The electric vehicle revolution is finally charging ahead. EDF’s Ren Baletti CA tells Ryan Herman why the utility giant will be powering the UK’s transformation towards a zero-emissions economy.
This article first appeared in ICAS’ CA magazine.
The car industry is often seen as a bellwether of our economy. In January 2021, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed car sales had hit their lowest levels since 1992, when the UK was in recession. The new-car market also experienced a fall of some 29%, its largest year-on-year decline since 1943, when the world was at war and plants were repurposed to produce military equipment.
But, amid the gloom, the SMMT report contained another standout figure – sales in electric vehicles (EVs) had grown by a whopping 180%. This equated to 108,205 new EVs on our roads and represented 6.6% of the total UK car market for that year, up from 1.6% just one year earlier. The growth in fleet EVs was a driving factor behind most of those sales, with tax incentives succeeding in getting more employers and employees to take an electric company car.
Then came the government’s announcement in November 2020 that there would be a ban on the production of diesel and petrol cars from 2030, as part of its broader ambition for the UK to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Transport has the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any sector, so if the UK is going to reach that target, getting more people behind the wheel of an EV is key.
According to data from EDF Energy, switching the 32 million petrol and diesel cars on UK roads to electric would, combined with a low-carbon grid featuring renewables and nuclear energy, slash the UK’s emissions by 65 million tonnes of CO2 – a cut in Britain’s overall carbon footprint of more than 10%.
So, there is an awful lot of work to be done. Enter Ren Baletti CA, Senior Manager for Electric Vehicles, Strategy at EDF, the UK’s leading generator of low-carbon electricity. The French multinational’s involvement with EVs dates back to 1999, when it installed the UK’s first charge points. In 2012, it powered the charging network for the Olympics and Paralympics. Recently, the firm has significantly upped its interest. But sales need to stay on a steep upward trajectory – and there are barriers to convincing the public to go electric. A 2019 EDF survey revealed just 13% of 2,000 respondents knew that charging an EV costs no more than a full tank of petrol.
Baletti says: “Our company purpose is to help Britain achieve net zero by 2050. And if I go back to the pledge made in Paris three years ago by group CEO Jean-Bernard Levy, there were three core areas – to become the leading power supplier for EVs by 2022, become the biggest charging network operator by 2022 and become Europe’s smart charging leader by 2035. They were three pretty big pledges.”
The firm is comfortably on course to honour the first two of the three, aided by two significant acquisitions. In 2019, EDF Renewables acquired Pivot Power, which develops large-scale battery storage and power infrastructure for EV charging across 40 sites in the UK. Last year, it purchased a majority stake in Pod Point, a UK start-up that has grown exponentially to have almost 100,000 charge points across the UK and Norway.
In the space of five years, Pod Point went from raising investment on Crowdcube to being bought in a deal that was said to be worth £100m, making it the highest exit valuation from the crowdfunding platform. The deal is likely to mean tariffs or packages that bring together a customer’s electricity usage at home and on the road. And Baletti played an important part in getting the acquisition over the line.
“My role is predominantly creating and proposing the right strategy for EDF UK,” she says. “This involves utilising and understanding current data on customer behaviour, changes and adoption in the EV market, along with what is happening in the news, government incentives and regulations, and competitor analysis so we can come up with the best products and services for residential and commercial customers.
“I worked closely with Pod Point during the acquisition. I was lucky to be involved in that journey from the start and I got to understand how a smaller, entrepreneurial business works. Because I have that education and training as a CA, I was also able to work very closely with the M&A team. With any acquisition, there is a lot of work that goes on in the background both before and after the deal is done.”
Road less travelled
Baletti decided on her career path after a talk at her school from a Big Four representative. “Becoming a CA seemed to provide so much opportunity for growth,” she says. “I didn’t pursue an accountancy role after qualifying with EY, but I still use and relate the skills I got from becoming a CA in my role today.
“What you notice as you progress through your career, is that whenever there is something around the disposal of a company, M&A activity, any type of overarching business concern or red flag, almost immediately you know what to look for from an ethical and financial perspective. But you also have your commercial cap on. At every point in my career there have been challenges and without having the CA qualification I wouldn’t have understood how to successfully tackle those challenges.”
The next challenge for Baletti is working on a strategy to get Britain’s buses to go electric. TfL aims to electrify more than 9,000 of its fleet by 2037, while National Express has committed itself to a zero-emissions fleet by 2030. A depot of 150 buses consumes 10 gigawatts – equal to the power generated by 31.2 million solar panels – of electricity a year. That’s a lot of energy – and depots will have to think strategically about how and when to charge vehicles.
Baletti adds, “It’s exciting to see councils like Oxford investing a lot of money into the city’s transport network becoming electric, and you’ll soon see the UK investing heavily in electric buses. However, the difficulty with the UK is that every bus company has a different strategy – some want to charge them during the day, others by night. Location also poses different issues. How do you compare Oxford to Manchester? It’s very much a proof-of-concept at present.”
EDF will apply its learnings from France, where it supplies EVs to the country’s biggest bus operator. Innovation and education are also central to Baletti’s strategy for encouraging more Brits to drive electric. “EV charging is still a new phenomenon to many,” she says. “There’s customer anxiety that they won’t be able to charge up their car en route from one destination to another. Some believe the pricing for the vehicles and charging the battery is way too expensive.
“In fact, the costs are on a par if not cheaper than an internal combustion vehicle. You can go two to three days on average without having to charge your car but those customer data points aren’t understood yet. So doing these educational pieces across energy suppliers, or people putting videos on YouTube about their EV customer journey, all help to get the right message out there.”
When discussing her role, Baletti’s passion for what she does comes through strongly. “It’s something I’m always talking about,” she says. “I’ve always got people asking me for advice – and it’s great. I never thought my dad would buy an EV! Also, it’s heart-warming to see the government is moving in the right direction. But, more broadly, the UK is making that transition towards EVs too. It’s no longer a talking point, it’s actually happening.”