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Taking Charge

14 February 2011

New electric vehicles on the market and Government incentives are driving the change from oil to electricity to power transport in future. For organisations considering changing their fleet vehicles, it is time to consider the options and the issues. Jane Fenwick reports

NEW ELECTRIC CARS and incentives for using them are making 2011 the year that kick starts the mass change from petrol and diesel vehicles. Among the most recent announcements is that the Government plans to not require planning permission to install plug-in points for electric vehicles on streets, in walls and in car parks.
Decentralisation Minister, Greg Clark said, “It is no good having an electric car it there’s nowhere to charge it up, so planning rules have to catch up with car technology. At the moment planning permission is needed for a charging point but not for a parking meter. We’ll change that so charging points will no longer need planning permission. That way, at a stroke, we remove bureaucracy allowing 2011 to be the year when electric motoring is made easy.”
Although there may be only about 5,000 electric cars on the road in the UK at the moment and charging points are a rare sight, the change from oil to electric power is gaining momentum. For example, Boris Johnson, is planning to make London the electric vehicle capital of Europe. Some 25,000 refueling docks will be installed by 2015 across London in a £60m scheme to fund charging places for up to 100,000 cars in workplaces, retail parks, streets and public car parks.
Currently, the City of Westminster has 12 on street charging points and another 48 in its car parks; another 30 have been installed at Westfield shopping centre in West London.
Supermarkets clearly see the business benefit of customers topping up the charge on their vehicles while they shop. In London Sainsbury has installed two charge points in each of its Camden, Chiswick, Greenwich, Beckton, Wandsworth and Whitechapel stores, while Tesco has its charge points at stores in Kensington, Bromley le Bow and Kennington, and at its head office.
Across the Channel, Paris is developing a variation of the ‘bike rental schemes’ by having 3,000 small electric powered 4-seater bubble vehicles placed at 1,000 self service ranks across the city. Parisiams will be able to book a car on line and pay per period of use. The scheme is designed to encourage using electric vehicles for short trips and over two million people have already expressed an interest.
Quiet and clean, electric vehicles offer savings on running costs, vehicle servicing, insurance and Vehicle Excise Duty, and exemption from the Congestion Charge in London and from parking charges in some towns and cities. The ecomonics stack up even before accepting the Plug-In Car Grant that reduces the cost of eligible cars by a quarter - up to maximum £5000.
Commercial EVs
However, while individuals might still be reticent to make the change, for corporate and public sector organisations with vehicle fleets the decision is more compelling. Analysts Frost & Sullivan estimated last year that some 70 percent of electric vehicle (EV) sales will be of buses, vans and trucks by 2015, mostly for frequent short and predictable trips. The list of companies already running EV vehicles as part of their fleet is growing, and includes such names as Marks and Spencer, UPS, DHL and Tesco. TNT has a fleet of 51 battery-operated, nonpolluting vehicles – an investment of £3.5m. These vehicles are specifically designed for high density business areas, for multiple deliveries where business are located in close proximity.
This optimises the battery charge in the vehicle without wasting the power on ‘stem’ mileage - the distance between customer collection and delivery points.
It all sounds so easy. Just drive up and plug in, yes? Well, not exactly. While charging an electric vehicle at home at a specially adapted terminal presents few problems, for
organisations needing to charge fleets of vehicles at the same time, typically overnight when they are not in use and when electricity is cheaper, there are some complications that need to be addressed.
First some basics. Not all charge points are the same. There are
● slow charging points for use in domestic and workplace applications, often overnight
● fast charging points for topping up the charge while undertaking daily routines such as shopping and leisure activities that offer a charge time of under 60 minutes
● and rapid charging points when only a few minutes are required to recharge a vehicle mid journey, perhaps at a motorway service station
● recharge stations for electric motorbikes. Whilst the most attractive option could appear to be the ‘rapid’ recharge station since the process takes minutes that than hours, both the vehicle's batteries and the recharge station have to be specially adapted as the process requires a big power demand and a very thick cable connection.
A recharging station is not a simple outlet and vehicle recharging can cause distortion on the electric power grid. Depending on the vehicles being charged, two factors need to be taken into account.
● Electric vehicle charging generates harmonics which worsen as the number of vehicles being charged increases
● Recharging needs to be intelligently managed to ensure the even distribution of available power, to use in off-peak hours, and in a ‘planned pick-up to defer charging or use immediate charging. In addition, the system needs to ensure vehicles are charged despite an incident on the grid, record the energy used and offer payment systems for public use.
Charging several vehicles from the same charge can set up harmonic interference that requires some corrective actions to be taken to guarantee the electromagnetic compatibility with other loads on the same grid.
Multiple charging is one of the biggest challenges that an electric vehicle fleet user might have to face. APT Technologies has teamed up with CirControl of Spain to distribute its charging points and intelligent software control systems in the UK. This vandal-proof Evolt system of charging points and management software offers a range of charging options. Its Evolt Street vehicle recharge posts are stainless steel units capable of charging one or two cars at one time; Evolt Bike takes up to six electric two wheeled vehicles; Evolt Express, is a super fast 3-phase charging post; Evolt Multipoint is designed for car parks and fleet managers with up to 32 outlets remotely controlled and offering efficient energy control and network capacity management, and eVolt Home for domestic single phase charging.
The real advantage of the E-Volt technology goes beyond the charging point with an intelligent energy management SCADA software that supports it. This software enables the simultaneous charging of multiple vehicles – including fleets of up to 90 electric vehicles. It can monitor and regulate the flow of electricity into the vehicles so that this does not impact on other essential systems running in the same building.
The FM is able to monitor the total amount of energy being consumed and the amount consumed by each vehicle.
Recharging for public use requires a prepayment system for the energy used. The Evolt system can be used with a pay station that uses a note reader, coins or its CirCarLife card
dispenser to charge an RFID card.
For organisations planning a switch to electric vehicles, access to recharging facilities either on their own property or the public street is a key change from just filling up at the petrol pump. There is the power capacity to consider plus the space and time needed to recharge vehicles between use. Recharging has to be managed overnight when the facility may not be manned.
In addition, swapping ‘company cars’ for electric vehicles may mean recharging at work is the best option for employees unable or unwilling to charge at home during the day when the electricity is at its most expensive. An option to consider is to ‘sell’ your car park charging facilities to other businesses and the public for overnight charging. Public car parks currently full during the day with commuters and shoppers – could also be busy at night in future with vehicles recharging.
Case Study
Urbaser, the environmental services company contracted to the city council of Barcelona to provide street cleaning services, is an example of how multiple vehicle charging can work. It has a fleet of 73 electric commercial vehicles ranging from light vans and road sweepers to larger cleaning vehicles and conventional deisel powered vehicles.
Using the e-Volt Multipoint charging posts, the vehicles are scheduled to recharge overnight to make the best use of cheaper off-peak electricity. Crucially, the SCADA software from CirControl also allows Urbaser to manage the energy supply to prevent over-run on circuit breakers.
Each vehicle has a designated parking bay with a corresponding RFID card to operate the charging point. Each point is networked to the powerful central management software that logs each vehicle’s energy consumption during the charge process. In turn, each vehicle is assessed and total charge time per kWh is calculated so that the running costs of each individual vehicle can be analysed and any potential faults identified. Typically, a fault might be batteries only partially charging.
Even though the vehicles are charged overnight when other building services are required the least, the building manager still has to take into account possible distortions to the energy feed that could disrupt other essential services. To prevent this distortion, the charging point uses a combination of smart metering with a harmonic filter that corrects and reduces the total harmonic distortion which prevents other electrical devices being put under undue strain.

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