In an ideal world an electric vehicle driver could pull up to any parking space and charge their car. As of now that day is still a long way off.
Being able to charge at scale is the single biggest challenge facing the rapidly expanding electric vehicles (EV) market, and what’s hampering the rollout is cost and the time it takes to physically expand the charging infrastructure. This is a classic case of an industry in need of a quick fix, and that’s exactly what the EV charging start-up GoEve says it can provide.
A recent study by Arup and economist Jim Power, which was commissioned by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, noted that there are 1,900 chargers installed at 800 sites across the island of Ireland. With 47,000 EVs on Irish roads currently, the number of charging points “falls far short” of the 4,700 realistically needed to serve these.
Go Eve has developed DockChain, an innovative charging technology that can replenish EVs at scale. In a nutshell it allows multiple parking spaces to be rapidly electrified from one base power source, creating what company co-founder and CEO Hugh Sheehy describes as, “a daisy chain of inexpensive and simple charging points”.
“DockChain can create a world where you don’t have to think about which parking space has charging because they all do,” he says.
Music to the ears of owners everywhere who have had to queue for charging points or have driven to a point only to find it’s not working.
“There are two types of EV charging,” says Sheehy. “AC is cheap and slow, and DC is fast and expensive. DockChain breaks that trade off. We can provide DC charging at about a tenth of the cost per space of normal DC charging and that’s about 10 times faster than AC at the same cost per space.
“The economics are simple. For €50,000 to €80,000 normal DC gives you two spaces, plus lots of queues. With DockChain you get 20 spaces and no queues, and the total equipment cost is about the same.
“Our technology is fundamentally different to any other solution out there, and where rapid vehicle turnaround is required – with commercial fleets, for example – it can remove the operational inconvenience of having to physically move vehicles around to use the chargers,” adds Sheehy, whose company was the overall winner of the 2021 VentureLaunch accelerator programme run by NovaUCD.
DockChain works a bit like a domestic extension bar but with more going on behind the scenes. The patented system controls all the interactions between the cars and the charger, and a smart on/off switch means the charger “plays dead” until it’s needed.
“Essentially DockChain ‘tells’ each car it’s the charger and tells the charger that there’s a car ready to be charged and off it goes. We avoid the whole issue of load balancing electrics which is pricey,” Sheehy says.
“Of course we can’t invent more electricity so the speed at which a car charges depends how much power is available on site. However, our system can charge at up to 150kW, which is as fast as most cars can take.
“Users can choose to charge cars sequentially so they get cars back on the road quickly or they can use a round robin system where each car gets say, five minutes so all the cars charge evenly. In most situations people want some cars quickly while others can wait.”
GoEve is a joint UCD and Imperial College London spin-out set up in February of last year. Its founding team of five are drawn from a mix of technology, automotive, energy and mobility backgrounds, and the company employs seven people between full and part-time employees.
The technology was originally invented by a team of academics and researchers led by Prof Robert Shorten of UCD’s school of electrical and electronic engineering. Prof Shorten subsequently moved to Imperial College as professor of cyber-physical systems, where he is continuing to oversee the development of DockChain with a view to a product launch at the end of this year. The market opportunity for DockChain is global, and potential customers for the system will include car rental companies, municipal and delivery fleets, hotel chains, offices, campuses and apartment buildings.
DockChain works as a stand-alone system or can be integrated into a user’s existing IT infrastructure. It can be fitted by any electrical contractor, and is minimally disruptive and fast to install. Sheehy describes it as similar to putting modular furniture together. The power supply is positioned to suit the site, and the system can be programmed to charge cars in a particular order or by a particular amount.
This ability to programme the system has unexpected equality and safety advantages. It can stop the early birds who typically hog office charging points from doing so and in public access charging areas it can prevent some of the more anti-social behaviours that have sprung up around EV charging, such as motorists unplugging each other’s vehicles to get at the charger or individuals (often women on their own) being intimidated off the charger by other users.
“DockChain is easily scaled so a user can increase the number of charging docks as demand increases,” Sheehy says. “Our DC power also enables flexible timing of charging so users can put more kilowatts into their EVs at lower prices.
“We’re also developing the system to allow it to feed power back to the grid, thereby making better use of fleet assets, generating new revenue, and supporting grid stability. In addition, the technology will allow fleet operators to shift from large capacity battery vehicles to more affordable smaller ones as the rapid charging turnaround time makes it operationally possible to do top-ups without slowing down operations.”
To date around €140,000 in hard cash and an unquantifiable amount of sweat equity has been invested in the venture and the next step is three operational pilots which are due to take place shortly. Asked why Sheehy and his co-founders have decided to commercialise the technology themselves rather than trying to sell it on or to develop it with a partner, Sheehy says, “because all the advice we were given was if you want to do this fast and retain discretion then do it yourselves. So the plan is to get the technology out there and to build value and see where we go from there.”
Go Eve is currently assessing several potential revenue models, with long term subscriptions looking the most likely.
“We like it as we get long contracts starting at three to five years and then extending with solid recurring revenue,” says Sheehy, who adds that Go Eve wants to raise €3 million immediately to build out the team and supply chain, initiate (outsourced) manufacturing and finish out back end software development.
“We believe our technology and its spin-off innovations can make the EV transition faster, easier and more affordable,” Sheehy says. “Timing is everything in business and this is DockChain’s time. The world needs this now.”