Expert Panel: Charging Infrastructure
Vehicle electrification will no doubt be in the minds of fleet operators, as the 2030 end-date for new petrol and diesel vehicles comes closer. With around 80 electric models available, attention has now turned to how these vehicles will be charged. We ask our expert panelists Alun Davies, Daniel Eyers, and Gill Nowell to discuss all things charging infrastructure – from workplace, home and public charging, to ensure any charging strategy is successful
The 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles has focused the attention of vehicle manufacturers, and there are now around 80 electric models available across every vehicle segment. Companies considering their fleet strategies will no doubt be preparing for the change – and many will already be making progress in switching their vehicles to zero-emission alternatives.
But such a substantial change to established practices take careful consideration, and there are a number of things to think about before embarking on fleet electrification. One of the main areas to consider is how the vehicles will be charged.
“Successful electrification of fleets relies on a thorough assessment of fleet behaviour to ensure that the transition will be smooth and meet minimal resistance,” comments Alun Davies, operations director of ElectrAssure.
“Driver mileage and behaviour must be assessed in order to understand whether the electric vehicles are able to cover the mileage required by the operators usual driving patterns and whether adequate dwell time to charge the vehicle is available either in the working day or between shifts. If the driver mileage is lower than the expected EV range, then the assessment of when and where the vehicle is stationary and for how long will begin to form the basis for the charging provisions required as they will need to be adequately charged within that time frame.
“Charging is always best, where possible, provided at company or driver premises to avoid any delays or issues that can be encountered when using public charging. However, the increase of available and reliable public charging means that in exceptional circumstances, such as longer than average journeys, drivers are able to make it to their destination. Utilising home and public charging as part of the plan for charging fleets isn’t uncommon, however, it is critical that the payment for public charging or the reimbursement of home charging activities is simple and as close to autonomous as possible to prevent resistance from drivers.”
Range, cost and infrastructure
Daniel Eyers, electric vehicle charging specialist for fleets at Drax, breaks down the areas of fleet electrification into three categories – range, cost and infrastructure. He says: “Fleet managers will need to take vehicle range into account if their EVs are travelling hundreds of miles each day. As they’ll be aware, drivers stopping to charge their vehicles can cause operational inefficiencies. Planning charging solutions will be more complicated if the fleet’s EVs have high mileage requirements.”
Fleet managers will need to project the costs of charging based on the options available and the specification of their fleet. Daniel Eyers comments: “Buying charging hardware and installing it on company sites carries a high upfront cost – but it brings down the ongoing cost of charging. Drivers will know where to charge and can avoid high public-charging-facility prices. There may also be the option of recouping some of the initial expense by introducing charging tariffs for visitors.
“It’s also worth noting that government support exists for the upfront cost of purchase and install. And organisations shouldn’t assume they always need the most powerful chargers. Low-power units are often sufficient if charging vehicles overnight – and they’re much cheaper.
“Leasing the hardware is also an option – particularly if the organisation doesn’t own the site or may be looking to move in the future.”
There is also the option of installing home chargers in drivers homes, and of using the public charging infrastructure. Dan Eyers comments: “Installing chargers at drivers’ homes can be complicated, but it can also increase operational efficiencies and minimise ongoing charging costs. As well as reducing the need to charge at expensive public-charging facilities, it’ll enable drivers to charge overnight, when electricity’s at its cheapest.
“Relying on public facilities means paying over the odds for charging EVs – but it avoids the upfront cost of buying (or leasing) and installing a network of chargers. Organisation’s should consider their needs and compare the cost implications of suitable charging solutions.
“To help with this, Drax partners with Mina to offer its Homecharge and Chargepass solutions. Homecharge accurately pays drivers’ domestic energy suppliers each month for the cost of charging their company EV at home. Chargepass provides access to over 11,500 public-facing charge points via drivers’ fuel cards and issues a monthly invoice directly to the organisation.”
Consider the options
A good understanding of drivers and vehicle requirements is needed for an informed transition to electric vehicles, believes Gill Nowell, head of EV communications at LV= General Insurance and ElectriX. She says: “Clear communication with employees who will be driving electric vehicles is key; understanding what kind of mileage they’ll be doing, and where and how they will charge is critical.
“It will be important to consider whether installing chargers in the workplace is an option, or whether drivers will be able to charge at home. And indeed what local and en-route charging facilities are available – we now have over 45,000 public chargers across the UK, so there are plenty of options to choose from!
“If we focus on workplace charging for a moment, there’s a government grant available, run by the OZEV and administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). The grant covers up to 75 per cent of the total costs of the purchase and installation of EV chargepoints (inclusive of VAT), capped at a maximum of £350 per socket, and 40 sockets across all sites per applicant.”
So if workplace charging is decided upon, what are the key steps to consider to ensure success?
Alun Davies from ElectrAssure, says that the first consideration is to assess whether the site has parking spaces for charging. He comments: “To avoid an almighty game of vehicle tetris, suitable parking spaces will make installation and consequent utilisation of the chargers simple and efficient.”
Then there’s power capacity, driver dwell time and future proofing. Alun Davies explains: “Charging requires power. Simply put, without adequate available electrical capacity, efficient charging at the speeds required will not be possible.
“Regarding driver dwell time, assessing the amount of time drivers are stationary from a vehicle perspective at a given site or premises will guide the provision of charging provided due to the timeframe within which they require to be charged in order to avoid delays.
“Finally, while assessing current or short-term fleet charging requirements is critical, assessing future requirements is just as important. Installations can be expensive and by carrying out the enabling works (installation of supply & civils works) for future requirements at the initial installation stage, expensive upgrade works can be avoided.”
Define the steps involved
Daniel Eyers from Drax says that it’s crucial organisations list and review the steps involved with installing fleet charging infrastructure. “Doing so will help them establish whether they feel confident managing the process themselves – or if a contracting an electrification partner to provide expert end-to-end support would be preferable,” explains Daniel.
To start off, an organisation needs to do an EV suitability assessment. Daniel Eyers explains: “An assessment of an organisation’s existing fleet and its operational requirements is a vital initial step before committing to purchase or install hardware. Understanding existing vehicle operational requirements via telematics or manual tracking will enable organisations to, for example, define average and maximum daily mileage requirements, by vehicle, to help them understand whether EVs will be able to carry out daily business requirements on a single charge. If they can’t, the organisation will know it has to make additional charging provisions or operational sacrifices.
“Fleet managers should appreciate geographical travel spread, by vehicle. Knowing where a vehicle needs to drive each day will offer insights into suitable charging locations.
“They should also identify popular EV ‘dwell’ locations – where vehicles aren’t in use for long periods, to establish where they could be charging without affecting operations. Examples might include depots, offices or drivers’ homes. Long dwell times – particularly if overnight – can offer operational efficiencies and savings through access to off-peak electricity prices.”
Once organisations have established optimum charging facility locations, a detailed site survey will be needed. Daniel Eyers explains: “A site survey will show a sites’ electrical capacities, the likelihood of needing to extend electrical capacity via Distribution Network Operator, and hardware electrical connection practicalities. Results of the electrical site survey will also lay the foundation for planning installation logistics.”
Following this, scheduling and preparing for the installation of charging hardware is required. Daniel Eyers expands: “Installation planning will allow organisations to plan timing to minimise disruption on site and to business as usual, and to coordinate hardware deliveries to avoid delays/conflicts with labour.
“It’s wise to ensure necessary specialists are available to manage installation; carry out groundworks; make electrical connections, test/commission, and to educate drivers and site management. Organisations must also ensure there’s a clear point of contact for all implementation works.”
“Other considerations include approvals – whether the organisation will need sign-off from the landlord or senior management – and the possibility of powering the hardware through renewable energy generation assets,” Daniel adds.
EV salary sacrifice
Regarding the electric vehicles themselves, there are various options that organisations can take to access them in a flexible and cost-effective way. Electric vehicle salary sacrifice schemes, for example, can help companies support their employees to go electric.
Gill Nowell from ElectriX, explains: “General salary sacrifice schemes are now adopted by over 60 per cent of UK businesses with perks ranging from childcare to gym memberships. Salary sacrifice is basically where employees voluntarily give up a portion of their salary in return for a benefit. It’s no surprise then, that EV salary sacrifice works in exactly the same way, offering an affordable way to switch to electric with savings of up to 40 per cent plus associated low running costs, environmental benefits through helping to improve local air quality, and further cost savings through exemption from London’s ULEZ and clean air zone charges.
“Electric vehicle salary sacrifice schemes are also proven to help attract and retain talent; sustainability is a big part of our lives and the choices that we make. A recent survey showed that 83 per cent of employees would have greater loyalty to an organisation that helps them contribute to their sustainability goals, and indeed the Companies Act 2006 requires large and medium-sized companies to report on the business’s environmental impact on an annual basis. By implementing an electric vehicle salary sacrifice scheme, a business can align itself with environmental goals, demonstrate corporate social responsibility and enhance its reputation among employees, customers, stakeholders and the wider community. Encouraging employees to opt for electric vehicles means your business is actively contributing to reducing carbon emissions, cutting noise pollution and combatting climate change. So it’s a win-win!
“ElectriX offers EV salary sacrifice – we provide an all-inclusive package of electric car, home charger and insurance. Through lease specialists CBVC we offer over 100 electric car models from more than 30 manufacturers – many available within just 30 days. Through our partner Indra we provide smart home chargers to energise every journey, and we provide bespoke insurance through Flow, our digital sister company. With our best in market tailored approach to risk, we can also safeguard your business with the most flexible range of protection options should employees leave.”
Smart charging regulations came into force in June 2022 and state that charge points must have smart functionality, allowing the charging of an electric vehicle when there is less demand on the grid, or when more renewable electricity is available. So why is it important?
Alun Davies from ElectrAssure explains: “Smart functionality is something we are all accustomed to in our day to day lives; smart phones, smart technology etc. Smart functionality in chargers is no different. It allows the phone to connect to a cloud based management system to both report its behaviour and also receive commands.
“As part of the Smart Charging Legislation, chargers must be able to delay commencing charging, be able to have their charging rate increased or decreased via the management system and to be able to be accessed by an app or web portal. These mandatory requirements are designed to ensure that chargers are user friendly, reportable and are able to respond to grid or local power constraints. It is also designed to allow users to limit charging within certain time windows to make use of off-peak electrical tariffs at a cheaper rate.”
Daniel Eyers from Drax adds: “Put simply, charge stations are either ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’. Dumb chargers are only capable of providing electrical charge to an EV – they’re little more than a glorified plug socket.
“Smart chargers offer more functionality to organisations and drivers. This can include cheaper tariffs, restricting access, data insights and the ability to remotely start or stop charging sessions, for example.
“Additionally, smart chargers help optimise efficiencies via load balancing. Organisations can, for example, decide whether they’d prefer to charge one EV at full power or three different vehicles each at one-third power. Smart chargers can also help to protect vehicles’ batteries by charging them at a rate which doesn’t cause damage.
“As well as helping organisations maximise the effectiveness of their investment, smart chargers can help the National Grid cope with peaks in energy demand.”
Protecting the customer and the grid
Gill Nowell from ElectriX, believes that smart charging is a good and necessary feature, and was involved in some smart charging trials in the early days.
Gill says: “A smart charger is essentially one which can be remotely managed, if necessary, to manage any potential impact on the local electricity network. The requirement for EV chargers to be smart is basically there to protect you and I as electricity customers – to help prevent the lights going out – with the added benefit of low-cost charging thanks to EV-friendly off-peak energy tariffs.”
“The Distribution Network Operators have been working ahead of need to manage EV uptake on their energy networks since 2012 – and smart charging has come about largely as a result of all that work and learning.”
Speaking about her experience in charging trials, Gill Nowell comments: “I was involved in a number of real-world trials involving hundreds of early EV drivers to understand the impact of clusters of EVs charging on the Low Voltage network (e.g. My Electric Avenue 2012 – 2015, Electric Nation, 2016 – 2018). We learnt so much about driving and charging behaviour, and whether EV drivers would accept having their charging managed - in order to protect the network and avoid costly reinforcement that would potentially mean bills going up.
“By having a smart charger installed at home – I have an Indra Smart Home PRO – I can schedule my charging using an app, so that my car only charges during off-peak hours when electricity is cheapest and greenest. Thanks to smart charging, it costs me less than £5 to fully charge my Kia e-Niro, so that’s 280 miles for under a fiver.”
Gill Nowell shares further details of smart charging: “Every new charger from July 2022 must be set to default off-peak charging hours, although the user or owner can still override this feature if needed despite the off-peak setting. Also, smart charge points must have a randomised delayed charging ability of about 10 minutes – which means that charging may be delayed either at the start or end of the charging session. This feature helps to protect the Low Voltage network from any surges in demand. And again, it can be overridden if needs be.
“So in summary, smart charging is there to protect the local electricity network, to avoid costly network reinforcement – or at least enable a planned and managed approach to network upgrades, and it means that us EV drivers can benefit from really low off-peak energy tariffs, making charging at home really cheap and convenient. Smart charging is a good thing.”
The government is aiming for 300,000 public chargers to be available by 2030. And alongside an increase in the amount of charging provision, new draft charge point regulations have come out which, when they come into force, will help iron out the issues felt by users, such as differing payment requirements.
So is the government’s goal realistic?
Alun Davies from ElectrAssure gives his views: “300,000 public chargers is a lot. At the time of writing, approximately 60,000 are currently installed and while this number is growing all the time due to more EVs on the road and therefore greater utilisation, there will need to be a huge increase in new charging installations to achieve this number.
“However, with EVs making up 16 per cent of new vehicle purchases last year, the need for these chargers is clear and as such, the business case to provide more public charging is becoming stronger and the return on investment is higher.
“But hurdles exist for public charging providers to carry out these installations. Planning permission, financial constraints, new DNO connections and availability of chargers being produced from the manufacturers mean that the amount of charging infrastructure required within the relatively short time frame simply may not be possible. However, the provision of more reliable public chargers for the UK’s EV drivers is more important than ever but the target set may just be a little too ambitious.”
Daniel Eyers adds: “Progress to date would suggest otherwise, but the 300,000 target’s still possible by 2030. Both the government and organisations need to commit in order to achieve it.
“Certain organisations, including destinations such as supermarkets and shopping centres, can contribute to the total number of public chargers themselves – and benefit financially. Additionally, the number of public charge points may not need to be as high if organisations and the public invest in their own facilities. This will ease the strain on the public charging infrastructure.”
But with many organisations choosing to ‘watch and learn’ from the experiences of others, this could lead to slow adoption.
“Other barriers include upfront cost, strict planning regulations, a locations’ electrical capacity limitations, and the impact of increased energy demand on the National Grid,” adds Daniel.
Getting the infrastructure right
Gill Nowell comments that while the number of chargepoints is important, they also need to be the right speed, in the right locations, functional, accessible and easy to use. Gill says: “The good news is that government is implementing a series of improvements to public charging under the Public Charge Point Regulations 2023, covering reliability – on average a 99 per cent rate of reliability must be maintained (although only applies to chargers above 50kW), enforcing a 24/7 helpline, and pricing must be transparent – so you know what you’ve paid! Contactless payment must also be available – on new chargers above 8kW and existing rapid chargers above 50kW. It also supports open data and promotes interoperability and payment roaming services.”
Industry is making significant progress, and a new trade association has been set with a commitment to increase chargepoints, and to lobby government for change that the industry needs to accelerate progress. Gill explains: “A new trade body called ChargeUK has recently launched, whose members comprise of the vast majority of UK CPOs, headed up by Osprey’s Ian Johnston. They are committed to doubling the number of public chargers in a very short space of time, notwithstanding issues around cost and complexity of grid connections.
“And therein lies the key issue in charging infrastructure roll-out – the cost, time and complexity of grid connections. But I believe this is high up on the list of concerns that ChargeUK are lobbying on.”
Pointing out the other charging options and solutions out there, the public charging infrastructure may not be used as much as people think. Gill says: “There is understandably a lot of focus on public charging infrastructure – however most EV drivers today do most of their charging at home. There are over 400k home and workplace chargers, and for those people who can’t charge at home, an increasing number of on-street or lamppost chargers, and other solutions such as charging cable gullies through the pavement – those solutions have the added benefit of being far cheaper than using public chargers, given that the rate of VAT on domestic electricity is only five per cent, whereas it’s 20 per cent on public charging.
“Overall the EV charging infrastructure is making great progress. And once you’re driving electric, it’s hard, if not impossible, to go back to anything else,” Gill adds.
Alun Davies, operations director, ElectrAssure
Alun Davies is the operations director of ElectrAssure Ltd and was proud to receive the EV Champion award at the Greenfleet Awards 2019. With 10 years’ experience in EV charging, Alun is responsible of the day to day running of ElectrAssure and is the first point of contact for customers, suppliers and staff while continuing to lead the electrical teams from a technical standpoint. Alun is a City & Guilds qualified electrotechnical engineer with 18th edition wiring regulations and EV charger installation qualifications and several expert installer certificates.
Daniel Eyers, electric vehicle charging Specialist – fleet, Drax
Dan has a decade of experience in a number of different areas within the EV sector. Prior to joining Drax, he worked in sales for a charging solutions company focussing on smart technologies. Prior to that, he spent time working in sales and business development for a provider of EV charge points. Dan’s role at Drax is to work with customers on end-to-end electric vehicle business charging solutions that enable financial and sustainability benefits to their business.
Gill Nowell, head of EV communications at LV= General Insurance / ElectriX
Gill has over 20 years’ experience across sustainable energy, utility, and environmental technologies sectors, including eight years working on electric vehicle-grid integration projects (My Electric Avenue, Smart EV, Electric Nation). Gill initiated the establishment of the EV Network Group, that transformed into the Government-supported EV Energy Taskforce, and co-founded EVA England in 2020. She is now Head of EV Communications at LV= General Insurance, working on its new EV proposition ElectriX.