Jan Becker, ‘Corporate’ Activist?

Jan Becker is not your average manager of an electrical distribution network. He’s not even your average human. He owns three electric vehicles.

When he’s not driving or talking about EVs, Becker’s day job is as ERDF’s Director of the territory of East Pyrenees and Aude in France’s Department 66. ERDF is Électricité Réseau Distribution France, the company that manages the public electricity distribution for 95 percent of continental France.

Becker’s role is to build relationships with public authorities and keep them abreast of distribution issues.

A family of EVs

Five years ago Becker acquired his first EV, a 1999 Peugeot 106. On a personal level he was interested in clean technology and fascinated by how to use EVs properly and efficiently. “It’s old tech nowadays,” he says, noting that his Peugeot has 63,000 kilometers on the odometer and still runs fine.

“In 2011, I got a little brother for the Peugeot,” says Becker about his next EV, a 2001 Citroën Saxo, the super mini produced from 1996 to 2003. In 2014 he bought a new Renault Fluence, a family sedan.

“I find the Renault Fluence refreshing, since the nickel cadmium batteries in the older cars need to be emptied and charged fully,” he says, meaning that he doesn’t end up stranded with a dead battery.

Educational value

Becker isn’t afraid to admit he’s walked home because of an empty battery. “The dead battery happened because I respected the nickel cadmium’s charging procedure. It died two kilometers from the house.”

Becker loves EVs for what they teach him about efficient driving. “When you drive an EV you really see whether your driving is economical. When you slow down you earn kilometers.”

To prove this point, Becker attempted to drive the 140-kilometer trip from Perpignan to Narbonne and back on one single charge in a Renault Kangoo. The Kangoo’s range is approximately 110 kilometers. “On the way back, 15 kilometers before the end of my journey the alarm said ‘battery low.’ I slowed down, drove 60 kilometers per hour on the motorway, and I did it! EVs are a great education.”

Perhaps too much of an education isn’t a good thing, and Becker says it’s rare for him to be stranded with an empty battery. At home he charges on a regular electrical socket. He isn’t in a terrible hurry, and all his cars can slow charge.

No preaching

Despite being an EV believer, Becker never proselytizes. “I don’t preach to public officials about my cars. But because I own a car, I present things differently.”

“The theme of sustainable development is one everyone agrees with,” he says. “And one element of this is electric mobility. If you talk about this, then you must talk about electric vehicles.”

When Becker goes to meetings he of course always takes his EV. “I don’t hide it. I park it right in front of the town hall.”

A natural spread

Becker’s enthusiasm and personal example are contagious, but it will still take time to make EVs popular in the department.

In Department 66 there are currently 110 EVs and 12 charging points, most of which are not available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Some aren’t in publicly accessible places,” says Becker. “Some only fit Nissans.”

This is why Becker chose an Ensto pole to put in front of the ERDF Perpignan office. “This is the one and only pole in Perpignan available to the public every single day around the clock,” he says. “Anyone can use it.”

“It’s my little baby. I chose this place because I wanted it available all the time.” It’s so much his little baby that every time he sees a vehicle use it he takes a photograph.

Why Ensto?

Becker says the charging point at the ERDF office shows the world that “this is not a project of the future.” Since big companies tend to do things on a big scale, Becker decided not to wait. “I couldn’t wait for something big, so I went with a local solution.”

“It’s a real partnership with Ensto. It’s produced in France in a local factory. Néfiach is the capital of electrical development.”

Since the pole was installed in autumn of 2013 Becker says it’s been used intensively at least every second day. “This is proof of reliable equipment.”

Inducing the chain reaction

But one charging pole, no matter how great, is not going to serve all of Perpignan, much less the whole department.

“We have people who want EVs. The cars are available. What we need are more charging points, because people fear an empty battery,” says Becker, who truly speaks from experience.

But as every journey begins with a single step, every charging network begins with a single post. It’s slow going, but it’s happening, says Becker. “The mayor of Perpignan visited in 2013 when the Ensto pole was installed in front of the ERDF office. He was not convinced yet. But in 2015 he changed his opinion. ‘We have to go there,’ he said, and he signed a partnership agreement. When decision makers see it works, they’re not against it. You just need to show them.”

“When Perpignan does it others will follow,” says Becker. “Other big cities, too. You need a chain reaction.”


Author: Scott Diel