Toddington Harper has been in the sustainable energy space for over 18 years. From setting up a fuel cell business early on in his career to launching one of the largest electrical infrastructure projects in the world, he has a tendency to get things moving before many realise the importance of the innovation. Being ahead of the curve is an ongoing theme in his personal life as well, as he enters his sixth year of EV ownership.
In 2014, he went “all in,” buying a Tesla Model S as his family’s only mode of transport. He decided that his new Tesla would be used for every trip, including a grand tour from the UK to France.
If you were worried about the lack of charging infrastructure today, just imagine the magnitude of the task that Harper had created for himself – and his concerned wife.
Back then, Tesla was so early to the European market that it didn’t have any offices or payment plans in place. So, Harper called up Tesla to let them know about his adventure to France and find out about the chargers available on the route.
“As you can imagine, she was very against the idea of us doing this trip,” he explains. “I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to do it, so I asked her for her help. She was adamant that it wasn’t going to work and that I would get stuck by the time I reached Reims, just north of Paris. Despite this, I found an IKEA in the area that looked like it could have a charger hidden away for me to use.”
After a few back-and-forths, Harper confirmed to the Tesla assistant that he was going, no matter what. Luckily for him, she asked for his direct number to get in touch if she found any solutions for his mammoth trip.
A week later, just before he set off, Harper got a call from an unknown number. It was a very worried Tesla employee. Lucky for him, she said that Tesla had organised to open a temporary supercharger in France a month earlier than planned, ultimately saving Harper’s trip.
“No one had even heard of ‘superchargers’ at this point, so I was shocked that they were doing this all for me,” exclaims Harper.
Long story short, Harper just about managed to get to the charging station and completed his trip successfully. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had less success in other trips in an EV, but that’s a story for another day.
Ultimately, this is where a lot of his learnings came from today and a driving factor in what we now know as GRIDSERVE.
“The experiences during EV ownership has driven my learning for EVs and is the reason that I’m building electric forecourts. I know what it’s like on the other side of all of this.”
Building Net-Zero Forecourts
When Harper first started to tell people about his idea of an electric forecourt, he found it difficult. Four years ago, the world was very different; there wasn’t a ban on the horizon for internal combustion engine vehicles and people thought EVs were quirky and more of a novelty. In fact, people still were not entirely sure whether the ‘future’ would be battery electric vehicles.
Today, we have plenty of BEVs on the road and people are starting to understand that they are the future. This is great timing for GRIDSERVE, which is in full swing building its first of many electric forecourts in the UK.
It hasn’t been the easiest climate to do stuff in, battling with both Brexit and the Coronavirus. Despite this, Harper and his team have achieved every major goal set to date.
“We’ve built more solar farms and solar panels for that matter than anyone else in the UK over the last year,” he says. “We’re not just building the forecourts, but the energy generation infrastructure itself. It’s a whole new network of entirely clean net-zero carbon motoring. The most technically-advanced solar project anyone has ever built in the country.”
GRIDSERVE is future-proofing its business by making its service net-zero, following the recent acquisition of a solar farm that allows every kilowatt-hour it doesn’t produce on-site to return into the grid. This means that every bit of charging provided will be net-zero.
By building an entirely new ecosystem, GRIDSERVE is trying to make everything about using an EV much better than a petrol or diesel car. We all know that the cars themselves are amazing, but the charging infrastructure still isn’t great. If you are a Tesla driver, then you’re much better off than everyone else, but the other 200 EVs on the road today do not have the same network.
“A combination of solutions are provided to enable the same level of service to everyone. We don’t want any limitations, including range and charging anxiety,” adds Harper. “We want to get rid of this ‘anxiety’ label that puts people off getting an EV in the first place.”
Offering a Premium Experience for All
Harper is setting the bar so that there are no disadvantages for anyone who wants to switch to an EV. This involved creating a new environment specifically for EVs to be in for up to 30 minutes and beyond. The forecourt will have 36 chargers in total, with everyone charging option included so that any EV can be charged as fast as the vehicle will allow.
He also wants to replicate and improve the experience you see in premium forecourts, introducing modern facilities for people to use whilst charging their vehicle. After all, one of the biggest issues found today for people with EVs is what to do while they charge.
“From Booths and the Post Office to WHSmith and Gourmet, we have a range of partners at our forecourts for people to see and experience when they visit, whether they have an EV or not,” says Harper.
Through multiple new partnerships with leading retail, service and technology giants, GRIDSERVE will deliver a “world-class” customer experience at the UK’s first Electric Forecourt, due to open near Braintree, Essex, this November.
With vehicles being able to charge extremely fast, thanks to a powerful grid connection, customers can simply pull up, plug in and spend some time taking in a totally new experience.