A word in your Shell-like – the electric vehicle charger forecourt debate

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is currently going through the Parliamentary process which, if ratified, includes powers to ensure electric vehicle (EV) charging provision in “large fuel retailers” and “service area operators”.

Whilst the Bill is intended for motorway service stations and similar, this blog explores some of the issues, more generally, of installing EV charging points at fuel retailers, perhaps at your local garage or supermarket. A third of us don’t have off-street parking so public charging will be an important enabler to shift to electric.

Site issues
As you might expect, installing a charger in the hazardous environment of a fuel retailer is not straight forward. It will never be a case of parking up under the canopy and having a choice of petrol, diesel, LPG or electrons. EV chargers need to be installed a safe distance away from the pumps.
An existing site may have enough land to install a charger or two on the fringes. But to provide multiple charge points requires a fair amount of extra land. Not practical in many cases.

Charge rates
An obvious point, but few will want to sit at a forecourt for long whilst they wait for their car to charge. So, charge rates have to be high, very high. Various manufacturers are developing ultra-rapid chargers, currently up to 350kW. At this rate, five minutes of charging would give you roughly 70 miles of range. Few cars can take this charge rate at present but no doubt that will change.

Network capacity
Many household energy customers may not be aware of electricity service capacity. At domestic levels our capacity is adequate for the appliances we use and a bit of EV “slow” charging, so we don’t need to think about it. But if you did install a rapid charger however, without upgrading the service capacity of your home, you would quickly need to call your friendly Distribution Network Operator (DNO) engineer (not your energy supplier) to restore your supply.

Small business connections are no different. A petrol station may look like a chunky bit of infrastructure, but electrically, they’re small; they don’t have oodles of spare capacity for rapid EV charging. And if they do, they might only be able to squeeze in a single charger. This is hardly enabling the electric revolution.

So, the answer is to just get more beans from the DNO. But that comes at a cost. Sometimes, this cost is modest, perhaps a few £k, sometimes it’s huge, potentially £millions. Upgrade costs are highly site-dependent, but often cost far more than the chargers themselves.

I can’t help but wonder if a more cost-effective answer is to firstly work out where capacity is, and then plan where to put chargers, rather than shoehorn them in at existing sites. This would require upfront knowledge of electricity network capacity, which is not currently available. DNOs could, however, make efforts to provide this information.

EVs are like an arranged marriage between the transport and energy sectors. They didn’t really know each other beforehand and now need to find ways of best getting along. You wouldn’t build a petrol station where there are no roads, so why install chargers where there isn’t enough electricity?

What do you think is the answer?

Hopefully this blog stimulates some thinking and debate. Feel free to get in touch.

Daniel Hollingworth, Head of EV Readiness, EA Technology

Twitter: @eatldh