Ask any number of EV drivers in the UK about the barriers to going electric, and the first thing they will say is lack of infrastructure.
More is always better, but there are now 26,000 charge points offering 44,685 connectors in the UK, according to Zap-Map (correct at October 01, 2021) and that number is increasing all the time.
And SSE Energy Solutions, a utility company, is working with fleets and communities to hasten the roll out of additional charging points.
It plans what it calls a spine of community hub EV charging points across the UK, the first of which is promised in west London ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this November.
SSE Energy Solutions intends to invest in the infrastructure directly, in doing so creating hundreds of charging sites including in urban areas, where commercial fleets and high mileage consumers can quickly and reliably recharge.
The approach to its community hubs came from the company’s involvement in the Mayor of London’s taskforce, launched in 2018, dedicated to boosting the infrastructure needed to uptick electric vehicles across the capital.
Kevin Welstead, sector director EV, explains: “We considered our involvement in the London taskforce and how it would impact the rest of the UK. What was shouting out loud to me from our involvement was the need for EV charging hubs.
“We looked at our own fleet - it's a large utility fleet with many drivers who take a vehicle home - but many of these guys are living in a flat. So how are they going to charge their vehicle? So we needed to support them.
“In response we went out looking for land on which we could build dedicated ultrarapid charging hubs that could be used by anybody in the community, not just fleet drivers. These hubs would need to be able to provide a charge on the way to work, on the way back from work, and be there to underpin the transformation to electrification.”
According to Kevin, the hubs will feature a cluster of between 10 to 20 bays of ultra-rapid chargers, designed to support fleet decarbonisation but also for residents without off-street parking. Reliability is a key consideration, along with speed of re-charge, so there will be 24/7 customer service, CCTV monitoring, toilet facilities and a coffee van, while the energy provided will be renewable.
Kevin also sees these hubs tackling the grey fleet - private cars used for business purposes - that on average emit 19% more CO2 than company cars. “Often these people will not have off-street parking, so these hubs will represent a key solution for them to go electric.”
Supplying advice for fleet decarbonization
SSE Energy Solutions has not only been planning the infrastructure, but it’s been helping fleets decarbonise through advice. Kevin says the first thing to understand are the drive patterns on a daily and weekly basis, then to understand the vehicle type and then to work on the optimum charging solution - depot, office or home.
“The transition to EV comes with a number of challenges and areas of anxiety for the fleet operator,” continues Kevin. “Naturally, the fleet manager wants the transition to be seamless without a huge amount of change. But it doesn’t quite work like that. As you transition you need to take into consideration battery range and how you drive. Not having charging facilities has been one of the concerns around which we have been building our strategy.”
To sign off our conversation, Kevin has piece of advice for fleets looking to transition. He says the key message is to engage early with an operator like SSE Energy Solutions.
“Let us take the strain,” he says. “We can figure out what you need and how we can help with chargers because at the depot, at the point of connection, is a bit of a black art.
“The lead times for EVs are quite long so there is plenty of time to engage early. You don’t always need a massive capital investment at your location to transition - you can easily transition with charge points outside the office or depot. It’s just understanding where the type of charging you require is located: and from there we can work out what else is required for successful EV fleet transition.”