Plugged into the future

Published:  12 January, 2012

Louise Woodward, Programme Administrative Officer for Cenex, comments on the roll-out of a national charging infrastructure for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Plugged-In Places is an electric vehicle infrastructure framework kick-started by the Government with £30 million of seed funding. Its overall purpose is to help a number of lead cities or regions in the UK to establish themselves as front runners in the trialling and adoption of a recharging infrastructure capable of supporting early market uptake of plug in electric vehicles (EVs) as more models become readily available throughout 2011 and beyond.

With a range of recharging options also available – from on-street recharging posts to induction plates and battery swapping – the Plugged-In Places scheme is designed to give the UK an opportunity to try different solutions to the recharging question in order to establish what works best for both providers and consumers.

Plugged-In Places is part of wider efforts by the Government to switch motorists to electric vehicles. The Government's strategy combines funding for infrastructure deployment with a Plug-In Car Grant of up to £5,000 per car for the new wave of electric vehicles to be launched in 2011.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond recently said: Government action to support affordable vehicles and more local charging points means we are on the threshold of an exciting green revolution – 2011 could be remembered as the year the electric car took off.

The regions selected to participate in the Plugged-In Places scheme are London, Milton Keynes, the Midlands, the North East, Greater Manchester, East of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In the Midlands, the successful application was led jointly by Cenex, the UK's first Centre of Excellence for low carbon vehicle technologies and Central Technology Belt. Heading up a consortium of Midlands businesses and Local Authorities, up to £2.9 million of funding was secured from the Government to support a £6.3 million programme to install 513 charge posts in high profile locations – including shopping centres and railway stations – across the East and West Midlands.

The first phase of the project (2011– 2013) will see charge post deployment focused in three areas:

West Midlands: Coventry, Birmingham, Worcester

East Midlands: three cities region of Leicester, Nottingham and Derby

East Midlands: Corby and Northampton.

The consortium has set a target of 1,000 plug-in vehicles being registered in the region by March 31, 2013, but believes that this is achievable in what is, according to DfT statistics, the UK's largest car buying region. The project aims to take the first bold steps to unlocking the potential of this large latent market for plug-in vehicles, ensuring that it doesn't falter in what is the traditional heart of the UK's motor industry, for the lack of visible and publicly accessible charging points.

The central location of the Midlands means that it shares borders with other Plugged-In Places participants Greater Manchester, East of England and Milton Keynes. To help support regional interconnectivity, the project includes provision for quick chargers at motorway service areas on the main transport corridors intersecting the region, facilitating both intra- and inter-regional travel. It will also yield information on local through-route infrastructure requirements to support a proposed national infrastructure.

The Midlands project consortium is comprised of more than 50 organisations that have shown strong leadership in support of the Electrification of Transport agenda. Additionally, the consortium includes companies with investment and strategic development agendas that take in the UK as a whole, as well as international markets.

Alongside the City Councils of Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham, other lead participants in the consortium include Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited and EON's wholly owned Distributed Network Operator (DNO), Central Networks, which is committed to investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and demand-side management measures, including smart grits and metering.

The project also has commitments from the main UK motor industry players involved in plug-in vehicle development and deployment, including TATA, Jaguar Land Rover, SAIC and Changan, as well as Mercedes (Smart), Nissan, Mitsubishi and PSA Peugeot- Citroen.

This wide range of partners will inform commercial questions about who might pay for and provide the type of infrastructure envisaged for a national roll-out.

The Midlands is central to the UK automotive supply chain, with regional comparisons showing a high percentage of companies and people directly employed, and also strong activity in the research and development fields within consulting engineering companies and in academia. This strong engagement with the automotive industry is expected to foster interest and early adoption of electric vehicles.

In addition, for many years now, the Local Authorities of the Midlands region have been committed to cutting carbon emissions and improving air quality. For example, the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change which has been signed by over 90% of Local Authorities was initiated by Nottingham City Council, while Birmingham and Coventry City Councils have pledged to reduce carbon emissions beyond targets set by the Kyoto protocol and identified a number of actions to achieve this.

All city authorities in the region have sustainable travel policies that, through Smart Choice and similar initiatives, encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport for local journeys. Historically, the main City Councils in the region have also shown strong leadership in introducing plug-in vehicles into their fleets: Coventry, Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham have all installed electric vehicle charge points in their city centres.

Both Coventry and Nottingham have obtained grants from the Green Bus Fund for electric buses which will operate on the City centre Centrelink and park and ride services

Birmingham City Council has declared that by 2015 all vehicles procured by the Council should be electrically powered or run on liquefied petroleum gas. Going forward, the Councils are also all committed to:

Putting charging posts at Park & Ride car parks and railway stations

Expanding the use of EVs in council fleets

Encouraging the installation of domestic charging points in new housing developments

Using existing marketing campaigns to support and promote the uptake of EVs.

The Midlands project recognises that charging posts are needed where people commute to, not from. As such, the bulk of the proposed charging installations are focused on the need to serve cities within the region. As well as being located in city centre car parks, shopping centres and leisure facilities, posts are also needed at transport hubs, such as railway and bus stations and park & ride schemes, as a means of extending commuting range.

Several retail and entertainment venues have already been chosen, including Broadway Plaza and China Court in Birmingham, the Kingfisher Centre in Redditch, and Ikea and the Skydome in Coventry. Transport hubs proposing to install charging posts include East Midland Trains and London Midland, as well as the Broadmarsh bus station and the Nottingham Express Transit (tram) NET park & ride in Nottingham.

Charging posts are also being considered at some motorway service areas for longer distance commuters and to facilitate interregional EV travel. The consortium partners will be working with the motorway service area operators located on the M1, M42, M5, M40 and M6 to help cater for the motorway traffic needs in the area.

The project deployment has been designed for both learning opportunities in region and for comparison with other Plugged-In Places to inform the national picture. For example, the deployment of charge posts in Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham and Leicester focuses on city centres and transport hubs, targeting commuters and urban dwellers. In contrast, the Worcester deployment is dispersed to help understand plug-in vehicle use in a rural setting, while the Corby deployment provides an exemplar for new-town developments.

These varying facets of the region reflect national requirements and help to inform the mix of styles of infrastructure appropriate for nationwide deployment. The Midlands project also includes an extensive programme of data procurement and research undertaken by both commercial parties and higher education establishments, and facilitated by prioritising the installation of intelligent charging posts capable of collecting and remotely transmitting usage data.

Universities in the region are committed to ‘deep dive' research on driver behaviour and charge point use to help generate captured learning from the project to inform national policy.

This commitment to captured learning also emphasises sharing best practice with other Plugged-In Places, whether related to enhancing travel between regions or via sharing a common approach to procurement and back office system.

This information will be central in understanding ways that infrastructure impacts on local grids and the potential for linking with smart grids, using smart metering and renewable electricity applications. As well as the anticipated EV purchases by private motorists, the consortium is looking to recruit fleet operators from both the public and private sectors into the programme.

Cenex is leading the way in assisting companies to integrate electric cars and vans into their operations and has led a series of exemplar projects including the Smartmove trials and the Low Carbon Vehicle Public Procurement Programme.

The project has identified EV opportunities for pool cars and vans for business support services within blue chip businesses with corporate social responsibility (CSR) agendas and on university\science park campuses. Loughborough, Worcester and Warwick universities already deploy electric vehicles in this way and this option will be actively explored with other establishments.

Additionally, partners including East Midlands Airport are committed to exploring local business use of plug-in vehicles.

Also key to boosting the uptake of electric vehicles in the region is the unique Priors Hall Park housing development in Corby, where Bela Developments has plans to buy or lease plug-in vehicles, which will then be made available with house sales.

Commitments from car manufacturers to support the Midlands project include TATA, which has indicated it will be assembling TATA Vista EVs at its Anstey facility, while Nissan, Peugeot and Mitsubishi all report that they expect to sell plug-in vehicles in the region commencing this year. Smart is also set to offer a mass production Smart 4.2 from 2012.

The Plugged-In Places framework has been created to usher in a new age of motoring in the UK. As such, it seems appropriate that a region so closely associated with the traditional automotive industry should now be at the forefront of the next stage in its development. With the support of both local government and private enterprise, it is hoped that the Midlands, along with the other Plugged-In Places, can significantly boost EV uptake through a workable and cohesive charging infrastructure that can then be rolled out across the entire country.

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