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​Current± Chats: Siemens' Bernard Magee on blending grid capabilities with e-mobility

Image: Siemens.

A milestone was hit in April; over 1,000 on-street electric vehicle (EV) chargers were installed in the City of Westminster as part of a rollout between the local authority, Siemens and ubitricity.

It followed the company fully converting the UK's first residential street to lamppost charging in March, also in collaboration with ubitricity.

Current± caught up with Bernard Magee, director of EV Charging, Siemens UK&I, to talk about the need to collaborate, why on-street charging works for London and the edge that Siemens' grid capabilities gives it for e-mobility.

How did you first get involved with Westminster City Council?

The team kicked this off probably two years ago as part of the Go Ultra Low City Scheme (GULCS) initiative that was organised by Transport for London. This was the framework that was established back then to actually install this type of infrastructure across the city in a number of boroughs. Effectively, the first step was for us to be accepted onto the framework as a partner to supply the infrastructure. The second step really was engaging with the boroughs in London and Westminster was one of many for us.

Why is on-street charging the go-to solution for deploying EV charging in much of London?

That's the key question. For me, it's a behaviour thing; we're all programmed to think 'we need fuel on our vehicles, let's go and find a fuel station somewhere, drive there, fill up energised and then come back' and the primary objective is to go there and come back. Whereas now, we're moving into this new world where actually putting energy in your vehicle becomes a secondary activity, so you're doing it whilst you're doing something else.

A really neat thing is that you can be charging up whilst you're sleeping. So of course, helping the boroughs install these in residential streets in London, whilst people are sleeping, it just makes so much sense.

Siemens also has a large presence when it comes to buses. How is that different to delivering EV charging for cars?

We do a lot of work in the commercial space, we do a lot of work on the buses, in and around London in particular, so really quite an interesting piece is that use case, which is probably a lot more defined in terms of the bus routes.

But then working with the different bus manufacturers, you know, everyone has their different view on the different technology on board the vehicle as well, so we find a lot of the time we have to be flexible in our approach. And we have to work with everybody, there's so many stakeholders in this market as well and that's something that we also recognise; we know we have to collaborate, we have to partner with people and with Westminster. We partnered with ubitricity, who looks after the B2C side of things, and that's worked tremendously well.

Going back to the vehicles, these have 350kWh, 400kWh batteries on board. These are big batteries. And when you get a number of those vehicles in one depot or just two or three routes in one depot, it really pumps up the power requirements into that depot from the grid. For us, really, this is our core business - we build a lot of the grid for the network guys in the UK and we've been doing that for many, many decades. What we've managed to do is to blend our grid capability and experience with our e-mobility experience and put those together. So we offer the full grid to vehicle proposition to the guys in the bus sector and truck sector, which is really starting to gain momentum now too.

How useful is it to have that grid experience to bring to the e-mobility business?

What we've been told by some of our customers is it's invaluable because if you think about, let's just say some of the end customers and operators that we're talking to, traditionally they're running fleets, they're running buses or trucks or vans - that's their core business. That's what they've done for many years. They understand all of that. But then when people start talking about electrification and batteries and chargers and vehicle types, you can almost see their hands vibrating when we start talking about kilowatt hours and current and voltage and power and connections and transformers and switch gear.

To be fair, this is a new world; this is another planet for them. They're not used to having these conversations, so what we try and do is to take all the complexity away, we deal with all that complicated electrical stuff on their behalf and ultimately, we get down to a point where they can just make that switch in in a very controlled and confident way.

What are you most excited about that’s in the works at Siemens?

We have a new high power charger, up to 300kW. This is predominantly geared towards the public motorway highway charging, and this is quite unique in the market. It looks the same whether it's 160kW, or whether it's 300kW - it's the same housing effectively, but it's future proof. So if a customer comes along and wants to put some chargers in but they don't want to put a 300kW in, they can put in 160kW, but then if they decide in a year, two years time, we can easily upgrade that for them to 300kW. So I'm really quite excited to take that out in the market and to roll that out and scale that.

Editorial

Alice Grundy Reporter, Current±

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