UPS increases grid capacity at London depot to overcome electric vehicle charging hurdle

UPS has spent more than £600,000 on third-party infrastructure at its Kentish Town, north London depot to enable it to charge multiple electric trucks at the same time.

As part of its work with the EU-funded Freight Electric Vehicles in Urban Europe (Frevue) project, the parcel firm has been operating 16 converted P80E trucks in its London fleet.

However, UPS discovered that charging them simultaneously in the evening at a time when the depot’s sorting machines were  in full swing and electricity consumption was at a peak, was not possible due to insufficient grid capacity.

A near two-year process saw UPS working closely with electricity distributor and substation owner UK Power Networks (UKPN) and a three-tier system of landlords at the London hub to upgrade the site’s grid capacity.

UPS is now able to charge up to 68 trucks at once (with an eye to future fleet expansion), even during peak electricity demand.

A recently published Frevue report highlighted the major issue was that UPS was required to make major investment in a UKPN asset without having any control over its operation – a scenario which would likely be similar for operators across Europe.

“This issue will need to be addressed, as for many operations the investment would be prohibitively expensive, hindering the wider uptake of electric freight vehicles,” the report stated.

       Lessons learned from project:

  • Develop a good understanding of infrastructure requirements of electric freight vehicles before purchase;
  • Develop good understanding of local grid infrastructure situation, especially in relation to ownership structures and lease agreements;
  • Infrastructure upgrades tend to be non-incremental in nature – for example, an upgrade in two steps rather than one can be significantly more expensive;
  • Not many stakeholders will be in a position to invest in third party infrastructure the way UPS did. This is a policy issue that will need to be addressed if larger electric fleets are to be encouraged.

UPS operates nearly 100,000 vehicles worldwide, of which around 7,000 use alternative technology or fuels.

It last year began a London trial of a range-extended electric vehicle in partnership with Tevva Motors (pictured).