Electric vehicles (EV) are a fantastic opportunity for businesses to cut their emissions and clean up their fleets and major companies from across the world have publicly committed to switching to EVs. The EV100 campaign, which many Energy UK members are a part of, brings together some of the most ambitious among them.
At the moment however, buying an EV and installing EV chargepoints isn’t always as straightforward as buying a new petrol or diesel vehicle. The increase in power demand from EV charging can’t always be accommodated on the grid straight away, meaning that often costly and lengthy network upgrade works are required.
To help with the process and present some options to make things quicker and cheaper, Energy UK has launched a new guide for businesses looking to install EV chargepoints on their premises: ‘Connecting your Fleet: a guide for businesses in Greater London’. The guide was produced in collaboration with UK Power Networks – the company that owns and maintains the power cables and wires covering the majority of Greater London – and it focuses particularly on how companies can ensure they have enough power on their site for EV charging, which can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when installing EV chargepoints.
EV charging: you (don’t) have the power
There are already lots of fantastic resources on EV charging, for instance from the Energy Saving Trust, BEAMA and the REA, but getting the power you need to your site in particular can be a confusing and daunting task, especially if it’s your first foray in the energy world.
Normally when installing a new source of electricity demand on your site (e.g. new machinery, EV chargepoints, a new building, etc) you will have to upgrade your grid connection – this is the connection point between the premises and the electricity system and it determines the maximum amount of power that can be used – but this can be expensive and lengthy.
There are alternatives to upgrading the grid connection which have been explored in the guide. As part of this, we’ve broken the process down into five broad steps below.
Regardless of which option you choose however, we recommend engaging with your distribution network operator as early on in the process as possible. This is the company that owns and maintains the electricity cables and lines in your area. Your distribution network operator will be able to advise you of the specifics of your site and support you in choosing a solution that works for you. Find out who your distribution network operator is here.
- Assessing your maximum demand
The first step involves establishing how much electricity is being consumed on site and at what times. The key piece of information here is the maximum demand – the highest amount of electricity used on site at any given time. Having a smart meter is great for this, but if businesses don’t have one then then they can speak to their supplier to understand their maximum demand.
- Measuring your EV charging demand
The second step involves understanding how much additional electricity is needed for EV charging. For this, the number and type of chargepoint needs be chosen. There are different considerations for this, and we suggest consulting some of the other resources mentioned above as well.
- Understanding the impact of the EV charging and whether you need to notify or apply
Adding 1) and 2) together gives the new maximum demand, including existing needs and what’s needed for EV charging. By then comparing this new maximum demand against the agreed supply capacity for the site – the maximum amount of electricity that is allowed to be taken from the grid – indicates whether or not mitigating actions are needed.
If the new maximum demand is above the agreed supply capacity then ways to reduce the maximum demand will need to be explored or the power supply will need to be upgraded. This is also true if EV demand is more than 30% of total site demand.
- Reducing your maximum demand
There are a number of alternatives to paying to upgrade the grid connection or keep the cost of doing so down, including:
- Energy efficiency – there may be ways to reduce power consumption from on-site activities to free up power for EV charging. This can be as simple as shifting the time of day certain machinery is used all the way through to buying new energy efficient appliances or heating systems.
- Load management – some EV charging systems can control the power provided to individual chargepoints to ensure the overall supply limit is not breached when more than one EV is in use. This can allow a larger number of chargepoints to be installed that will simply charge at a slower rate if they are all in use at the same time.
- Smart charging – “smart chargers” allow chargepoints to be remotely or automatically controlled. This means that EV charging can be shifted to times of low demand to ensure that overall power demand does not exceed the site’s limits. If combined with a certain type of energy tariff – known as a time of use tariff – smart chargers can also be programmed to charge when energy is cheapest or cleanest.
- Stationary batteries with on-site generation – a stationary battery can be charged up gradually over the course of the day, or whenever you’re not using much energy, and then discharged for EV charging when needed without having to draw power from the grid. If combined with on-site generation, such as solar panels this system can work even better.
- A timed profile connection – this is an agreement with your distribution network operator where the amount of power that can be taken from the grid varies based on the time of day, subject to a pre-agreed schedule. This can be cheaper than having to pay to upgrade your connection for the maximum amount of electricity use at all times, and if you only need to charge your EVs overnight, for instance, this can work out really well.
- Connecting to a different substation – with a large site or if there are different options about where to install EV chargepoints, it may be possible to connect to the grid in a location that is not as constrained. Think of this as having the choice between two access roads, one where there are constant traffic jams and another where the traffic flows freely.
- Considering upgrade works
If none of the actions under Step 4 are enough then your grid connection will need to be upgraded. Work with your distribution network operator to understand costs and get a programme of works set out.