News & Blog
News & Blog
Sam Clarke, founder of green logistic specialists Gnewt, runs the largest all-electric fleet in the UK. He explains that the logistics of ensuring they are all sufficiently charged is no easy task, but one that will be repeated endlessly as many countries reach the electric-vehicle tipping point. Here’s his take on what we need.
In August 1967, the UK’s Electric Vehicle Association stated that Britain had more battery-electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. This was due to the nationwide fleet of trusty milk floats used to deliver fresh milk to households.
Times have changed. In 2003 I travelled extensively in China and was struck (almost literally) by how many electric scooters were already a main source of affordable transportation. So much so, I invested in this technology and immediately started commuting by electric vehicle in London, energised by what I had seen in the Far East.
There were just two publicly available charge points in London when I began in this new transportation world 15 years ago. When I commuted into town and parked opposite the Lyceum Theatre in London every day to plug my scooter in, I loved the fact that I was proving the case that this system works. Except of course, until someone else wanted to regularly use the same charging post as me every day, so my perfect little system was obliterated simply by demand outstripping supply.
The proliferation of electric cars and vans has been unprecedented in recent times with new registrations of plug-in cars increasing from 3,500 in 2013 to more than 182,000 by the end of October 2018. In many ways the technological landscape has changed immeasurably, but in others we have progressed little since the days of the still recognisable and functioning milk float.
A lack of harmony
In 2003, the Internet of Things (IoT) was well, not a thing, whereas now it is commonplace in many of our lives to be in some way continually inter-connected to the cloud. I can log into my electric car from an app to see its state of charge, another app now to see if my home charger is being used or another to get my smart meter reading. It is however not yet working in harmony.
If we are to achieve a revolution in electric vehicle uptake we need a harmonious IoT solution and quickly. As Elon Musk says, “we can’t keep burning dead dinosaurs”, nor can we all charge our cars at peak times. Just like my first public charging experience, demand will outstrip supply all too quickly.
From a commercial perspective, this year Gnewt upgraded the smart charging infrastructure for our fleet of fully electric vans. The challenge was to engineer a solution for 60 smart charge points at two nearby locations, all connected and all managed via the cloud with a limited incoming supply. These vehicles’ daily charge was critical to the business, so this was a UK first and a pioneering moment in a sector widely regarded as being at its tipping point of mass adoption.
During this development I realised how complex this solution was and that the problem we were solving is likely to be replicated all over the country in domestic and commercial applications alike for years to come.
With a traditional internal combustion engine car (or ICE for short), the focus is on which type of vehicle best suits your need, the fuel was largely inconsequential as the two main choices were diesel or petrol. Conversely in the world of an electric vehicle there is so much more to consider. Where will I park and charge? How will I charge? Is there enough power? When is the electricity cheaper? How far can I travel? All these questions and more need answering before you even choose a suitable vehicle.
In our commercial application within the business we came to realise very quickly three fundamental areas that needed addressing. The building was as a limited and varying power source with lifts or powered shutter doors working, if only for a minute. We also needed to know what the vans’ power requirements were on their return to base (via telematics) and lastly what charger posts were available and where. To make a solution that was truly smart, we needed to find a way to electronically connect all these elements together on the cloud so to create a viable and working solution.
These types of challenges exist for us because we have the largest commercial electric fleet in the UK, but this same challenge will transcend the commercial and domestics sectors alike very soon and as a country we are not yet equipped to deal with it.
The author of this blog is Sam Clarke, founder of green logistic specialists Gnewt