BP to install charging points for electric cars at UK petrol stations

BP will add rapid charging points for electric cars at its UK petrol stations within the next two months, in the latest sign of an oil giant adapting to the dramatic growth of battery-powered cars.

The British oil firm’s venture arm has invested $5m (£3.5m) in the US firm Freewire Technologies, which will provide motorbike-sized charging units at forecourts to top up cars in half an hour.

The move follows a bigger move by BP’s Anglo-Dutch rival Shell, which has been on a buying spree of electric car infrastructure companies and has already opened charging points at its service stations.

While BP would not put a number on how many forecourts would see the chargers, it confirmed the trial would start in the UK during February and March before expanding to European locations later in the year.

Tufan Erginbilgic, the chief executive of BP Downstream, said: “EV charging will undoubtedly become an important part of our business, but customer demand and the technologies available are still evolving.”

The oil firm recently returned to solar power with the $200m investment in a solar developer, and is due to announce its first overarching carbon target soon, as it plays catch-up with other oil majors such as Shell.

But today marks the company’s first step into electric cars, which it expects to rise a hundredfold by 2035 but not to seriously affect oil demand.

There are around 130,000 electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the UK, but Britain’s biggest charging point firm predicts that number will grow rapidly.

Chargemaster Plc told an audience in London on Tuesday that it projected the nearly 50,000 plug-in car registrations in 2017 would jump to 70,000 new cars sold in 2018, which it said was a conservative estimate.

Charging infrastructure falls into three categories: slow (less than 7KW, up to 8 hours to charge a car), fast (7-22KW, 3-4 hours) and rapid (50KW and above, typically 30 minutes or less).

Tom Callow, director of strategy at the group, said the sort of rapid chargers that BP plans to install will be a niche market in the UK.

“Fast charging is absolutely dominating … [there is] a smaller circle of people who need rapid charging, and the idea that you need rapid chargers across the UK is a fallacy. You then have a much much smaller circle of people who need super-rapid charging [350KW],” he said.

However, National Grid, which runs the UK’s electricity transmission network, said that it was in talks with BP, Shell, Ford, BMW, Tesla and other companies about building infrastructure for super rapid chargers at motorway service stations.

Graeme Cooper, the project director of electric vehicles, said that the company had mapped traffic, population and roads and identified 50 sites to ensure most people are in reach of such chargers.

“Fifty strategic locations means to an extent that 96% of UK drivers would be able to drive in any direction from any location in the UK and be in 50 miles of an ultra rapid small charger … To an extent we can probably allay range anxiety,” he said.

The grid infrastructure for such a plan would cost £0.5-1bn, or around 60p a driver per year if all motorists shouldered the cost, Cooper said. He was dismissive of “doom-mongers” who suggest the UK energy system cannot cope with the cars.

Nissan, whose new longer range Leaf electric car arrives on UK roads in coming months, said on Tuesday that it would fit 1,000 charging points for a trial to test how plug-in cars’ batteries can help power grids, by returning electricity at times of need.

Adam Vaughan 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

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