The last few months have been rather exciting for the UK in terms of clean energy, as the region begins its enormous task of achieving ‘net-zero’ by 2050. This trumps the UK’s previous target of cutting emissions 80% compared to levels recorded in 1990, a goal set through the 2008 Climate Change Act.
This illustrates the most significant transition over to clean energy the world has ever seen, making the UK the first G7 country to sign a bill of this calibre.
The law was passed just two weeks after the UK announced it had gone two weeks without burning coal for electricity, the longest stretch without coal since the industrial revolution. However, to continue this zero-emission drive, the UK must do more than simply removing coal, including clean transport. Most notably, through the uptake of electric vehicles.
By 2035, the aim is to eliminate the internal combustion engine entirely, having all new cars on the road powered by electricity. Ultimately, this will be impossible without a supporting infrastructure which, in itself, has to be green.
One company doing this from the ground up is Gridserve. It produces sustainable power and, headed up by CEO and energy expert Toddington Harper, has an experienced team who have been heavily involved in sustainability for a number of years.
Harper has been building sustainable energy businesses for 17 years. Previously, he founded Belectric which, in 2010, was the largest solar business in the world, overseeing 1,000 acres of solar farms in fields and rooftops, including a 20-acre rooftop system across 4 large roofs for Rolls-Royce in Bristol.
He ended up selling the business to Innogy in 2016 and created Gridserve, focusing on building the next generation of sustainable energy projects.
I got the chance to sit down with Harper in the city of Oxford. He has been an EV enthusiast since first getting his hands on a Tesla Model S back in 2014.
Although he tells me it was an amazing car, he explains that the infrastructure wasn’t very good. “At the time, I was building the UK’s largest solar farm and I realised that we needed to do something about emissions. So I made the jump into an EV and the unknown territory that comes with it, accepting the fact that the infrastructure didn’t work very well.”
“Today, the infrastructure is a lot better, but still isn’t good enough,” he continues. “Part of what Gridserve is doing is developing the new generation of charging infrastructure across the UK, which we intend to build out within the next 5 years.”
This will see a whole new network of electric forecourts built from scratch, rather than implementing them into existing petrol stations. Fundamentally, this will revolutionise the way we see boring and dull service stations like today.
“We’re talking about taking pieces of land and building a whole new infrastructure, with new double decker retail buildings, new powerful charging facilities and large batteries.”
In addition to over 100 of these sites across the UK, Gridserve will utilise its solar experience to make sure that the energy used by the network is also clean, spearheading the region’s net-zero push.
The Potential to Charge in Under 10 – Yes, 10 – Minutes
Harper is a “second generation battery-solar power person,” following his father who was one of the first to be involved in solar and battery projects 45 years ago. So it’s no surprise that the man knows his batteries inside out.
Giving me a short lecture on the complex nature of batteries, he introduces me to something known as ‘C-rate’, which is the speed you can charge or discharge a battery.
“For example, if you have a 1C battery with a KWh of energy, you can release or charge over one hour,” he says. “There are batteries with much higher C-rates, such as a 4C battery which can discharge its capacity over 15 minutes. You can even have a 10C battery that will discharge the power in around 6 minutes.”
These already exist today, which is mind blowing. I ask Harper whether this affects the lifespan of the battery; he says that this isn’t necessarily the case, as it depends on battery chemistry.
“We all talk about lithium batteries but there are around 6 major types of batteries and, even then, there’s a lot of variation within the main chemistries,” adds Harper. “For example, Lithium-titanate batteries can be charged and discharged thousands of times with very little degradation at high C-rates. However, the higher the C-rate of the battery is, the less energy you can store in it.”
We go on about this a lot, but the fear for the majority of people looking at buying EVs is range anxiety. Due to this, they are less concerned about how quickly they can charge their car, which pressures automakers to take a ‘bigger-is-better’ approach. Today, range rules the roost.
As this changes and people realise they can charge anywhere, the demand will then shift to how quickly they can charge. So, these batteries may exist already, but manufacturers won’t put them in as, for now, people favour longer distances – which means slower charging.
“You can drive around 3 miles for every kWh of energy, meaning you can do 500 miles in 20 minutes with a 500KWh charger,” says Harper. “Obviously, we don’t need 500 miles, but you can scale this back to achieving 250 miles range in 10 minutes and even less with a 200-mile battery. So it’s technically possible.”
The Forecourts of Tomorrow
People will charge EVs in 3 ways: at home, if they are lucky enough to have off-street parking, the ‘destination’, such as offices and supermarkets, and, perhaps most importantly, a public network for people who can’t charge at home and fleets.
At present, the best public network designed for EV drivers is from Tesla; everything else, says Harper, has been designed by people who just wanted to put in chargers. This is the part Gridserve is directly attacking, as public networks do not work anywhere near as efficient as they should be.
“The Tesla network is the best you’ve got, but you have to own one to use the chargers,” he continues. “Despite it working much better than anything else, I wouldn’t put it in the ‘awesome’ category. The issue they have is that they don’t create the environment, they have to put their chargers in somebody else’s environment, making it difficult to connect the charging experience.”
The advantage of Gridserve is that it is taking a clean sheet of paper which allows it to work out how to make the experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible. In addition to this, Harper wants to attract people who can charge at home and thinks they will find it easier to use Gridserve’s forecourts once they are built.
“From day one, the chargers that we’re putting in will be able to charge enough energy for 350 miles in 20 minutes, which is a pretty good start. And we’re happy to go higher.”
By providing the best possible experience and making use of people’s time, Gridserve is onto something here. These forecourts are the answer to the most efficient EV infrastructure rollout in the UK, and will, if nothing else, significantly increase the increase of EVs and, in turn, help the region achieve its net-zero target.