EVs: Understand grid constraints before diving in


Total’s James Turner says businesses that plan ahead for EV uptake will save cost and effort in the long run.

When it comes to installing charging points, site capacity is king, says James Turner, head of propositions at Total Gas & Power.

“There’s a lot of interest in rapid chargers, 50kW or even 100kW, but if they are going to take out site capacity, they are probably not the right solution – and if you have a fleet that sits there overnight, you won’t require them,” says Turner.

“It will really speed up the process if you have a firm view of capacity, whether there is any scope to increase it, and what your actual charging needs are.”

While increasing site capacity can significantly increase upfront costs, businesses need to forward plan,” says Turner. He says suppliers can be proactive in helping them mitigate risk within contract structures.

Forward planning

To date, Total’s chargepoint activity has focused largely on workplace and mid-sized retail schemes. He says a recurring client concern is obsolescence.

“They might be spending £100,000, but they don’t yet know how the cars and chargers will evolve.  So the models that may start to gain traction are schemes where the provider will replace the chargepoints after 5-10 years as part of the agreement.”

For similar reasons, he thinks it wise to spend slightly more on initial installation.

“Businesses might only be installing five chargers today, but you want to avoid digging up the ground every time you expand,” says Turner. “Putting in electrical infrastructure that can cope with expansions first time around means that in future you only need to add charge points, rather than paying again for ground works.”

Turner says most clients are receptive to that approach, “with the caveat that the overall costs often come as a bit of a shock due to the cost of installation”.

Payment models

There are ways of avoiding upfront costs and Turner advises careful consideration of various payment and operating models.

“Under one model, the customer buys and owns the hardware, effectively becoming the chargepoint operator. That provides the ability to charge what you like and have overall control,” he explains.

“There are other models where a third party becomes the network operator, which might suit local authorities or businesses that don’t want the hassle of management,” he says. “But, in the main, if someone manages the risk, they take the revenue.

“If you want to retain control without upfront costs you can use a finance agreement, so there are different models. But bear in mind that there can be other fees, subscriptions, software agreements, advanced warranties – some may not be immediately obvious.”

Energy bill add-on

In rolling out EV infrastructure, Total has initially focused on its energy supply customers. Turner says a funding option has proved popular, with the cost added to their energy bill.

“That is proving attractive because they avoid the upfront cost and retain control,” he says. “Any capital investment has to go through procurement, but making it an operating expenditure via the energy contract avoids that, and you are dealing with the same people within a business for both aspects.”

However, he says large fleet installations may need to sit separately and will probably require a full tender process.

Smart approaches

When there are millions of EVs drawing power from the grid, there may be high demand for integrated solar-storage-chargepoint solutions. But Turner says the market is not quite there yet.

“We have looked at offers combining batteries and solar and a carport – it is a nice combined proposition – but it is a bit early,” he suggests. “It adds complexity to an already complex conversation.”

However, smart charging is in demand, he says, laying a foundation to integrate EVs and buildings in the future.

“People expect things to be smart – and we only offer smart charging. It provides better management and control, better data and a clearer understanding of benefits. If you installed a dumb charger, you would just see an increase on your bill with no understanding of what is going on – which is not what businesses want.”

For that reason, Turner says it is vital for businesses to ensure the system they specify is configurable with any energy management system. That way, as the elements required for a flexible energy system fall into place, they can take a fully smart approach in future.

Interested in switching your fleet to EVs or installing on-site charging infrastructure? You should register to attend our free EV Event at Silverstone, 28-29 April 2020.

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