An appetite for EVs

Launched in May, Pivot Power's plan to develop a world-first 2GW network of grid-scale batteries and rapid electric vehicle (EV) charging hubs across the UK has created waves throughout the industry.

An appetite for EVs

The battery network will be the world’s biggest, able to release or absorb two thirds the power of the planned Hinkley C nuclear power plant in response to grid balancing requirements. Network brought together the Pivot Power founders (Matthew Allen, CEO; Michael Clark, CTO; Matthew Boulton, COO) to explore what their plan will mean for the industry.


What will Pivot Power’s plan allow the industry to achieve? 

MA: “The UK has seen a dramatic (and welcome) shift away from coal-fired power, and towards wind and solar. The next step of decarbonisation will require significant quantities of grid-scale battery storage to smooth out imbalances between electricity supply and demand.”

MC: “Exactly, and EV rapid-charging presents similar challenges and opportunities. A single charger can draw as much power as a medium sided supermarket. Providing facilities which can support lots of EVs rapid-charging at the same time, therefore, requires as much power as a small town. So our battery network will tackle both challenges, introducing valuable flexibility into the energy system to accommodate the demands of mass EV charging and higher levels of intermittent renewable generation.”


What does this mean for EV drivers?

MA: “Pivot Power is addressing the range anxiety felt by owners (and potential owners) of EVs by tackling the primary barrier to EV purchase: the availability of chargers. Our charging hubs across the country will offer mass charging at competitive rates, supporting up to 100 rapid 150KW chargers at each location. They will also be able to support rapid 350KW chargers when they become available in the UK.”

MC: “To put that in perspective, a 7 kW charger would charge a 100 kWh battery in c. 17 hours, and a 150 kW charger would charge the same vehicle in 45 minutes. As we move to even more rapid charging, we could be looking at 350 kW chargers filling a car battery in under 20 minutes.”

MA: “As well as acting as charging hubs our batteries will provide valuable flexibility services to the grid, meeting the increasing demand for energy storage. In summary, you could say that the question of EV uptake and the availability of chargers is the ultimate chicken and egg scenario. However, our plan resolves that issue by providing multifunctional, commercially viable infrastructure.”


Could you draw a comparison to installations in other countries? 

MA: “We’ve seen a dramatic uptake in EV deployment across Europe, particularly in Norway and the Netherlands. Both success stories were enabled by a clear commitment from government to deploy the necessary charging infrastructure to move the market forward.”

MC: “Yes, and we aim to achieve the same for the UK. However, instead of establishing an energy storage network and then installing EV charging infrastructure, we hope to do both at a world-leading pace.”


What do local authorities stand to gain from the battery installations? 

MA: “Climate change is making countries around the world rethink how they source their energy and how they power their transport. Local councils are being tasked with spearheading many of these changes and we think we can help.”

MB: “Each area with a Pivot Power battery will find itself at the forefront of the smart energy revolution. Close collaboration with local authorities will ensure that we build the right infrastructure in the right place to make it easy for drivers, businesses and public services to switch to electric vehicles, benefiting the climate, air quality and the economy.”

MA: “These ‘superhubs’ will bring massive benefits to the local area, with direct relevance to the council’s infrastructure plans – a Park and Ride or bus depot for example. By bringing sufficient charging capacity to these locations, we can support councils in mandating electric-only buses and taxis in the area. Suddenly, air quality targets will be in reach, safeguarding public health.

The plans, in turn, could stimulate the local economy. Not only will living standards rise but the EV charging hubs will present a number of commercial opportunities that will create jobs and attract business.”

MC: “Exactly. We have said from the start that we aim to future-proof the UK’s energy system, ready for mass EV uptake. You could also say that we are future-proofing the UK economy, ready for the low-carbon era. As well as supporting EV charging, our batteries will enable more renewable energy to be generated onto the electricity system.”


How will this help take pressure off existing infrastructure? 

MC: “So the UK is currently not wired to make EV adoption easy – there simply isn’t enough copper in the ground. Each street will typically have enough spare power for only a few domestic EV chargers. An office building will typically only have enough spare capacity for five or 10 EV chargers. Existing infrastructure cannot cope with mass EV charging.”

MA: “This is where Pivot Power comes in. By connecting directly to the transmission network at National Grid substations, we have access to enough power to supply thousands of EV chargers, avoiding the fundamental issues Mike highlighted. By positioning our ‘superhubs’ near highways on the edge of towns, they will serve as ‘fast-fill petrol stations’ for the residents of the town who cannot easily charge at home, or who simply don’t have time as well as passers-by and tourists.”

MB: “Let’s look at infrastructure for low-carbon energy generation too. Renewable energy generation needs to grow significantly in order to meet the UK’s decarbonisation targets and grid flexibility will be crucial in achieving these objectives.”

MC: “With the onset of subsidy free solar and other lower cost renewable sources at scale, the electricity system needs very flexible energy assets to help balance these intermittent sources. Battery systems have become the cheapest commercially viable asset to provide these services and compliment the grid mix in a post-coal future. The alternative might be to build gas power stations which alone cannot be the long term solution if we are to keep the global temperature rise within two degrees.”

MA: “It’s really important to think about who would pay for that too. The cost of building extra infrastructure like gas turbines would be footed by electricity bill payers. Instead, Pivot Power offers a solution that takes the load off customers through a more efficient solution.

Our batteries offer a commercially viable flexible energy source with a range of revenue streams. The batteries will earn money by providing services to the National Grid and selling electricity to EV drivers. They could also sell services to local commercial sites, for example retail parks, supermarket car parks or logistics hubs.”


How quickly might the roll-out happen? What are the timescales? 

MA: “Depending on planning, we hope Pivot Power’s first site in Southampton will be operational by mid 2019, with an additional nine sites completed over the next 24 months. The full 45 sites will be installed over the next five years. The exact pace of this process will be influenced by the rate of EV uptake and the National Grid’s demand for balancing services.”


What is Pivot Power’s vision for the future beyond the five year first phase?

MA: “Once our initial 45 sites are installed there will be no pausing for breath. By that point we will be well on our way towards addressing the challenges of social mobility when it comes to accessing clean, reliable and safe energy. Appetite for EVs will offer potential for new market expansion, development of our energy trading capabilities, super-hub retail parks… and lots more.” 


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