UPS to bolster London charging infrastructure with old electric vehicle batteries

EXCLUSIVE: UPS's sustainable development co-ordinator, Claire Thompson-Sage, has revealed that the logistics giant will incorporate batteries from its end-of-life electric vehicles (EVs) into its storage and charging network next year as it strives to create its first fully-electric fleet of delivery vans.

As more and more businesses pledge to decarbonise their fleet, Thompson-Sage joined industry experts from UK Power Network Services and the Cross River Partnership to discuss the benefits and barriers to EV adoption during edie’s Green Fleets webinar last week.

In a bid to save on storage costs and strengthen the energy infrastructure at UPS’s central London depot, Thompson-Sage revealed during the webinar that the company is set to remove the batteries from its initial group of EVs, which it purchased in 2008, and add them to its ‘smart grid’ charging technology there.

“A large part of our EV assets is the value of the battery, so we can now extend the life of those by adding them as a storage system with the infrastructure at our Camden depot, allowing us to carry on using those batteries while bolstering power within that facility,” Thompson-Sage said during the webinar.

The move will enable the charging system, which allowed UPS to increase the amount of 7.5-tonne electric trucks operating from its London site from 65 to 170 when it was installed earlier this year, to charge an additional five trucks by the end of 2019, Thompson-Sage said.


Charging challenges  

Battery storage installations and charging infrastructure were recurring topics of debate, with speakers in agreement that the upfront costs of such projects could stifle the business case for greener fleets more than the cost of EVs themselves.

Despite UPS’s strong track record of EV adoption, including its recent trials of e-bikes and e-trikes for last-mile deliveries in city centres, Thompson-Sage admitted that the firm’s sustainability team still “faces challenges” with getting boardroom buy-in for subsidy-free charging infrastructure projects, particularly for its smaller fleets.

She explained that the Camden depot befitted from already having the infrastructure necessary to “incrementally” introduce more charge points, but that this move to improve infrastructure was nonetheless “very expensive” and met with friction from the landlord of the site.

“We have had to agree that if we ever move out of that building, we will pay to remove all of that electrical infrastructure, and that’s not something we can take with us,” she said. “This is a barrier for rolling out EVs on a large scale.”

Thompson-Sage’s sentiments were echoed by UK Power Network Services’ head of markets, Phil Hack, and the Cross River Partnerships’ programme manager Tanja Dalle-Muenchmayer, who concurred that the lifecycle costs for EVs under 3.5 tonnes were now “comparable” to diesel alternatives, leaving infrastructure costs a “key barrier” to EV adoption.

A further challenge highlighted during the webinar by Dalle-Muenchmayer was the “limited” support for electric HGVs, while cars, vans and taxis all continue to benefit from Government grant schemes.

“Roughly speaking, the larger the vehicle gets, the harder it is to build a business case for electrifying it,” she explained, arguing that the supply and variety of electrified HGVs were failing to match consumer demand, particularly from large businesses.  

Going on the grid

The panel also discussed whether using idle car batteries as a source of power for grid services was a viable application for EV projects and if the financial benefits of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) schemes could help achieve business buy-in for such initiatives.

They concluded that the concept was in the “viability stage rather than the commercial stage”, with Hack stating that it is “not going to be an immediate solution”.

“There’s a way to go before business-to-grid becomes common and we need to have vehicles with a reasonable amount of power on board before an operator may want to see another revenue stream [in using EVs as an energy storage option],” Hack said.

Hack noted that businesses have been slow to adopt V2G schemes in the past as relying on energy storage from stationary vehicles would increase the stress on the batteries, which are one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle.

As battery costs come down and perceptions of EVs change, Hack believes this trend could reverse, with Thompson-Sage confirming that UPS would be “very interested” in such a development at the right time.

Sarah George

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