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Networks avoid grid woes with battery-boosted chargers
The latest news from the world of EVs
Good morning, I’m Tom Riley and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
The top story in today’s edition… an increasing number of charging networks are turning to ‘battery-integrated chargers’ to avoid the expense, delay (and pain) that comes with UK grid connections. But it’s not a perfect solution.
Elsewhere… used EVs are selling faster than other fuel types, and why is there no standard charging port location?
As ever, if you have any thoughts or ideas, please do get in touch. My contact details are here or simply reply to this email.
Networks are avoiding the grid with battery-boosted chargers
Background: On Wednesday morning at 9.30, the Department for Transport will publish the latest official EV charger statistics for the UK. These figures will likely reveal we’re nearly at 50,000 across the country, but also that the number of rapid chargers is now over 9,000 (cue Dragon Ball Z). This year particularly, the population of super-fast 100kW+ chargers has been hugely increasing, with 68% growth year-on-year according to Zapmap.
But… throughout this high growth, all charging networks have complained that, in the UK, we’re pretty rubbish at establishing new high-power grid connections – with many taking months and a lot of money for networks trying to establish them. So how are these networks keeping up the pace?
Well… Based on exchanges with half a dozen people in the charge point industry, I’ve discovered that, rather than wait around for the grid connections, many networks are increasingly utilising what’s called ‘battery-integrated chargers’ so they can deploy devices at sites faster. Crucially, without paying huge fees for upgrades – which can be in the tens of millions.
What is a ‘battery-integrated charger’? Quite simply, they are public charge points that have large batteries built into them. This means, if the location of a rapid charger only has a small amount of input power available (e.g. 20-40kW), the battery can top up the power the charger gives out (e.g. over 100kW). When the charger is not in use, the battery recharges. The batteries within these chargers are typically very large – some up to 200kWh, or the equivalent of three larger EVs. In the industry, these devices are also referred to as ‘battery-buffered’ chargers.
Who is using them? Many networks in the UK are now using these chargers, or have told me of other plans to use battery power alongside their sites to avoid the grid issues. The biggest name in this racket is probably Volkswagen, which developed a unit called ‘Flexpole’, which is currently being deployed in partnership with BP Pulse as they rapidly grow out their UK hubs. Volkswagen itself has suggested that across the UK, Germany, and other European countries before 2025, there could be 8,000 such devices in operation.
Elsewhere… I have been told that other major networks are enthusiastic about the potential of batteries at hubs, and may consider using integrations. One network embracing batteries is Gridserve, which is already supporting Ferrybridge and Cornwall Services with an array of tech, including separate battery storage at their sites. One other major network told me batteries were useful where power connections are hard to come by or prohibitively expensive.
Why are they using them? Well, as above, there are great benefits from this approach, which is resulting in quicker deployment of rapid devices – equalling a big thumbs up for EV drivers. However, not everyone believes they are a sustainable solution.
What are the challenges? From my conversations, three themes of criticism keep coming up about battery-integrated chargers.
High cost: While it’s no doubt a much cheaper solution to paying for big grid connections, comments from several senior figures in the sector suggest they are ‘cost-ineffective’. One said they are a “very expensive solution.”
Short-term: Nobody I spoke to believes these chargers are the end game, one acknowledged they “are not going to be the future” and another said they were purely “temporary measures” while they await grid connections.
Consumer experience: Perhaps the most important point, especially in light of the Charge Point Regulations that became law last week, is that battery-integrated chargers are not 100% reliable. If these chargers are used back-to-back – which is entirely possible at rapid hubs nowadays – the battery may not have time to recharge itself, meaning drivers could get stuck with less power. One manufacturer commented about busy locations, “the batteries are great in the morning, but then in the afternoon and the evening, they run out of power and you're going to get a slow charge.”
Ultimately… what all this underlines is a desperate need for the UK to get itself into gear on grid connections. As of yet, the £950 million Rapid Charging Fund, which is due to help with these challenges, remains unused – to the frustration of leaders in the sector. Only yesterday, the CEO of Moto, Ken McMeikan, told The Guardian: “That £1bn fund could have accelerated and guaranteed that the power was where it was going to be needed.”
Other solutions… include using bigger battery storage at charging hubs, and perhaps with adjourning renewable energy projects. This would reduce the need to rely on a central grid line. One network told me, that as prices for batteries were coming down, this option may become more attractive in the future. Moto, as an example, has recently submitted plans to build a solar farm adjacent to Wetherby Services.
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Top EV stories last week…
🚗 According to Auto Trader, used EVs were the fastest-selling fuel type in September and October. The reason is the improving affordability and availability of EV models. Read more.
💥 Following the viral story that an MG EV kidnapped its driver, The Guardian has since published a story of other strange claims related to EVs. *Eyeroll*. See here.
🪑 Giles Andrews, who is chair of Carwow and helped launch Zopa as a peer-to-peer lender in 2004, is to become chairman of Octopus EV. Read more.
📣 The APPG on Electric Vehicles has backed the #StopBurningStuff initiative set up by FairCharge and the Fully Charged Show. See here.
🙋 Why is there no standardised location for EV charging ports? That was a question asked in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, and I think it’s entirely fair. According to a Gridserve survey earlier this year, 37% of EVs have their ports on the right-hand side, while 27% have them on the nearside rear. 22% have them on the nearside front, while 11% have ports at the front end of the car, within or behind the grille. See here (paywall).
🚢 In the latest chapter of the UK-EU tariff saga, the 13 leaders of Europe’s largest carmakers – including Renault, Volvo, and Ferrari – have signed a letter to Ursula von der Leyen asking for a delay to “rules of origin” that are scheduled to come into force on 1 January. Read more.
💸 Elsewhere, Nissan’s CEO has said that the fast-moving EV market, particularly the speed of low-cost Chinese cars hitting the showrooms, is making them rethink their strategy on affordability. Read more.
🤺 Speaking of carmakers under pressure, Mercedes-Benz has also bemoaned this past week about the “brutal space” the market is in – as manufacturers try to secure sales in the face of stubborn costs. Read more.
🎟️ It’s presently the EV Summit in Oxford, which I know many readers are attending. I am sadly not there, but my friend Ben Kilbey, Founder of comms advisory firm Bald Voodoo, has provided me a comment about the first day’s themes. “The overriding theme for me was that misinformation is still a huge challenge for the market. However, we can always search for dark forces but should also accept that pockets of society do have genuine fears and concerns. We need to work together to collectively ‘educate and not humiliate’. We’re all on this journey together.”
⚡ Yes, I know it’s not a pure-blood electric. Yes, I know it’s a Toyota, a carmaker that is no friend of EVs. Yes, I know these cars are only used as taxis. But… the new Prius looks ruddy good. Like the attractive cousin to the Curpa Born. See here.
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