Over the last three years, Zero Carbon Futures has project managed the installation of almost 300 rapid charge points up and down the UK. Here’s five of the key things that we’ve learnt from the experience.
1. The power problem
Finding sites with the necessary power required is, without doubt, one of the biggest challenges anyone will face when developing EV rapid charge point networks. It’s also incredibly difficult to predict which sites will have adequate power and which sites will require power upgrades. Some of the most well-developed service stations, with lots of facilities, hotels on site, and even with their own switch room, required additional power.
When we needed to bring in more power to the site, we also had the pleasure of being introduced to the complexities of way leaves – where we required access to somebody else’s land to access the power source. Way leaves are often very difficult to secure especially given there is no real incentive for land owners to participate and this held up a number of site installations.
2. Is there a need for complete coverage?
The route we installed as part of the Rapid Charge Network project was defined by the European Union’s TEN-T programme and along their route there were certain locations where we knew the rapid charge points would see very low demand. For us it begged the question of whether we should be installing equipment in certain areas, where the technology could be dated before they had received much use. However, it came down to inclusivity – there will always be areas of the UK with low populations but if we’re going to seed the market for vehicles, we have to give everyone the opportunity to make the journeys they need to be connected to the rest of the UK.
3. People are grazing
One of the most interesting things for me was when we looked at the average transaction times. We discovered that people are actually drawing such a small amount of charge on rapid charge points – the average transaction was 8.9kWh. So currently people are not using the full service on offer. This seems to suggest that people are still convenience charging just because the ability to do so is there. It will be very interesting to see how things will change now with both the increase in battery capacity but also with the introduction of fees.
4. How do you future proof?
Things are changing so fast in this industry that it is a difficult balance to meet the needs of the current technology vehicles whilst looking ahead and knowing that things will change dramatically again soon. Of course with higher density batteries comes the main constraint of power again.
5. Reliability is key. But sometimes the unexpected can happen
We know that reliability is the key thing that can make or break driver confidence and unfortunately we have suffered from some charge point reliability issues. There’s been a number of reasons for a charge point being off-line but the most unexpected issue that we’ve had to date has to be finding that a snake had made a home for itself inside the charge point. Something that no risk assessment would ever have included!
Exhibit 1: Snake in the charge point
Zero Carbon Futures project managed the European Union’s TEN-T project, the Rapid Charge Network. The project, which was completed in December 2015, produced a user-friendly guide on the lessons learnt from installing a network of its kind. The guide can be downloaded from the project’s website.