A welcome break for EV drivers?
By Simon Hacker | 16th March 2023
Promising to airbrush the potholes out of the road ahead for electric cars, sustainable energy business Gridserve is introducing a series of prestigious EV-only service stations.
If you're still an EV agnostic, you might have driven by a pioneer example and not noticed, but this could soon be your next destination for an energy boost – and maybe even a business meeting.
Braintree in Essex saw the pilot scheme for Gridserve's first 'Electric Forecourt' (EF) in 2020, an ultramodern zap-and-drive facility where EV owners brim their batteries and gain access to a retail area, a family zone and even private 'pods' for a work rendezvous.
Already Norwich has followed suit with its own EF and a new, more compact version (with charging points set beneath the elevated retail floor) is under construction in the shadow of Gatwick Airport's South Terminal.
As its name indicates, Gridserve Sustainable Energy Ltd, a British company founded in 2017 that stepped in to take over Ecotricity's Electric Highway infrastructure, is all about getting behind the UK's transition to carbon neutrality – but is this industry keeping up?
Data suggests not, given a grim statistic that despite a government target of 300,000 public chargers by 2030, we now have just over 30,000 in place, meaning 10% of the end goal achieved so far.
Undeterred by such data, Gridserve is busy both with its EF plans and a broader roll out of Electric Super Hubs which, albeit without the full EF facilities, do offer the same ultra-rapid 350 kW charging for those with cars that can take such a charge - if your car can, it can add up to 217 miles to a battery in just ten minutes. One has just been activated at the Solstice Park near Stonehenge.
Gridserve's EF program aims to introduce 100 such destinations over the following five years, all sites charging electric vehicles from 100% renewable energy. Will we get one here in Gloucestershire?
As yet the company tells Punchline it has no specific plan, but a facility from Braintree's template will inevitably follow soon.
All EFs are designed to run on renewable energy. Braintree's links to the UK's first subsidy-free solar farm in Clay Hill, while it also incorporates a 6MWh battery that helps balance the local energy grid and shift energy to periods when it's more valuable. For wind sceptics, a blustery night can, incidentally, spell 24,000 miles worth of energy stored for the following day.
While your car's connected, the EF's break services are operated by WHSmith, which provides its own outlet, as well as Costa Coffee, M&S Food, the Post Office and Gourmade. The area also includes a waiting lounge, free WiFi, 'high-end washrooms', a dedicated area for children, a 'wellbeing' zone with exercise bikes that generate electricity (you don't get paid to peddle) and business meeting room 'pods'.
Braintree has three such rooms, all climate-controlled, soundproofed, and ergonomically designed. Office pods are rentable by the hour and can accommodate individuals and small groups looking to concentrate and collaborate, says Gridserve. For an hour's occupation, we were quoted £24.
And with your audience thus captivated, Gridserve naturally maximises on this opportunity to offer something more: as the name implies, the Electric Forecourt also offers cars for your consideration; a tie-in with Hitachi Capital (UK) PLC, drivers stopping here for a recharge can visit an area with multiple digitals screens that promise to deliver information on the latest new car options. Brands on board range from Audi, BMW, DS and Mercedes-Benz to MG, Mini, Nissan, Renault and Volkswagen.
And if talking to EV enthusiasts hired in by Gridserve to help you make an informed choice isn't enough, test drives are also possible outside.
Toddington Harper, CEO of Gridserve, said: "Together with our Solar Farms and Electric Forecourts, Gridserve Electric Vehicle Solutions completes our 'sun-to-wheel' infrastructure designed to deliver net zero carbon transport from 2020 onwards. By including the planting of 100 trees for every electric vehicle leased through the service and providing net zero carbon energy to charge all the vehicles, we're making EV driving greener, cheaper and more straightforward than ever before."
Robert Gordon, CEO of Hitachi Capital (UK) PLC, added: "Our partnership with Gridserve is a total game-changer for electric mobility. Not only are we providing electric vehicles at some of the most competitive rates on the market, but we are at the same time developing a network of rapid, reliable and renewably powered electric forecourts that will fast-track the electric vehicle revolution in the UK as we prepare for a zero-carbon future."
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