Pioneering ‘off-grid’ charging stations that offer power from on-site wind and solar plants set to arrive in the UK in 2025 from Madeline Cuff at the Independent
Groundbreaking “pop-up” charging hubs are set to be trialled in the UK in 2025 as part of a project to revolutionise electric motoring.
The charging hubs will use energy storage technologies to provide green electricity to electric vehicles (EVs) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without taking a single kilowatt from the national grid.
The five-year FEVER project, a £6.6m joint programme between four UK universities, will start work in September developing charging hubs that deliver green electricity from their own wind and solar farms.
“Technically I think it can be done, it is whether we can do this economically enough that it makes commercial sense,” said Professor Andrew Cruden from the University of Southampton, who is leading the project.
At the moment, most businesses planning to build an EV charging hub need a grid connection, as do the majority of wind and solar farms. This allows them to either pump power into the network, or draw power from it.
However, in many parts of the country – such as the South West and the Scottish borders – connecting is a challenge.
Generous subsidies for wind and solar in the early 2010s meant developers rushed to connect new projects to the grid. That has left a situation where, in some parts of the UK, the local grid is at capacity and cannot take on any new generation.
To connect in these regions, developers have to pay for expensive grid upgrades that can easily cost millions of pounds, a charge that often destroys the financial case for building a new renewables project. Dozens of otherwise viable renewables projects have been left languishing because of the situation.
Meanwhile there are swathes of the country, such as the South West, where public EV chargers are scarce and unreliable. This can leave drivers without their own private plug point struggling to make electric motoring work.
Professor Cruden said the off-grid charging stations will solve these two problems. “It’s taking some of the pressure off the existing grid,” he said. “It means that your grid connection issues, your capacity constraints, disappear if you are not looking for a grid connection.”
The project will see economists, engineers and social scientists from the Universities of Southampton, Portsmouth, Surrey and Sheffield work together to draw up a design for the hubs.
On-site renewables such as solar farms and wind turbines will be connected not to the grid but to an “off-vehicle energy storage” system that will store the green power until it is needed.
The energy storage system will be likely to house a mix of technologies to provide short-term storage as well as medium term and seasonal power banks. “It will have batteries, but it is probably likely to have other forms of energy storage in there as well, including flow cells, supercapacitors, and maybe some hydrogen fuel cells,” Professor Cruden said.
This will ensure drivers can charge cars using solar energy generated earlier that day, for example, or draw down on stored wind power harvested the previous winter. The goal is to ensure there is renewable electricity available for EV drivers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Two pilot hubs, set to be trialled from 2025, will have space for six to eight cars, according to Dr Mona Chitnis, an economist working on the project. Commercial hubs, with charging facilities for 25 cars, could follow a few years later.
The project is backed by commercial partners including Siemens and Shell. It will also develop an app for drivers to check the availability of power at stations before they set off, and pay for the power they draw.
The sites could be located on the edges of towns and cities, or in rural settings, Dr Chinis said. They could even be designed to provide surplus green power for use by local businesses.
The other three universities taking part in the project are Portsmouth, Surrey and Sheffield. It marks the first time engineers will have worked closely with social scientists and economists to develop a real-world charging solution of this kind.
Alongside the technical details, they will have consider how enthusiastic he public might be about charging near giant battery tanks, for example, or how much drivers would be willing to pay for guaranteed green power.
When drivers pull up to charge, the experience should be no different from a standard, grid-connected hub, the team say. “We would make sure this system is economically viable and socially acceptable,” said Dr Chitnis.