energy creator in Ontario. In 2014, OPG completely phased out coal, one of the largest climate change initiatives to date globally. Last year, OPG and Hydro One teamed up to launch the Ivy Charging Network for electric vehicles, a project which Keegan also oversees as their General Manager. With 30% of Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions coming from transportation, the urgency and importance of Keegan's work couldn't be greater. Keegan, we're so happy to have you on the show. Welcome to Innovation Heroes.

 

Keegan 

Thanks very much, Peter. I'm very happy to be here, and thanks for the kind intro.

 

Peter 

It's my pleasure, I'm glad to have you. I can't wait to talk about this. I'm fascinated with electric vehicles and the exact problem that you're trying to solve. So, to get started, let's dig into what you're doing with the OPG and Ivy Network. Can you tell our listeners a bit more about your work? Give them some background?

 

Keegan 

Absolutely. So OPG is one of the largest clean power generators in Canada, and what we're really focused on is bringing that clean power and moving beyond the electricity sector. So, we've committed to being a net zero company by 2040 and helping the economies where we operate become net zero by 2050. And we think that our power, our clean power, is the catalyst to get to clean economies. So that's why we're investing in these electric vehicle charging businesses. This is a trend that's gonna go up, and it's going to go up quickly. In Ontario, electricity is really clean. It's powered by nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, all sorts of different resources, but mostly clean. And so, it's a great place to move to electric vehicles and for OPG it's a lot of different areas. So, we're investing in projects to convert diesel ferries to electricity, we're investing to bring electric buses speed up their implementation. We're working with Toronto Transit Commission, one of the largest transit agencies in North America, to help them convert to electric. And then we're investing in our joint venture, Ivy, with Hydro One to really bring electric to the passenger vehicle space. So, with Ivy, what we're doing is we're building out the largest electric vehicle fast charging network in Ontario, really trying to spread charging infrastructure across the province so that people can feel confident that there'll be a charger near them when they need it.

 

Peter 

Yeah, I think that's something that people don't really think about, right? Just the vast scale of this problem of powering a whole world's worth of electric cars, or even just in Ontario. I mean, right now I think there's about 50,000 electric vehicles on the road in Ontario compared to about 8 million fuel-based vehicles. If we were somehow able to wave a magic wand and transform all of them to electric vehicles, do we even have the infrastructure to handle that, and is that the goal overall?

 

Keegan 

If you ask me, I think that should be the goal. You know, as I was sort of alluding to, EVs are a great climate change opportunity, and so we should be getting as close to 100% as we can. And it will be a big shift, but I think the electricity system is really well prepared to handle it. You know, electricity production and delivery is all about reliability, right? When someone goes to flick that light switch, they need the confidence that it's going to turn on. And so, the industry is well prepared for meeting new demands. There's time to prepare for the transition, and we design the electricity system to meet demand on the highest demand day of the year. The one beauty of EVs is, if you think about when your car is being driven and when it's sitting idle, you know, it's mostly idle overnight, right? You're usually parked in your driveway overnight. And so that's a great opportunity where the rest of electricity demand tends to be focused on, you know, business hours, or the early evening. But there's an opportunity to really complement the demand that we see in the electricity system with EVs and fill in sort of the valleys of the electricity demand profile. So overall, I think the story is a positive one and there's a real opportunity for sort of leveling out electricity demand.

 

Peter  

There seems to be a lot of challenges based on specific geography where we're trying to build this, right? Quebec has a bunch of power to spare, for example. So, I imagine it's different circumstances in different places in the world. I was wondering if you could maybe paint us a picture of the landscape, specifically, where you're seeing places having great success with this, maybe comparatively, you know, areas that are in trouble that haven't succeeded as well, and how we're using what everyone else is doing to actually improve this market on a global scale, and in Ontario.

 

Keegan 

For sure. The well acknowledged leader and EVs right now globally is Norway. So right now, they're seeing EVs outsell internal combustion engine vehicles. So that's a really great story. And they have a clean electricity system, so it's largely powered by hydroelectric waterpower. So, you get the most benefit from your EV charging because the electricity you're using is GHG free. And what they've really done to set themselves up for success is incentives. So, they've removed sales tax, they've removed road tolls for EV drivers, they've removed parking fees. And so, sort of layering on this and making the economics work for drivers so that they purchase EVs. Closer to home in North America, California would probably be the leader. And again, it's about incentives, carbon pricing, increasing the cost of gas, vehicle purchase incentives and tax rebates, things like that, really leading to it. In terms of infrastructure struggles I don't think anybody has struggled that hard. Norway, they're integrating the EVs pretty well. Some studies have found in California that EVs are actually reducing the cost of electricity for consumers by sort of contributing to the overall fixed costs in the system and consuming electricity off peak when assets are underutilized. So, it's a pretty good news story from EV and infrastructure perspective. The one other thing I might add is around charging infrastructure. So, governments can create incentives that increase sales of EVs. The other aspect would be making sure they're incentivizing charging infrastructure to get out there so that people have a place to charge. So, Canada's federal government is doing a lot in that regard. They also do have an EV incentive. But you know, Ivy and has relied a lot on funding programs from the federal government to help, you know, reduce the cost of installing EV chargers. So that's another key component to get it right.

 

Peter 

You know, you when you brought up Norway and California, you reminded me of something that I've wondered since the start of this journey on electrifying cars. You know, just postulating how we would do it long before there was a plan. It seemed not terribly difficult in places like, you know, Ontario, California-- newer cities. But then I started-- you know, you mentioned Norway, I started thinking about Europe. And it just comes to mind, how do we deploy this type of technology in some of these older cities that exist in the world where we can barely fit a single car down the street, let alone street parking, or places to charge up your vehicles? How do we overcome that? Have we started thinking about how to overcome challenges like that? Or is that still too far down the road?

 

Keegan 

That's undoubtedly a challenge. I think even in North America, getting power into cities is also a challenge. You know, New York City has some of the highest power prices in North America. Toronto, where I live is, you know, more constrained because you have to deliver power from outside into it and nobody wants new transmission lines or anything. So definitely an issue, I think. You know, some of the disadvantages you see in Europe with very old cities and space constrained are advantages for EVs from another perspective. Like early EV models have largely been in the, you know, small car space. So small hatchback, small sedans, which aren't people's favorite in North America. So that's one reason there, you see them out in front a little bit. You know, I love going to Europe and seeing the different solutions that are there. I remember I was in London a couple years ago, and they have lampposts that have EV chargers plugged into them. And there's lots of innovative work that figures out-- you know, people figuring out how to solve these solutions that are required. And there's going to be more innovation in the future, and new business models, and new ways to get electricity to the vehicles.

 

Peter 

It's a totally selfish question I have to ask-- because you mentioned Toronto, I live in Toronto, as well. And the single reason I do not own an electric vehicle is because I live in a row house on a street where I do not have parking. So even if I wanted to install a charging station, I couldn't. I have street parking. Just tell me, how far away are people like me from actually being able to buy an EV? Or am I gonna end up selling my house because I'm waiting so long?

 

Keegan 

In the industry we call you a garage orphan because you don't have a garage to charge out. So, you don't fit that sort of typical suburban mold. So, I think there's different solutions. You know, in Toronto, Toronto Hydro is experimenting with some on-street charging deployments. So, you know, attaching to lampposts, and things like that. Kind of like the example I was talking about in the UK, just-- there's power there on the street, and so figuring out how to get power to the spot, to individual spots. So, I think that's one solution. You might just see different business models, too. So, you know, it's nice as a homeowner to rely on overnight charging, sort of a slow trickle charge. But for somebody like you, you might end up going a different route. And, you know, if you're making a weekly trip to the grocery store to pick up groceries for your family, you might get a fast charger there and plug in for 30 minutes as you pick up your groceries and come back out and have a full charge for the week. So, you might just rely on sort of a different model that's maybe closer to the gasoline model. So, there's different ways. You know, I think it's moving slowly, anything you want to do something on the street, there's more and more regulation and things like that. So that can be a challenge. But I think there's solutions emerging for that.

 

Peter 

That's good to know.

 

This episode is brought to you by Pure Storage.

[music plays]

 

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[music fades out]

 

Peter 

Play futurist with me, though, for a minute and tell me what other amazing innovations we might see in the years ahead with regard to fueling up our EVs to solve some of the problems that I may not have asked you today, because I'm not even aware of them yet.

 

Keegan 

I think that sort of user experience is one of the hardest things for prospective EV buyers to wrap their minds around. They're so used to working in this gasoline space where you have to go to a centralized location to get your fueling. But the reality with EVs is that the fuel source is already at your home, and it's pretty much everywhere in a place like Canada. That really changes the dynamic. So, you know, most EV drivers will rely on home charging for 80, 90% of their fueling needs. And it's really a small percentage, 5 or 10% when they're going to consume more than a full battery on a single use, that they need to go to a fast charging station like what Ivy has been rolling out. As people shop for an EV and think about whether they want to make that move, they are looking at fast charging and, you know, comparing it to gas stations and seeing that there's way fewer, but the reality is there's never going to be as many, and-- because it only will provide sort of 5 to 10% of the energy that a gas station is currently charging. So, it’s really a paradigm shift and difficult for people to understand. But once they try it, I think people realize, you know, it's actually more convenient for someone that does have a driveway or a garage where they can charge to so seldomly have to rely on public charging and fast charging. The sector's evolving really rapidly. A few years ago, charging speed on a fast charger was-- you know, this gets into sort of electricity jargon and technicalities, but 50 kilowatts. So, to give you a sense of the time, that would be around 45 minutes or more to get a decent charge on your vehicle if it was a full battery electric. Nowadays, charging speeds are really increasing rapidly. We're seeing up to 350 kilowatts, so, many times more, and getting charging time closer to 10 minutes. If you're waiting around 45 minutes, you don't want to be at a grungy gas station with very few amenities. You know, you really want somewhere to eat, or to shop for your groceries, things like that. You know, as we get that down to closer to 10 minutes, that'll improve. And maybe there'll be more freedom. But Ivy's really focused on amenities and getting good charging locations because the user experience is so, so different.

 

Peter 

I want to go back and ask you a question about climate change. I want to dispel or prove a myth for people, because it's something when I talk to people about electric vehicles, it comes up, and it comes up often. And I understand that Ontario where we are is not really an area that would qualify to this question, because we're on almost exclusively if not exclusively clean power. But what about electric vehicles catching on in places that aren't producing clean power? Are we solving for anything, are we actually helping climate change? Or are we just creating more pollution at the power station instead of out of the back of the vehicle?

 

Keegan 

Totally fair question. As a sort of rule of thumb, if your power is coming from coal, by switching to an EV there's not a huge impact. You're not doing too much. If your power is coming from natural gas fired electricity, you're maybe around 50%. So, you've got a pretty good emissions improvement with your EV. If it's coming from renewables or nuclear, now you're really talking and you're getting closer to 100% emissions reduction. And so, there's very few places in the world that are 100% powered by coal, so almost everywhere you're getting a benefit.

 

Peter 

Glad to hear it. Alright, I want to ask you something about open source. In our last episode, we were talking to Google about open public cloud and how much that movement is speeding up the digital revolution. I see a lot of news around open protocols for EV charging and tech. Can you tell our audience how open source is vital to the future of electric vehicles?

 

Keegan 

For sure, you know, it kind of comes in in a couple different ways in EV charging. So, you know, the first way is around proprietary charging networks, and Tesla's kind of the key example where they've built out this amazing charging network for their drivers, but it's only for their drivers. It uses a proprietary plug and standard. And so, it's really a key differentiator for them. And I think many would argue it's key to their success that they built the charging infrastructure that enables the EV sales. But you're starting to see other automakers talk about following suit. So Rivian is another emerging EV manufacturer that said that they are going to create a network just for their drivers. It's hard to question what Tesla's doing because they've been so successful, and it creates a great experience for their drivers. But it's hard to imagine how we're going to get to that 100% EV goal, you know, if there's a proprietary network for every manufacturer. So, you know, what we're doing at Ivy is pursuing an open model. So, we'll charge any EV. And we think it's probably the necessary and most efficient way to build out the charging infrastructure. But it's challenging. Tesla's got a huge lead in EVs, and their vehicles don't-- they need an adapter to work with our charging.

 

Peter 

Ugh, more dongles. This-- this-- more dongles! This world is never going to escape dongles. And I don't understand it. Well, I do. But...oh, that is so frustrating.

 

Keegan 

We're really hopeful that we're going to move more towards open standards. In the EV charging world, there's an open standard called Open Charge Point Protocol, and that really allows sort of any hardware to communicate with any software, back-end, and payment processing system. Ivy is an open standard network, and we really chose that route to seize on innovation. You know, we don't know which charging manufacturer is going to be innovating. We don't know the new software plays that are going to come out and offer a better user experience. And we're very early in this industry.

 

Peter 

Sounds like we're reaching an inflection point on this, where we go one way and 15 years from now, you're carrying a, you know, package of dongles in your trunk in a little container with, you know, 8 or 10 dongles because you don't know what charging station you're going to get up to. Or worse yet, you're getting your car modified five years in, because, you know, the manufacturer decided to change the port on the device. You know, kind of like the lightning port on the Apple phone. Versus a truly open source environment where everybody commits to a standard, commits to a port, commits to a protocol, and everyone decides to build against it. Alright, my last question for you-- we've been talking to a lot of industry leaders on the show this year and last about the impact that the pandemic has had on their industry, and I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about the effect?

 

Keegan 

There's definitely been an impact. And for Ivy, we're in this sort of growth and build out phase where we're building physical infrastructure. And, you know, we were about to kick off a major construction program last spring when the pandemic emerged, and I think the first priority was always keeping our customers, employees, suppliers, all safe. Figuring out what we can do safely. Impact on the emergence of EVs and that trend, I think overall auto sales of all types of vehicles were really down during the pandemic. You know, I'm hopeful that people have been saving a lot of money during lockdown and have money to spend on EVs as we get out of this. And there's a lot of talk about economic stimulus, as well, in building back better green infrastructure. So that really bodes well for the EV charging sort of macro trend. The federal government in Canada has always been supportive, and we've relied on some of that support, and they've been, you know, continuing announcements of more support. And so, we will definitely be looking to draw on that where possible because it, you know, reduces risk, and helps us make investments earlier, and really build out that infrastructure that's, like, a key foundation for EV growth in Canada.

 

Peter 

As will I. I remember, I almost bought an electric vehicle right before the Ontario government cancelled those incentives a few years ago. I was pretty frustrated by that. So, I hope to see a new round post-pandemic that's focused on green technologies just like this. Keegan, thank you so much for being here today. This was a great conversation, I learned a lot and I think our listeners did, too.

 

Keegan 

I really appreciate it, Peter, and thanks for having me. And hopefully, we will come up with a solution that allows you to get an EV very soon.

 

Peter 

I'm looking forward to it. Until then I will happily remain, and patiently remain a garage orphan.

[music plays]

 

The future is looking greener and brighter thanks to people like Keegan Tully and the teams at OPG and Ivy. Fuel-based vehicles aren't in the rearview mirror yet, but they might be one day-- and that one day may come sooner than we think. Innovation Heroes is an SHI podcast, with new episodes streaming every second Thursday on Apple, Spotify, Google and everywhere else. If you like this episode and you want to be our hero, leave us a 5-star review on your podcast listening app of choice. On the next episode of Innovation Heroes, I'll be asking Eric Kamont, the Director of Mixed Realities Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft one hard hitting question: when will I be able to fulfill my lifelong dream of getting in a holodeck? In all seriousness, we're talking about the amazing future of mixed reality, and you don't want to miss it. So, subscribe today, and stay tuned.

 

Peter 

This episode is brought to you by Pure Storage. Visit shi.com/pure to learn more.

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