December 8th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
A couple of months ago, I talked with Roger Atkins of Electric Vehicles Outlook about the impressive “Electric Forecourts” that British firm Gridserve is developing and planning, starting with one that was under development at the time and has just now been completed. There are a few elements to what Gridserve is rolling out.
Gridserve plans to build 100 of these Electric Forecourts across the UK, all of them net-zero carbon energy. Clearly, they will also offer some refreshment and shopping opportunities at these locations as well, and hopefully some options for vacuuming and airing up your tires, services that electric vehicle owners find themselves lacking as they no longer have to visit gas stations.
Additionally, alongside the opening of this Electric Forecourt, Gridserve launched a net-zero EV leasing service. Given all of the long-term cost benefits of electric vehicles, Gridserve can take those into account in a leasing arrangement and offer consumers a better deal than they’d assume. In the end, Gridserve “brings the cost of driving electric well below that of petrol or diesel cars,” the company notes.
The leasing arm is a superb complement, because the company can promise cost-competitive charging when on the road, can look closely at long-term total cost of ownership factors, and can roll them in to some extent or another. Furthermore, it can talk at length about EV charging, which is the #1 topic consumers have questions and concerns about (or #1, #2, and #3 if you combine it with the other side of the matter — driving range).
For those who live in the UK, this first Electric Forecourt is near Braintree, Essex.
This first project, the Braintree Electric Forecourt, offers charging for up to 36 electric vehicles simultaneously, “with high power chargers that can deliver up to 350 kW of charging power, enabling people to add 200 miles of range in 20 minutes, and much faster in the future as electric vehicle battery technologies mature.”
The project is getting funded from Hitachi Capital (UK) PLC, Innovate UK, and OZEV, along with Gridserve’s investment.
Making EV Charging Mainstream in the UK
Gridserve plans to build 100 Electric Forecourts over the coming 5 years, something the company hopes will help the UK get to 100% electric vehicle sales “well ahead of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars.”
This involves a £1 billion investment, all aimed at making EV driving and charging “an enjoyable, ultra-convenient, and stress-free experience.”
Toddington Harper, Founder and CEO of Gridserve, said: “Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in achieving GRIDSERVE’s purpose to deliver sustainable energy and move the needle on climate change. It’s our collective responsibility to prevent greenhouse gas emissions rising further, and electric vehicles powered by clean energy represent a large part of the solution. However, charging has to be simple and free of anxiety, which is why we’ve designed our Electric Forecourts® entirely around the needs of drivers, updating the traditional petrol station model for a net-zero carbon world and delivering the confidence people need to make the switch to electric transport today — a full decade ahead of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars.”
All of those are great statements and goals, but there’s a “small one” in there that I think deserves a bullhorn — “charging has to be simple and free of anxiety.” This is something that I think many EV owners and early EV fans may or may not recognize, but it is big. While many of us find existing options to be easy and convenient, “normal people” need something super easy, familiar, and inviting to help ease them into the EV transition. It can’t be: “just 2 or 3 steps to figure out.” It needs to be: “it’s as easy as going to a gas station, but nicer.” It looks like the Electric Forecourts will be offering that. You drive up, plug in, and walk into the retail area to get some coffee, grab some food, perhaps do a little working or Twittering/Facebooking/YouTubing, and you are on your way.
So, What’s Inside?
“While vehicles charge, drivers can relax and shop in state-of-the-art facilities that cater for all their needs,” the company notes. These include the following popular British brands:
- Costa Coffee
- Post Office
There are also the following features:
- free super-fast WiFi
- a waiting lounge
- dedicated kid’s area
- a wellbeing area with exercise bikes that generate electricity
- business meeting room pods
- high-end washrooms.
WHSmith is managing the overall facility. Toby Keir, Managing Director at WHSmith said: “At WHSmith, we have been serving customers on their journeys for over 200 years and we understand how important convenience is to people on the go. We’re therefore delighted to be partnering with GRIDSERVE’s Electric Forecourt to deliver a new first-class customer experience, with fantastic service and a tailored retail offer including WHSmith, Post Office, Costa Coffee, and Booths. It’s a great concept and we look forward to playing our part over the next hundred years with the future of electric cars.”
EV Sales & Leasing Too!
With a captive audience of EV drivers, Gridserve isn’t fooling around. It also has its eyes on the mother prize — more EV sales. Whether trying to rope in passengers as they enjoy an electric journey or stimulating an EV driver’s next vehicle purchase, Gridserve is including showcase electric vehicles (as you can see in the picture above), and the upper floor is even an entire showcase for the latest EVs.
There are digital screens customers can click through to examine the 200+ electric vehicles currently out there, and “GRIDSERVE is also hiring electric vehicle enthusiasts to help educate people about electric vehicles, and arrange test drives, with the ultimate aim of providing people with the confidence and support to make the transition to an all-electric future.”
I have to say — I’ve long been a proponent of integrated, high-quality EV charging stations that are destinations unto themselves, and I think what Gridserve is building here is a dreamworld of sorts in this arena. I imagine some of the Electric Forecourts will have special features (perhaps an amusement park or water slide?), but its core offering covers all the bases and seems to do so in an elegant, high-quality way.
As noted above, the company is also rolling out its unique spin on leasing, which includes the nation’s first 100% net-zero EV leasing offer. Here are the details:
“In partnership with Hitachi Capital (UK) PLC, GRIDSERVE today also launches GRIDSERVE Electric Vehicle Solutions, the UK’s first net zero electric vehicle leasing business. The service is designed to bring the cost of driving electric well below that of petrol or diesel cars, and minimize the environmental impact of EVs.
“Net zero-carbon energy is included in monthly leasing payments, meaning drivers can charge at Electric Forecourts® without paying any additional costs. This removes a key barrier to mass EV adoption, enabling people to accurately compare the cost of leasing a petrol or diesel vehicle, plus fuel, with an electric vehicle with fuel included. This reflects the true overall cost to the consumer, which in most cases clearly demonstrates a lower cost for EVs than petrol or diesel vehicles.
“The benefit is amplified for the 40% of UK drivers without access to off-street parking who would otherwise have to rely on less dependable and typically more expensive public charging infrastructure compared to charging at home. For those who lease through GRIDSERVE, charging at an Electric Forecourt® becomes cheaper than home charging because energy is already included in monthly leasing payments.
“To reduce the environmental impact of EVs even further, GRIDSERVE has partnered with a tree-planting organization, which will plant 100 trees for every electric vehicle leased through the service. This helps to minimize the carbon emissions from supply chain processes, such as manufacturing.”
That’s a wicked leasing offer.
They currently offer electric vehicles from Audi, BMW, DS, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Mini, Nissan, Renault, and Volkswagen. And they plan to offer EVs from all major brands in time.
The Solar Power Component
Gridserve isn’t just interested in the electricity use side of things, though. It has a broader involvement in solar power and grid matters than it may seem on the surface.
As the company puts it, the Electric Forecourt business is just part of a “wider ‘sun-to-wheel’ infrastructure, built to deliver low cost, net zero-carbon energy to every vehicle that uses one of GRIDSERVE’s chargers.”
The solar canopies above the charging stations are obvious from several pics above, but in addition to that solar power source, there’s a “network of hybrid solar farms” that Gridserve is operating itself in order to provide the clean power. In fact, it is the UK’s “first subsidy-free solar farm.” The electricity does flow through the National Grid — so this isn’t a microgrid. The project includes a 6 kWh battery “to balance the local energy grid and shift energy to periods when it is more valuable.” In fact, the company provides the example of a windy winter night and the fact that the battery could collect enough electricity from the grid during that low-cost wind production period to power electric cars for 24,000 miles of driving. Not bad.
What About Cost?
Gridserve tells us the charging is cheap. (Of course it does.) But, in fact, the initial price of 24p per kWh of energy (including VAT) is reportedly the lowest cost you can find in the UK for ultra-high-power charging.
Charging from 20% to 80% is expected to cost less than £10 “for an average-size electric vehicle on the market today.” (I presume that means a Tesla Model 3?) They plan to roll out a tiered pricing structure in the future, but, for now, you’ve got a fixed-rate system if you use an Electric Forecourt.
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