Sustainable energy firm Gridserve has cut the ribbon on its new electric vehicle charging forecourt near Braintree in Essex, in what could be a landmark moment for EV ownership as the UK approaches the 2030 end date for the sale of new ICE cars.
Designed, by CEO Toddington Harper’s own admission, with inspiration from Apple, the forecourt (which is categorically not a service station, for reasons we will discuss later) is spacious, futuristic and simple to negotiate both inside and out. There are 36 individual charge points, ranging in output from 7kW to 350kW, which can all be used simultaneously with no drop in output.
In line with the nascent company’s ‘sun-to-wheel’ business model, electricity is generated by solar panels - mounted on the forecourt roof and at an array of partner solar farms - and stored in a 6mWh (6000kWh, or roughly enough for 26,000 miles of EV range) on-site battery, which can balance the grid in peak hours, helping to keep charging costs down.
As such, users pay just 24p per kWh to charge at the Braintree site, making it cheaper than any other ‘ultra-high-speed’ charging provider in the country.
It’s an impressive sight to behold, and Gridserve's expansion ambitions are equally eye-opening. “The plan is to build over 100 in the next five years and provide people with the confidence to make the transition,” outlines Harper. “We need a lot - probably a lot more than 100.”
Details on future sites remain under wraps (the Braintree site opened first largely because it was the quickest to get through the planning process), but Gridserve isn’t exclusively eyeing sites near high-traffic areas, as you might expect of a traditional fuel provider.
“We’re not a service station," Harper notes. "There are about 150 service stations in the UK that allow people to get from A to B, and people just pass through. But there are 8400 petrol stations, whose primary need is serving the local community, and that’s what this is. The primary purpose of this electric forecourt is to serve the local community.”
Siting its first location at the side of the A131 may have positive implications for footfall, but it wasn’t the ultimate ambition. With plush office ‘pods’, exercise bikes (which power the forecourt), a high-tech kids' play area and even shower facilities upstairs - in addition to the more conventional WH Smiths, Costa and supermarket on the ground floor, it’s clear that Gridserve wants its facilities to be seen more as a destination than just as a means of facilitating a journey.
Harper has driven an EV for eight years and freely admits that slotting one into your daily life is “not for the faint-hearted”. He argues that public infrastructure as it stands is “expensive”, “not very reliable” and, above all, sparse. Add to that the fact that some 40% of UK drivers have no access to off-street parking and it’s plain to see why there are widely held doubts about the UK’s ability to go largely electric in the next nine years.