Vehicle downtime is one of a fleet decision-maker’s worst nightmares and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) present a new challenge in this area – the time taken to charge a vehicle.
For some fleets, this won’t be an issue. Their vehicles’ duty cycles and journey patterns will mean they are operated within their battery range and then parked up overnight at a depot or home allowing sufficient time to charge before being used the following day.
But many organisations with vehicles doing higher mileages – or company car drivers making personal journeys – may need their vehicles to be charged during the day, and numerous surveys have found charging time remains one of the barriers to wider BEV uptake.
A Mintel industry report identified charging time as the number one obstacle, while research by ZapMap found 36% of respondents consider the time taken to charge batteries to be the main barrier to EV ownership.
“Do electric drivers expect charging to be something like refuelling? It does seem like this is the case,” says a spokesman for EV charging solution specialist EVBox, after its survey found fast charging was the most requested feature for a public charging station.
Of the current EV technology available, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles offer the closest refuelling and range experience to petrol or diesel vehicles, but the cars and refuelling infrastructure are still in their infancy and remain restricted.
BEV advocates argue the Highway Code recommends that drivers take a break of at least 15 minutes every two hours and drivers could use the time while their BEV is recharging to eat or do some work.
The Highway Code recommendation ties in with ZapMap research which suggests the average maximum amount of time drivers would be willing to wait in order to charge in transit is 13 minutes, but current BEV technology means this is generally insufficient to add any meaningful range.
Data from BP Chargemaster shows that, in 10 minutes, a 3kW slow charger can add up to two miles of range, a 7kW fast charger up to five miles, a 50kW rapid charger up to 33 miles and a 150kW ultra-fast forecourt charger up to 100 miles.
While the potential of ultra-fast charging produces headline-grabbing figures, it is not only the speed of the charge point which affects the time it takes to charge a car: the power rating of a vehicle’s on-board charger will also determine this.
“You could plug a car into a 150kW rapid charger, but if its on-board charger takes 43kW, it would still take the time that a 43kW charger would take,” says Rob Anderson, programme manager at Cenex.
This will change as BEV technology develops and new vehicles are launched, but this capability will differ dependent on the manufacturer and model.
For example, of the newer EVs, the MG ZS EV has an on-board charger rated at 85kW, Mini Electric 50kW, Peugeot e208 100kW, Corsa-e 100kW, Tesla Model 3 100kW/200kW, Polestar 2 150kW, Mercedes-Benz EQC 110kW and Porsche Taycan 270kW.
Future battery technology developments are also expected to enable faster charging of BEVs, but having a vehicle with the fastest-charging capability isn’t always necessary to successfully operate one – the duty cycle and journey profile of vehicles is more important.
“You can adapt the type of charging to your time of parking,” says Peter van Praet, chief commercial office at EVBox.
“If you are at home for about eight to 10 hours, or if you are at work for eight to 10 hours, you don’t need to rapid charge – it’s not a matter of speed, but it’s a matter of how much time you’ve got.”
Tom Callow, head of external affairs at BP Chargemaster, says his employer tends to put public charging into two categories.
The first is destination charging, where a driver is going to that location for a purpose other than to charge.
“You could be going to the cinema, to a shopping centre, to work or staying somewhere overnight, so a slower charger may be suitable at these sites,” he says.
Recent examples of investment in ‘destination charging’ include Engenie’s partnership with Marston’s Inns and Taverns to initially install 400 50kW rapid chargers at selected sites, allowing up to three cars to charge at each site at any one time.
Another is Pod Point’s partnership with Volkswagen and Tesco which has seen it roll out more than 450 charging bays at the supermarket’s sites, with another 2,400 charging bays across 60 stores to become available by the end of this year.
Since the rollout started last July, the Tesco charge points have been used by more than 8,000 drivers, providing more than 200,000 electric miles.
Pod Point says that with the average weekly shop taking around 50 minutes, BEV drivers who charge while they shop will get around 23 miles of charge from its 7kW units.
However, this logic only works when a few cars require charging – the destination infrastructure falls far short of having capacity to charge tens, or even hundreds, of cars concurrently.
The second category BP Chargemaster puts public charging in is rapid or ultra-fast charging. “This predominantly fulfils two use cases,” says Callow. “The obvious one is en route driving, so extending your range. You could be driving from London to Scotland and need to stop to charge – that’s one example.
“But if you live in an urban area, for example, and don’t have access to off-road parking with a charger, using rapid charging maybe once a week, once a fortnight, could be the right solution for a driver to enable them to own an EV very easily.
“They would drive to a forecourt to fill up with petrol or diesel once a week or once a fortnight, so why would they not drive to a forecourt to
fill up with electricity at the same frequency?”
He adds: “The fact that EV charging happens in different places is a benefit as is the fact it happens at different speeds, because if you have everyone rushing to charge at the fastest possible rate you could get power problems.
“But, of course, you don’t need to charge at the fastest rate because we know that cars spend 90% of their time doing absolutely nothing, so having a slower rate of charge is actually of benefit to the market.”
The changing charging infrastructure
The ongoing advances in BEVs and their charging technology is reflected in the changing profile of the public charging infrastructure.
According to BP Chargemaster figures, in 2013 there were 4,000 public charging points, with 300 rapid chargers. In 2019 this grew to 28,000 and 2,600 respectively, and by 2023 the company expects there to be 60,000 public chargepoints with 6,000 rapid chargers.
“We are noticing a shift in the types of chargepoints that are being installed,” says Rob Anderson, programme manager at Cenex.
“In the beginning it was mainly slow and fast chargepoints, but it is now drifting towards fast and rapid chargers because a lot of the chargepoints are being installed at service stations or destinations where the supplier knows you are going to be half-an-hour or 45 minutes and then out again.”
Among the companies investing in this technology is BP Chargemaster, which plans to roll-out 400 ultra-fast chargers at BP sites across the UK by the end of 2021, while Engenie is planning to install more than 2,000 rapid charging points in accessible public sites, including supermarkets and retail parks, by 2024. While Instavolt is adding 125kW chargers to its existing 50kW network across the UK.
As well as the growing number of rapid and ultra-fast charge points, another development is set to transform the profile of the charging infrastructure in the UK: Gridserve last year unveiled plans to install a UK-wide network of ‘electric forecourts’ delivering ultra-fast EV charging to the public.
As part of a five-year plan valued at around £1 billion, more than 100 forecourts will be developed at strategic locations, with each one featuring dedicated zones for both private and fleet vehicles such as taxis, buses and delivery vehicles.
Gridserve has partnered with EV charging infrastructure specialist ChargePoint for the projects, which will see chargers with speeds up to 500kW available for cars and light commercial vehicles.
They will also incorporate a range of facilities for drivers to access while vehicles are charged including coffee shops, convenience stores and airport-style lounges. Work on the first of these - in Braintree - started in March.