The owner of the UK’s ‘Electric Highway’, GRIDSERVE, has secured £200 million in funding from Infracapital, enabling an expansion of its solar farm + battery model supporting electric hubs and forecourts.
GRIDSERVE has secured £200 million investment from Infracapital, the infrastructure equity investment arm of M&G Plc, to widen out infrastructure for EVs.
Local grid upgrades are the biggest limiting factor showing the lack of readiness in the grid for the EV transition.
New approaches to grid design and distribution, especially digitalisation, are going to play an increasingly important role in electrification.
Dedicated power hubs fuelled by solar energy support GRIDSERVE’s EV chargers, and this ‘Sun-to-Wheel’ model is to be scaled up with the £200 million investment from Infracapital.
GRIDSERVE currently has two electric forecourts in the UK, which it wants to raise to 100. Finding suitable locations, land and grid access, is one of the challenges to its expansion. It is developing a series of hubs consisting of 6-12 350 kV chargers which have the power to provide 100 miles of range in just 10 minutes or charging, or longer depending on the car’s capacity. Each of the company’s electric forecourt has 36 of these chargers.
GRIDSERVE acquired the electric highway from Ecotricity in 2021 and has replaced all the chargers. Its network covers 85% of the UK’s motorway service areas and some of the UK’s busiest retail destinations and successfully charges over 100,000 electric vehicles every month.
Proprietary EV network takes pressure off the grid
GRIDSERVE’s model takes pressure off the grid by building its own solar + battery farms that deliver electricity to its forecourts and super hubs. It currently has four solar farms with over 240,000 bifacial solar panels installed on them generating a total of 62 GWh, and is planning several more.
Upgrading grid infrastructure is one of the biggest costs that GRIDSERVE faces. Local cables tend to have insufficient power capacity for rapid EV charging. Aside from the hybrid solar farms, GRIDSERVE wants to build dedicated batteries to fill up with cheaper power at night and discharge during the day.
In addition, GRIDSERVE builds Solar Energy Centres (SECs); units for work sites off the grid that integrate solar, energy storage, remote monitoring and a back-up generator.
GRIDSERVE offering highlights grid challenges for electrification
Distribution networks have become key to the success of the energy transition. They are the elements underpinning the change from a centralised model, where energy comes from large power plants located far from consumption points to a decentralised model, in which distributed resources – such as self-consumption, storage or electric vehicles – are integrated into a capillary manner into the distribution network, from Low Voltage to higher voltage grids.
This can work well with localised generation but getting the model to work involves great technical complexity in managing an increasingly efficient grid, thanks to digitalisation and the incorporation of flexibility to adapt to changing demand conditions and the volume of energy fed into the grid.
In the last year Iberdrola (MCE:IBE) said that it was able to connect 4,300 MW of renewable energy (and 2,000 third party plants) because of the way in which its distributor, i-D redesigned its grid access and connections.
The redesign included the development of an interactive geographic capacity map, available to any customer via i-DE’s website. This map makes it possible to consult the capacity of all lines operated by the company and to identify the location of access points.
It is also the first step in the process of interaction between the new generators and the distribution company through a pioneering IT system that allows standardisation of documents and content, as well as monitoring of deadlines to facilitate early detection of any incident.
Grids need overhaul to manage mass amounts of EVs and more as electrification accelerates
The robustness of the grid will be a critical inflection point as electrification continues to accelerate. It will need to support not only the widespread use of electric vehicles but a growing amount of volatile renewable energy. Large amounts of electricity storage will be required, and complex management of such bi-directional flow will require stability.
One of the biggest hurdles utilities faces is an ageing grid that was never designed to take in and store power from distributed, renewable power sources. Grid infrastructure needs to be modernised and new approaches to generation, storage and distribution are going to need to be deployed if the grid will be able to accommodate the flexible load.
Increased digitalisation will also be needed to manage demand management for stabilising electricity flows. There is likely to be an increased amount of distributed generation that will need to be integrated and potentially a peer-to-peer trading network to facilitate further market growth.
In the UK, the National Grid is expecting a significant roll out of EVs, due to the UK’s planned phase-out of diesel and ICE cars, but is planning on a gradual transition. While it is currently spending around £1.3 billion per year in upgrading the grid (and more on innovation), It acknowledges the process is slower in the UK than the US. In terms of preparing for EVs it has pinpointed locations on the grid where capacity can currently handle ultra-fast chargers. These are not to be more than a 50 mile radius from one another.
A successful transition to EVs will rely on an overhaul of the grid in order to ensure that drivers can overcome range anxiety. European grids are failing the transition to renewable energy by not upgrading to support its development and the same principle applies to EVs.