Ironing out the challenges of public EV charging


Geoff Murphy speaks about the Charge Project, an initiative to accelerate the roll-out of public electric vehicle charging infrastructure within the Merseyside, Cheshire, North Shropshire and North & Mid Wales area.

What's your name, job title, responsibilities?

My name is Geoff Murphy, and I’m the Project Lead for the Charge Project, an initiative led by SP Energy Networks to accelerate the roll-out of public electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure within the Merseyside, Cheshire, North Shropshire and North & Mid Wales area.

It’s my responsibility to ensure the successful delivery of the project, so my role involves ensuring that the project team and our partners have the necessary support, engagement, input and feedback to progress their elements of the project successfully.

Could you tell me a little about your background in the sector?

I’ve been working on network innovation projects for several years now, so I jumped at the opportunity to lead this project – as an electric vehicle driver myself, I’m really passionate about making the UK as EV-friendly as possible.

Could you provide a brief summary of your company’s/organisation’s offering to the market?

Focusing on Cheshire, Merseyside, North Shropshire, and North and Mid-Wales, the Charge Project is being driven by SP Energy Networks in partnership with EA Technology, PTV Group and Smarter Grid Solutions.

With the Government recently announcing that the sale of new petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles will now be banned from 2030, there’s going to be a dramatic upswing in the number of EVs on our roads in the next few years. How do we encourage local councils, property developers and businesses to install enough public chargepoints to make powering EVs as easy and convenient as possible, especially for those drivers without private garages or driveways? And just as importantly, how do we ensure that the electricity network is able to safely and effectively deal with this new surge in demand? These are the issues that the Charge Project is addressing and developing solutions for.

There are two solutions in particular that the Charge Project is pioneering. One is ‘smart charging connections’, a way to intelligently monitor and control the power consumption of chargepoints. The other is ‘ConnectMore’, a free-to-access online tool designed to help businesses and local authorities identify suitable sites for new chargepoints and estimate the cost of connecting them to the network.

The Charge Project is complementary to other EV industry projects that SP Energy Networks is driving as part of its commitment to help the UK achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These include the EV-Up project, which uses sociodemographic and housing-stock information to understand the probability of EV adoption, and Project PACE, which is piloting a distribution network operator (DNO)-led delivery model for universally accessible EV charging infrastructure.

Do you have a project or case study you have been/are working on and can you provide some details of it?

The current focus of the Charge Project is a major EV charging trial, in which we’re going to test the performance of smart charging connections in various real-world scenarios.

We’re interested in hearing from any business or developer in the Charge Project region currently planning the installation of chargepoints. We’d like to offer them the opportunity to experience the benefits of using a smart charging connection. These include the ability to install more chargepoints than would normally be possible without making expensive network reinforcements. A smart charging connection can also make chargepoints more attractive to consumers by offering faster or cheaper charging at certain times of day – for example, outside periods of peak demand.

The trial is open to new participants until March 2021. Anybody interested in joining it can sign up here.

Which, in the main, are the companies you engage with, and in what way?

Our partners in the Charge Project are EA Technology, PTV Group and Smarter Grid Solutions. EA Technology is focused on the delivery of the ConnectMore tool, PTV Group is providing the transport planning software that will underpin ConnectMore, and Smarter Grid Solutions is responsible for the smart charging connections trial.

There are a broad range of stakeholders who are vital to the success of the Charge Project. These include all the relevant local authorities, councils, community groups, businesses and developers, transport and energy bodies, and EV technology providers. Ultimately, this project is about involving all of these parties in accelerating the roll-out of a comprehensive public charging infrastructure. It aims to provide information and solutions that will enable them to invest in and deploy public chargepoints faster than they would otherwise.

Reflections on 2019/2020?

The Covid-19 crisis has really focused minds on the type of society we want to live in, including the built environment and transport network. The lockdown period in spring led to a very noticeable improvement in air quality in our cities, and was a preview of just one of the benefits that the mass electrification of transport could bring. The Charge Project is happening at a pivotal time in the UK, because a greatly expanded EV charging infrastructure should be a key priority for any ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic.

What do you see as the key trends in the sector?

The growing adoption of electric vehicles presents numerous development opportunities for technology and services. Especially relevant to the Charge Project is the role that electric vehicles can play in balancing the network via increased flexibility, whether through the adoption of flexible charging tariffs, smart charging connections, or integration with distributed generation and storage. We’re already seeing signs of this with collaborations between major vehicle manufacturers and energy suppliers to offer value-added products to their customers. The key enabler for this will be standardisation and interoperability of systems.
What are your goals/targets/direction ahead in 2021?

Next year, we should be finalising the site selection for our smart charging connections trial and commencing design work on the solutions to be tested with Smarter Grid Solutions and our partners.

We will also be announcing key elements of the ConnectMore tool ahead of its full availability in December 2022.

What are the main challenges facing the sector generally, and for you specifically?

There are two major challenges to the mass adoption of EVs by UK vehicle owners.

Firstly, it is vital that the UK has a comprehensive charging network rolled out over the next few years if EV uptake is to happen in line with government targets – people simply won’t invest in electric vehicles if it’s less convenient to run them than petrol or diesel cars. As a distribution network operator, we need to ensure our network is ready to accommodate these chargepoints and play our part in making the network more accessible to customers.

Secondly, customers need to have sufficient market access to electric vehicles. While the UK’s transition to EVs is underway, the volumes are still relatively low compared to traditionally fuelled vehicles and hybrids. There is a clear risk that market access could constrain the UK’s uptake, especially with Brexit and Covid-19 thrown into the mix.  

For the Charge Project specifically, a major challenge for us is generating acceptance and understanding of the role and benefits of smart charging connections and the implications they have for chargepoints. We believe smart charging connections will provide customers with optimal access to our network, while safeguarding supply and infrastructure.

Summary of your message to market?

The total electrification of transport is no longer just a pipe dream – there is now a clear path towards it over the next two decades. However, we have to work now to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible, and we believe that the Charge Project is a vital part of that effort.