Leading the Charge


In a future-focused episode of PropCast, Andrew Teacher talks to Jake Monroe of Camion Energy about how widespread electric vehicle adoption won’t just change transport, but our energy systems and built environment, too.  He explains how this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for real estate owners and developers, and how they must reevaluate city design and their approach toward infrastructure in a way that will be as transformative as the advent of the internal combustion engine.

 

Jake Monroe has seen the interaction between energy, transport and the built environment from multiple perspectives, giving him a unique insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by each.

Monroe’s stint at Tesla from 2012 to 2015 saw him scale its sales operations and the transformation of electric vehicles from solely an ethical choice to a luxury consumer good.  Pointing to evolving market forces, Monroe is less concerned about the febrile political attitudes toward net zero policies of-late among global leaders, pointing to economics as the more likely deliverer of seismic change.  As he puts it, electric vehicles are reaching “cost parity with internal combustion vehicles.” He continues, “if you haven’t driven one, you should try to because they’re phenomenal products.” Meanwhile, the logistics industry has also adopted electric vehicles as a component of their fleets as categories of commercial vehicles reach cost parity with internal combustion engine vehicles.

For Monroe, growing demand for electric vehicles creates knock-on effects for energy systems.  As users seek places to charge their vehicles, and as fossil fuel generation is retired, supportive conditions for electrifying transport must be set in place: plentiful renewable energy, charging infrastructure and energy storage to smooth out supply and demand. Monroe’s stint at startup Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) saw him sell large scale energy storage financed by Macquarie Capital to commercial and industrial sites in anticipation of the flux that our energy systems are seeing today.

The blended experiences in energy storage and electric vehicles is the inspiration for Monroe’s latest venture, Camion.  As Monroe puts it, it is a company “at the nexus of technology, infrastructure, energy and real estate, looking at helping identify where power exists and where there’s demand for electric vehicle charging.”

The question is thornier than it might first appear.  Given that modern cities were predominantly designed around the internal combustion engine, it follows that the built environment will be reshaped by the electric vehicle.

For Monroe, the proliferation of electric vehicles is a sleeping giant for real estate owners.  He explains, “if you think about a single electric vehicle on a fast charger connected to a small supermarket, that car is pulling as much power from the grid as the grocery store whereas ten might draw as much as a large e-commerce warehouse.”  He points out that “you’re not going to get power to that location unless and until you request it… and that the queue to meet that demand will get longer over time.”  In the case of new developments, Monroe says the stakes are high, pointing to examples of “housing estates being cancelled because they couldn’t get power.”

Monroe points out that society’s hunger for data, low carbon heat and changing mobility patterns will lead to shifts in demand for energy.  These shifts will be driven by “specific locations where vehicles travel and dwell, or where edge data centres get built, or where heat ends up being electrified at scale.”

This will challenge real estate owners and developers to think differently: “fundamentally, real estate is going to reorient around the supply and demand for power.” For Monroe, this might require some lateral thinking. Places like the Golden Triangle between Birmingham and London might themselves stimulate demand for electric vehicles.  “Those vehicles are going to have to charge all over the UK, even though the centre of logistics is in the Golden Triangle.”

Monroe identifies opportunities for real estate owners too. Such is the opportunity, that he and colleagues have seen “property where the charging can increase the rental income onsite 25 – 75% just by installing 10-12 charge points.” Monroe wants to help real estate owners to realise that value.

Camion has initial backing from EQT Ventures in support of a software solution that helps real estate owners establish an independent investment case for obtaining grid connections for electric vehicle charging.  The software ingests a diversity of data about vehicle travel patterns, power availability, consumer behaviour and charging preferences, among others, to derive independent investment cases for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  The investment case extends not just to the charging infrastructure itself, but also an understanding of how to maximise the dwell time of drivers in a retail park and/or shopping centre context.

Monroe reasons that “the charge point operators do a great job of trying to provide information to their customers, but we think there’s room for a neutral third party to come in and say, ‘We think there’s an opportunity here’.”  That neutral party needs to be transparent in how they arrive at their figures, rather than the “black boxes out there… that just don’t work for an infrastructure fund or real estate fund that’s trying to make a decision.”

One constraint on this electrified future is the availability of infrastructure itself, especially large-scale energy storage and renewable energy, and the need for patient, far-sighted capital to deliver the scale of investment required to transform energy systems.  For Monroe, the Inflation Reduction Act in the US has seen “a huge boom in the build out of infrastructure.” While it may be equivalent to a substantial share of US GDP, it is important to put the investment into perspective.  Monroe says “I think the need for investment in infrastructure is comparable to the build out in the US of the interstate highway system in the middle of the 20th century…. What we are trying to prepare for is this massive explosion of electrification.” It’s a calculus that, with the UK facing an impending General Election, any future Government would do well to bear in mind when considering how to improve UK growth and productivity.

 

Participants

Jacob Monroe

Co-Founder & CEO

Camion Energy

Andrew Teacher

Senior advisor to Montfort

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