What does it take to build the UK’s EV charging infrastructure?
“Believe it or not, installing EV charging on dry land can be more difficult than working on other projects at thousands of metres under the sea,” says bp pulse delivery lead James Birdsall, who made the switch from bp’s hydrocarbons business to the EV business two years ago.
First, you need land in the right place for people on the move. Then, you need to address all safety, environmental and other planning requirements. And you need access to high-power electricity connections. In other words, place, permissions and power.
bp pulse’s latest addition to its EV charging network has all three. Located at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, at the heart of the UK’s motorway network, it’s in exactly the right place for millions of motorists.
Plus, it’s next to a giant event venue that draws 2.1 million visitors a year. It’s also a stone’s throw from Birmingham Airport, which flies nearly 10 million passengers around the world every year, and a main train station.
Just as importantly, it has great access to power, with a connection to the electricity grid to fuel the new chargers just metres away. And when it came to permissions, local authorities and the community were supportive of the hub.
After months of construction, the new Gigahub™ at the NEC is now home to 30 ultra-fast 150kW and 150 fast 7kW charge points, enabling up to 180 EVs to charge simultaneously.
With more EV drivers on the roads, hubs like this are needed more than ever. EV charging is also one of the areas driving bp’s transformation to an integrated energy company, while we also invest in today’s energy system, which is mainly oil and gas.
“We are growing rapidly, and we know that as EV adoption continues to rise, the demand for EV charging will increase as well,” says James, who previously worked on some of bp’s most complex engineering challenges – oil and gas projects under the sea in some of the world’s harshest conditions.
Long before any building starts, bp teams look at where drivers need chargers most. They then need to find the land to place the charge points. bp often works with partners on projects like these, and this hub was a three-way collaboration between the NEC, EV Network (EVN) and bp pulse, which will operate the site now that it’s open.
Throughout the project’s development, James and his team worked closely with EVN to oversee the project for bp and monitor progress of the build.
The driver experience was kept front of mind, and bp pulse added in features to the site like Wi-Fi, accessible bays for disabled drivers, canopies to keep customers protected from the elements, and CCTV for safety.
Two types of chargers are available so drivers who need to get back on the road can quickly charge while others who are, for example, at the NEC for the day, can plug in to a slower charger.
Drivers also have access to a new Starbucks café and drive-thru on site.
While this site is among the first of its kind for bp pulse and for the UK as a whole, it now provides a template for the future as bp works to help accelerate the mobility revolution.
“bp pulse is scaling up rapidly,” says James. “Projects like the NEC charging hub are building a foundation for future projects.”
One of the big takeaways from this project was the design for the canopy covering the ultra-fast chargers to help keep customers dry. The UK team had yet to install a canopy for EV charging and was keen that it be included in this project, along with solar panels that could power the canopy lights. The team was able to design it quickly and now has a model to work from for future sites.
What’s more, the relationships bp pulse has formed with its partners will also serve the team well in the event of future projects.
“Projects like the NEC hub are real game changers,” says James. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about for the future.”
James Birdsall, bp pulse delivery lead
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