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Why The Transition to EV Presents Challenges for Distribution Centres

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Many distribution centres are already integrating Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure, a major step in terms of addressing carbon emissions and demonstrating a clear commitment to sustainability to supply chain partners.

However, with retailers now expecting rapid decarbonisation of their value chain and a deadline to eliminate new internal combustion engine vehicles rapidly approaching, electrifying distribution fleets is becoming a necessity. Part of that process is the ability to provide rapid charging infrastructure on-site; your fleet cannot afford to sit idle for hours at a time in order to charge 

However, the huge power demand that rapid charging points require can be problematic, and even risks compromising the power resilience of your site. For automated distribution centres, this can result in very significant losses in productivity.

The move to EV 

The UK’s official deadline means that, from 2030, all new vehicles sold in the UK must be electric. However, many major retailers and distributors are already working towards transitioning delivery fleets away from fossil fuel engines towards EV.  

In the past week, Tesco have announced an EV infrastructure partner to drive forward their plans to fully electrify their delivery fleet by 2028. The previous week, Amazon placed an order for 100,000 electric vans from start-up manufacturer Rivian, with an initial batch of 10,000 due to be delivered before the end of 2022. 

While EVs deliver a major boost in sustainability, keeping your distribution centre running optimally will require the ability to charge them quickly and efficiently. The Competition and Markets Authority have already warned that the current 25,000 existing EV charge points across the UK is woefully inadequate, with a ten-fold increase needed by 2030 to meet forecast demand 

Even if wider infrastructure was in place, the longer charging times needed for large EV engines compared to refuelling with petrol or diesel makes this impractical for distribution centres. If your EV delivery vehicles are spending even as little as one hour every day charging, the lost time and productivity quickly adds up. To be properly effective, EV fleets need to be charged on-site when they are not actively transporting goods. This could be overnight, or while being loaded and unloaded. 

Managing your site demand

While on-site rapid EV charging is a necessity to ensure reliable, timely dispatch and delivery of stock, this technology brings with it a major increase in your site’s power demand that can be difficult to incorporate and manage.

Rapid chargers start at around 50kW, allowing many EV batteries to be charged to 80% charge in somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on model and size of battery. In comparison, ‘fast’ chargers typically take several hours to recharge even a relatively small EV battery, while ‘slow’ chargers that deliver only between 3kW and 6kW typically take between 6 and 12 hours. For sites like distribution centres where quick and efficient turnaround of deliveries is paramount, rapid charging is the only practical choice.

However, the rapid charging functionality brings with it huge power demands. For even relatively modest charging infrastructure, such as four rapid charging points, your site is looking at adding at least 200kW of additional demand. This is around the same total draw as a medium-sized manufacturing site, and likely higher than the total demand of your entire distribution centre. At a time when all four charging points are required, your site is at real risk of power disruption as your total demand exceeds the available capacity from your grid connection.

In many cases, your issue will arise before the EV charging infrastructure can even be installed. DNOs now turn down a large number of proposed EV charger installations over concerns that they will compromise reliable power in their local network, risking distribution infrastructure such as transformers being overloaded.

A battery energy storage system (BESS) is an increasingly popular way to circumvent these issues and deliver rapid EV charging that doesn’t compromise the power resilience of either your site or your distribution network. A BESS uses stored power to provide the additional demand generated by rapid charging, rather than relying on your grid connection directly. This prevents the additional strain on your grid supply than can compromise power resilience or see your DNO turn down a proposed project.

The battery storage system can charge more slowly from grid power, or from on-site generation technologies such as solar (PV) or Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems. This allows the battery storage system to act as a buffer between your EV charging infrastructure and the grid, protecting the network from spikes in power demand. For cases where your DNO is blocking the installation of EV charging, this solution can enable the project to proceed without the need for expensive grid connection upgrades.

At the same time, BESS can provide you with site-wide, instantaneous Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). This ensures that in the case of disruption either to your grid supply or on-site power infrastructure, your battery will provide immediate emergency power to prevent any disruption to your site.

Implementing battery energy storage is one of the most cost-effective ways of unlocking rapid charging for your distribution site, while improving power resilience and sustainability

Find out more about how we can help to improve your power resilience and facilitate rapid EV charging

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