Energy software company Moixa announced at the beginning of April that it had teamed up with UK Power Networks Services to electrify logistics company UPS’s Camden site, in the first of a wider transition for the company.
As companies increasingly look to decarbonise, switching to electric vehicles will be key to driving down emissions. But fleet electrification brings a number of challenges, not least adding pressure to often already constrained grids.
Current± caught up with Chris Wright, Moixa’s CTO, about how the project will work, scalability and using fleet electrification for the benefit of the grid.
Could you just tell me a little bit about how the project came about?
We've been working with and aware of the work that UPS are doing for some time, and talking to both UPS and UKPN about the electrification of the Camden UPS depot. UPS are very forward looking, and they really see that at some point lots of cities around the world will go zero emissions, and they better put themselves in a place where they can deal with that, sooner rather than later.
Lots of their depots are in the middle of cities, like in Camden, and cities often have a very constrained electrical grid. So the idea that you could, in the case of the Camden depot, suddenly start charging 170 vehicles on a fast charge, all the time, is just impossible. Because you'll overload the grid that is connected to that site, which was never design to deal with that load.
So there are a number of challenges that we can address with this project, where we can really turn the problem of electrification into an opportunity.
We can look at how we manage charging of those vehicles as they're plugged in, so that we never go over what the electricity company has allowed for and contracted for as supply to that site, and so we won't cause a blackout. That's obviously priority one; making sure that the power stays on.
Then on top of that, we can utilize the scheduling from UPS about when those vans go out and our AI learning software GridShare to learn when those vans go out, when they come back, and how much charge they typically need each day.
We can learn those patterns and then we can schedule the least cost way of providing power for those vans. For certain sites that will include other things; some have renewables on site. Then we can say, inside of the timeframes where we predict that the vans will be in the site, how much of that power can we pull from renewables? What can we do there to minimise the cost and also minimise the carbon of the power?
So priority one is making sure that we never overload the grid, and priority two is then to reduce the cost as far as we can for all of this, so that we're reducing the cost for UPS to deliver their transport.
With the AI GridShare platform, how much human intervention will there be?
It should take care of itself. With a scenario like UPS, we need to provide people with overviews and also the ability to overwrite whatever the automated plan is if they need to, because they may know other things that the platform doesn't know yet.
But the intention is that this operates autonomously as much as possible so it should take away hassle from people.
How does the electrification of the UPS fleet differ from other Moixa projects like the Braintree forecourt?
Well, it's a matter of scale to an extent, some of the projects we have done previously do the same management exercise, but at a smaller scale. And now what we're looking at is taking those learnings, taking the technology that we've developed and really deploying it as a product that will really deliver benefits to UPS, deliver them savings and deliver great tools that they can roll out across their whole all the sites around the world.
So I guess for us, this project is about saying, 'okay, here's the first site that UPS is testing out EV deployment at some scale.' And we plan to partner with UPS to deliver that all across UPS's estate. And this project will prove out the benefits of this technology, prove out the integrations, prove out the model for UPS so that we can we can do that.
There is stage three and four of this, which is now you've got hundreds of kilowatts of attached load in the UPS depot that you can control relatively instantaneously, that's something that you can use very much for the benefit of the grid.
Then you can start playing with grid services, deploying this controllable load into grid services like storage, and the DSO, DNO type services where you're supporting the local grid. So not only are you not going over the limits of the grid, but you're actually positively supporting the ability of that grid to be sustainable, to maximise the amount of renewables that are being used.
As part of this could you see fleet services turning to vehicle to grid (V2G) at any point?
Yeah, absolutely. These sorts of commercial scenarios where you know with more certainty when the vehicle will be plugged in, that gives you a really good base case for making a kind of financial case for V2G.
Now that technology is still relatively expensive, but in other parts of the world it is available as a generally commercial product.
In Europe, it's still quite an early stage and a bit more expensive. But as those costs come down - and they are coming down very significantly already - then, yes, absolutely we'll make a case for that. I think that that will become the new normal and very much part of the vision of how you can create terrawatts of attached storage in the form of electric vehicles.