Thinking of an EV future, Dan Gilkes looks at the best way to get plugged-in.
Electric vans are not just for last-mile delivery companies. Indeed, from 2030, it will no longer be possible to purchase any new petrol or diesel-powered LCVs in the UK, with hybrids going the same way in 2035. While 2030 may be nine years away, for many SMEs that could be just two, or perhaps three, van life cycles. There has therefore never been a better time to consider a move to a new electric future.
The actual supply of battery electric vehicles (BEV) has been struggling to keep pace with growing demand, but there are new models arriving all the time. There are plenty more in the pipeline too and we are now seeing used EVs coming to the market. Choosing the vehicle is only the first step, however. By all means, do the calculations to see if a BEV will suit your business. How you integrate that electric van into your operation and in particular how you charge that vehicle, will be an equally important consideration.
AC, or Alternating Current, is the most common type of EV vehicle charging technology and will typically be the solution for drivers charging at home or in a small business premises. There are two main types of home charger, offering 3.6kW or 7kW power ratings on a domestic electricity supply. If the premises has three-phase electricity, an AC charger can also be supplied to deliver 22kW or 43kW.
DC, or Direct Current, can deliver far higher outputs, for what is commonly known as rapid charging. DC rapid chargers tend to start at 50kW and now rise as high as 350kW. However, DC charging is far more expensive to install, as it requires an inverter to convert the AC current in the power grid to DC. DC charging at a business premises is only really necessary if you require rapid re-charging of vans, typically in under an hour.
It is worth considering whether your vehicles can accept DC rapid charging. Vans such as the Mercedes-Benz eVito, currently only have the capacity to take an AC input.
When considering a home or business charger, you may see the terms tethered or untethered. A tethered unit has the cable permanently attached to it, like public charging points, while an untethered charger has no cable, relying on the user to supply a suitable connection to the van. Most EV vans will be delivered with at least one cable, though it is possible to buy additional ones, if you require a longer reach for instance.
Public DC rapid chargers will usually have two cables connected to them, a CHAdeMO type and a Combined Charging System (CCS) connector. CHAdeMO was the original rapid charging connector and can be used to supply up to 50kW of power. The CCS charger, which is expected to become the most popular DC type, can be used with 50kW, 150kW and 350kW charging stations.
It should be noted, that although your van has a rapid charging capability of say 80kW, as in the case of the Mercedes eSprinter, you can still connect it to a higher-powered charging outlet, such as a 150kW or 350kW. The vehicle system will decide how much charge to accept.
Most domestic properties will have enough electrical supply to power a vehicle charging point. The charge point provider will ask the house owner to send photographs of electrical supply boxes, house fuse boxes and earth points. You may need to upgrade some cabling or the main house fuse before a charge point can be installed.
“Typically, we try to gather as much information remotely as possible, but if insufficient evidence is obtained, we would make a site visit,” said Ben Coombes, director at UK charge point manufacturer Sync EV.
“A monitoring device would be installed to see how much spare capacity is available during various times of the day and night. We can also provide load management, which would only allow the spare capacity to be used by the charging points.”
With a business premises, where you may be considering multiple charging points, you might have to have the electrical supply surveyed and increased, to cope with the demand of fleets of vans. This can be a costly exercise, so is well worth investigating before ordering vehicles.
“EO surveys both businesses and drivers’ homes,” said Sam Steele, business development manager at EO Charging.
“Homes are typically surveyed remotely using photos and video. Businesses can also be surveyed remotely, however in most cases EO would send a trained engineer to survey the site, as the existing electrical infrastructure and installation requirements can be more complex.
“For businesses, EO offers to carry out a Supply Demand Assessment. One of the benefits is that EO can determine how much energy is available at different times of the day and year at each premises. This can then be used to configure a smart charging system to make more power available to charge vans when the premise is not using as much of its available supply. This enables EO to charge more vehicles without upgrading the electrical supply. Supply upgrades are very costly and are often the difference between a viable electrification business case and one that does not make sense commercially.”
Whether you are installing charging points in a business depot, or at your drivers’ homes, there is financial help available. The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), which used to be called OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles), will provide businesses with grants for up to £350 per charging socket, for purchase and installation. This applies to charging points at a business premises or at a driver’s home and is offered for up to 40 chargers per company.
There are some conditions of course. You have to prove that the BEV has been purchased or leased, or has at least been ordered, and that it will be with the driver for at least six months.
“Grant applications on the EVHS domestic scheme would be accepted providing the driver is issued an Annex 1 document, stating that he or she is the sole user and will be for a minimum six months,” said Coombes.
The work must also be carried out by an OZEV-approved charge point installer. The good news is, that most of those charge point providers can do most of the paperwork for you, once you have shown that you will be running electric vans.
If you are asking drivers to charge at home, there may need to be a way to measure the amount of electricity that has been used, so that drivers can claim expenses. It is possible to install split meters within the domestic supply, that show how much energy is being used just by the charging point. Alternatively, the majority of charging systems have a smartphone app or a web portal with reporting to show how much charge has been added.
“All of our units are remotely monitored and all charging sessions recorded in kWh,” said Coombes. “Access to this information can be provided by us to the client to monitor their own fleet.”
Sam Steele, business development director at EO Charging provided these top tips for businesses thinking of trialling an electric van.
1. Spend some time to understand what you need out of your vans and whether an electric model can fulfil that role.
2. Make sure that you understand what available supply capacity you have at your sites.
3. Keep your electrification plan simple to begin with. You’re about to have a battery on wheels. That battery needs to charge to do its job. That can be achieved by plugging a cable into a socket which is powered by your existing electrical system.
4. Choose suppliers that understand your business needs. From a charging infrastructure perspective, a modular and scalable solution is the best starting point, as it gives you flexibility to adapt and expand cost effectively.
5. Make a start. There are dozens of case studies out there, but no other business is exactly like yours. Trial one EV van and gain an understanding of how it fits into your business. You’ll very quickly gain the information you need to make informed decisions on how to scale up your electric fleet.