Suffolk businesses plug into the electric vehicles revolution

Linda Grave from EV Driver. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Linda Grave from EV Driver. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Over the coming years we can expect to see a huge increase in the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads, as manufacturers phase out polluting diesel and petrol-powered cars in favour of those offering lower carbon emissions.

Justin Ott at Spark EV

Justin Ott at Spark EV - Credit: Archant

The government announced last year that from 2040 all sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned but already we are seeing a speedy uptake of electric vehicles- the website nextgreencar stating that the number of new registrations of plug-ins increased from 3,500 in 2013 to more than 145,000 by April 2018.

And as the EV revolution takes hold a number of Suffolk businesses have launched to service this burgeoning sector.

EO Charging

Charlie Jardine at EO Charging

Charlie Jardine at EO Charging - Credit: Archant

These include EO Charging, a manufacturer of charging boxes that drivers use to plug in their EVs.

According to founder and CEO, Charlie Jardine, the firm has produced over 3,000 charging units in the past 18 months from its facility in Creeting St Peter near Stowmarket, many for customers abroad.

But it’s not just the hardware where the business opportunities are expected to arise. Much of the new developments in this sector are happening in the software and systems that support drivers and help to ensure that the electricity being used to charge cars is used efficiently to reduce the strain on the grid.

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“If we are expecting to transition the UK’s fleet of 30 million vehicles to electric vehicles over the next 20 to 30 years, we need to manage the energy intelligently,” said Jardine.

Spark EV technology

Spark EV technology - Credit: Archant

With this in mind, the firm has developed a product called EO Hub, which connects charging points to the internet so users can monitor usage and costs via an online portal or app.

A recent project saw it install 63 charge points connected to two hubs to enable London-based Gnewt Cargo to keep its 100% electric commercial vehicle fleet on the road.

Beyond this EO Charging is developing so-called dynamic load management (DLM) technology to allow companies running large numbers of electric vehicles to schedule when they are charged, so they don’t draw down from the grid at peak periods. Software that helps electricity network operators to manage the growing demand from EVs is another area the company is working in.

“This kind of technology is being proven out today in preparation for three to five years’ time,” added Mr Jardine.

EV Driver

Over in Rendlesham, another business called EV Driver is involved in installing a network of public charge points, as well as chargers for home and business use.

The company currently has 14 public units dotted around East Anglia in locations including Sudbury, Manningtree and Aldeburgh. Many of its charge points are in the car parks of East of England Co-op stores while its latest installation is located at Ufford Park Hotel near Woodbridge.

CEO Linda Grave says users of the EV network can sign up for free using an app on their phone and then pay as they go, as they use electricity to charge their vehicle. If you are not a member you can sign up there and then, and if the app can’t be downloaded, drivers can call a number.

“We have a no-stranded policy,” she said.

According to Ms Grave, some providers charge drivers a monthly subscription to use their network of charge points while with others drivers need to pay a minimum top up fee of £20 before they can start charging.

She says one technology that is predicted to be key in the future is vehicle to grid (V2G) functionality. This model sees not only cars drawing electricity from the grid, but also the grid drawing from cars’ batteries at peak periods if the driver has given their approval.

“In this way EV’s are part of the solution to the issue of electricity provision rather than a problem,” she added.

Grave says 70% of the EVs currently in use belong to businesses and her company is involved in advising companies who want to switch over to plug-ins.

“Businesses need the right solution for them - for example, if they are a taxi company they will require rapid-charging or if they have a fleet of drivers they might need to provide charging points at their homes.

Spark EV

Newmarket-based Spark EV has developed technology to help fleet users overcome one of the biggest hurdles to EV adoption - that of range anxiety which is a fear that the vehicle will run out of charge and be leave drivers and cargo stranded.

Spark EV’s artificial intelligence software allows businesses to predict how far a vehicle will be able to travel before needing to recharge using a wide range of data such as the driving conditions, the weather, and current information on road congestion. As individual drivers log into the system, typically via their phone, it learns their distinct driving styles and also factors these into calculations.

“EV drivers don’t want to get caught out if they are carrying heavy equipment or driving in cold conditions, which are factors that affect range,” said company CEO Justin Ott.

The system has already been adopted by Essex-based health and care services firm Provide whose staff are mobile, visiting patients in their own homes, community clinics and hospitals.

Provide is rolling out EVs across its fleet, and reports that Spark’s technology has allowed its vehicles to complete up to 20% more journeys between charges.

Mr Ott has recently returned from an Innovate UK trade mission to Detroit, the centre of the US car manufacturing industry, and reports that he is in “early discussions” with car makers to integrate the technology into in-vehicle satellite navigation systems, so EV drivers can have this information “at their fingertips”.