Local authorities, as owners of large fleets, are looking to show leadership in their localities by investing in non-fossil fuel vehicles. Most councils now possess low emission vehicles of some kind with electric vehicles being the most favoured small vehicles.

Charging points go hand in hand with electric vehicles. It follows that without sufficient charging capacity in place, electric vehicles are, quite literally, no-goers. Therefore, the need to understand local grid capacity – and its constraints – has become a necessity for local authorities pursuing fleet electrification.

Local grid capacity is inextricably tied to national grid capacity. With UK demand for electricity forecast to rise by around 50% by 2035 and double by 2050, network availability has emerged as a very serious issue for any local council embarking on electrification of its fleet. Add into the mix the fact that the UK has the longest queue to connect to the electricity grid of any country in Europe, and the fleet electrification ambitions of councils across the UK are guaranteed to be tested strenuously in the coming years.

Recent APSE and APSE Energy research has explored the barriers local authorities face in decarbonising their transport. Chief amongst them was the issue of grid capacity and connectivity.

In 2022, APSE Energy published the ‘EV Infrastructure Survey Report’. The survey gathered data and opinions on the progress made by local authorities in installing EV infrastructure. The survey found progress has been highly uneven across UK councils, though issues surrounding grid capacity have been almost uniformly felt.

Many councils have identified the cost of grid/power connection as a major barrier to EV infrastructure installation. Communication issues with the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) also arose as a consistent barrier, with delays in response and lack of engagement being reported by several councils. In regard to DNOs, several councils also reported that fees involved with acquiring a new DNO connection constitute another serious impediment to progress.

APSE’s ‘Use of EV fleet and alternative fuels in refuse collection vehicles’ report also noted the extent to which grid capacity is hindering the fleet electrification strategies of council refuse teams. With a typical electric refuse vehicle carrying a 250kVA lithium-ion battery and taking 4.5 hours to charge on a fast 63kVA charger, the load required for even a small fleet is substantial. One authority noted that the network connection from the local grid was insufficient to support their planned upgrades, providing power to charge just three electric refuse collection vehicles on site. Even where there is sufficient capacity, one authority reported big issues with connectivity, noting that they require significant investment in their EV infrastructure due to the age of their depot.

For any local authority thinking of installing electric vehicle infrastructure, APSE Energy identified five points to consider. This refers mostly to installation of chargers for the local authority’s own use but there are some generic principles covered too:

• Demand: It is important to have a clear understanding of current and future demand before deciding to install EV infrastructure.

• Electricity supply: An understanding of demand will enable the calculation of an approximate electrical supply capacity that will be required. Where a new connection is required, an application must be made to the local Distribution Network Operator.

• Type of EV chargers: It is important to make the correct decision when choosing which type of EV charger to install, whether this is AC, DC, rapid, fast, slow, etc.

• Timescales: Timescales on any installation regardless of size should be a major factor and a certain level of contingency should be allowed for when planning an EV project. As shown in the responses to APSE Energy’s survey, application time for grid connections and communication issues means grid connections can be a time-consuming process.

• Charge point location: Depending on the use of the charge point, its location can be extremely important.

From a locality perspective, the local authority will understand better than any other organisation the demands on the local grid. A local council’s involvement in house building, commercial and industrial developments, changes in energy demand due to electrification, e.g. of domestic heating, and renewables projects provides them with holistic knowledge of the situation which others do not have. Therefore, it is vital local authorities receive the necessary support to work closely with the National Grid and ensure a successful EV infrastructure roll out. The wider decarbonisation of society depends on it.

This article first appeared in the Autumn issue of LAPV. To subscribe for free click here.