The first of a planned 100 GRIDSERVE Electric Forecourts has opened to the public, providing up to 36 EV drivers with a place to charge simultaneously at up to 350kW. All the while, an adjoining services building gives them the chance to take a break, buy a coffee or simply use the loo while their car is juiced.
Built after significant backing from Hitachi Capital, the Electric Forecourt idea could be a significant step forward in allowing mass adoption of EVs over the next decade, before the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel sales. Net-zero electricity and significantly lower costs per mile than fossil fuels, if enough of them are built in strategic locations, they could help solve the issue of convenient charging for those with no facilities at home. But before we get into all that, let's have a look at the Electric Forecourt in detail.
Sometimes it is possible to reinvent the wheel and make it better. It's an analogy which suits GRIDSERVE's Electric Forecourt very well indeed, as its setup is essentially that of a regular fuel station, but for EVs. Located just off the A131 near Braintree, it has space to dispense high-speed charging to up to 36 EVs at the same time. Speeds of up to 350kW are possible at the Electric Forecourt, but with just a handful of EVs capable of that, slower charging speeds are also catered for.
Founder and CEO of GRIDSERVE, Toddington Harper, said: “Charging has to be simple and free of anxiety, which is why we’ve designed our Electric Forecourts entirely around the needs of drivers, updating the traditional petrol station model for a net-zero carbon world and delivering the confidence people need to make the switch to electric transport today – a full decade ahead of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars.”
A key feature of the Electric Forecourt is the cleanliness of the electricity. Generated through GRIDSERVE's 'sun-to-wheel' infrastructure, net-zero solar generation is the source of the energy. On-site, the canopies above the charging stations are covered in solar panels, whilst off-site the Braintree Electric Forecourt is paired with a nearby solar farm.
Ensuring there is always enough energy on-site regardless of weather, as well as acting to balance the local grid, is a 6MWh battery. This is charged by solar or other renewable from the national grid when required, and can store enough energy to dispense 24,000 miles worth of charging. It also helps maintain relatively low costs, with energy costing just 24p per kWh, even at ultra-rapid speeds. An average EV can be charged from 20 to 80 per cent for around a tenner. All the while, an on-site Costa, WHSmith, Booths, Post Office and Gourmade, not to mention high-speed Wi-Fi, offers those who are so inclined somewhere to go while their car charges.
According to the National Grid, around 40 per cent of UK drivers do not have access to off-street parking. This obviously presents a significant issue for those wanting to switch to an EV, especially where they have unallocated on-street parking – potentially away from their home. Of course, public chargers can take the edge off this issue, with councils increasingly putting in EV charging bays in car parks and designated on-street charging bays. Furthermore, schemes such as lamp post chargers and pop-up kerbside chargers are gradually being introduced, but these schemes are just part of the solution.
Where an Electric Forecourt comes into its own is in its ability to dispense electricity rapidly, and in taking the place of traditional petrol stations. In Fulham, London, Shell is repurposing one of its petrol stations into an electric forecourt in a similar vein to GRIDSERVE's offering – making more of the on-site retail and experience alongside the ability to charge rapidly.
Of course, this all depends on the development of electric forecourts in more places. Strategically, a forecourt similar in size to that at Braintree, supported by the regular public charging network, has the potential to serve a substantial number of EVs. After all, most drivers don't fill their petrol tank more than once or twice a week, so a trip past a well-placed electric forecourt could easily serve the same purpose.
As ever, there's no single 'right' answer to creating the infrastructure to suit an electric future. It's all about ensuring there is an appropriate mix of solutions in place and – most crucially – people learning new behaviours and habits. Replacing petrol stations with electric forecourts is quite possibly the simplest way of weaning people off of fossil fuels as it effectively replaces like with like, at the same time plugging a hole in existing infrastructure.
We'll head to the GRIDSERVE Electric Forecourt to give you our thoughts when we're out of Tier 3 and it's sensible to make the journey.