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EV charging infrastructure – how to avoid shocking problems

During the ‘decade of delivery’, the Government has pledged that up to 145,000 extra charge points


During the ‘decade of delivery’, the Government has pledged that up to 145,000 extra charge points for electric vehicles will be installed across England each year. But this rings alarm bells because the energy infrastructure in the UK isn’t ready to cope with the demands this will place on the grid.

Sites where EV chargers need to be located often don’t have an electricity supply or system able to cope with the intense bursts of electricity they require, and are ‘grid constrained’. Recent reports of EV charging stations being backed up by diesel generators to cover any loss or lack of power show just how silly the situation could become.

There is however an answer which doesn’t require expensive transformers or cabling and is one which makes complete sense for the automotive industry, and which literally powers the circular economy for cars.

Where sites are grid constrained, with an electricity connection which isn’t large enough to supply more energy, a battery energy storage system (BESS) is the solution. A BESS can be a cheaper and greener solution than upgrading network supplies to overcome grid constraints.

The National Grid has described battery storage technology as “essential to speeding up the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. Battery storage systems will play an increasingly pivotal role between green energy supplies and responding to electricity demands”.

A 300 kW BESS housed in one container can manage the grid supply to a cluster of EV chargers. It can store energy at times when the electricity supply is cheaper, or that has been generated from renewable sources.

Even better is when the canopy of the EV charging station holds an array of solar panels, and the solar energy is stored in the BESS and used to help supply the EV chargers.

Battery storage units can be made from used EV batteries, giving a vital second life to the batteries.

Of course, the BESS doesn’t have to be made from second life batteries and there are plenty around the world made from new batteries. But the battery supply chain is already stretched with energy storage systems competing with car manufacturers for new batteries already in short supply – second life use adds capacity as well as sustainability.

A BESS installed today is expected to be operational until 2042. During that time its batteries will need to be switched out a few times, at intervals of around seven years in a second life system, or ten for brand new batteries.

Research conducted by Lancaster University proves that using a first life 360 kWh BESS can give a benefit of 329 tonnes of CO2 emissions over the life of the system, a second life BESS gives a benefit of 473tCO2e.

The second life system therefore saves an additional 144t CO2e. This is a massive contribution to CO2 savings which any organisation with carbon reduction or ESG targets will be hard pressed to achieve in any other way.

Using batteries in this way also address the myth that they are ‘dead’ once they are no longer used in their original vehicle. Batteries are improving in quality all the time, so range is increasing all the time, but the point at which they are considered no longer fit for life in a vehicle is when they reach around 75% State of Health (SoH).

Batteries do not have to be discarded when they reach 75% SoH however. They still have significant charge capacity and can be used in battery energy storage systems (BESS) until the battery reaches 50% SoH. This could mean up to ten years’ more life for that battery.

Concerns about any failures of individual battery packs can also be planned out. Once the batteries are in use in the BESS, they are monitored individually on a real time basis to ensure that both the cells and battery management systems are working as they should. If any anomalies are identified the battery is isolated, powered down and an engineer is alerted. Individual batteries can be isolated while the remaining system continues to operate.

Using EV batteries to manage and store energy at EV charging points has been described as a ‘no brainer’ and Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands are already doing it, and a few places in the UK have seen the light.

Dundee City Council named ‘Europe’s Most Visionary Electric Vehicle City’ was the first place in the UK to install BESS at EV charging points, with each unit being made from used Renault Kangoo batteries.

Cranfield University has just commissioned the UK’s largest BESS system using entirely second life batteries. The university will install three 300kW battery storage units each housing 24 second-life Renault Kangoo car batteries across its campus in Bedfordshire.

It will become much more commonplace soon. The UK government recently awarded National Highways £11 million to invest in energy storage for rapid motorway EV charging, so the solution is now being adopted everywhere.

BESS at EV charging stations will be made from both first and second life batteries in the future but with 30 million electric cars on the road by 2030, the need to maximise the use of the batteries is clear.

Connected Energy is the only company in the UK to have developed use of second life batteries in storage units, and at present relatively low volumes of batteries are moving through to recycling. With increased volume and efficiencies of logistics and process, and the introduction of tools like battery passports, expect to see many more BESS sitting alongside EV charging stations in future.

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