Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

UPS deploys smart grid to charge EVs in London

Steve Rogerson
March 28, 2018

Logistics company UPS has led a consortium deploying smart-grid charging technology in London that overcomes the challenge of simultaneously recharging an entire fleet of electric vehicles (EVs) without the need for the expensive upgrade to the power supply grid.
The breakthrough signals the beginning of the end of reliance upon traditional combustion-engine powered vehicles by allowing UPS to increase the number of EVs operating from its central London site from the current limit of 65 to all 170 trucks based there.
This is believed to be the first time these systems have been deployed at this scale anywhere in the world. It is the result of the Smart Electric Urban Logistics (Seul) project with UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership, with funding secured from the UK’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles.
“UPS thinks this is a world first, right in the heart of a mega-city,” said Peter Harris, director of sustainability for UPS in Europe. “We are using new technology to work around some big obstacles to electric vehicle deployment, heralding a new generation of sustainable urban delivery services both here in London and in other major cities around the world. Electric vehicles are an integral component within UPS’s alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet. Our collaboration with UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership marks a major turning point in the cost effective deployment of electric vehicles, which in turn will play a key role in ensuring the global trend towards urbanisation is sustainable. We are applying new technology to make the charging process smarter and our delivery service cleaner.”
As a result of this initiative, combined with the advances the company announced recently in reducing the cost of electric vehicles, UPS believes the day is rapidly drawing closer when the acquisition costs to put an electric vehicle on the road, including those associated with getting power to the vehicle, will be lower than the equivalent costs of its diesel counterpart.
This development will be instrumental in enabling electric vehicles to be deployed at scale in the world’s cities, which is an essential component of tackling the air quality challenges in these urban environments.
"This trailblazing solution has enabled UPS to increase their electric vehicle fleet without upgrading their network connection, paving the way for future electrification of delivery vehicles in our cities,” said Ian Smyth of UK Power Networks Services. “We are delighted to work with UPS and our other partners to design, deliver and operate this sustainable smart grid. This project will deliver a huge impact on improving the air quality for Londoners and contribute to UPS’s legacy of sustainability.”
A key part of this initiative is the use of onsite energy storage batteries. Although new batteries have been deployed at this stage, it is envisaged that in the future these could be second-life batteries that have already been used in a UPS EV. Together with the smart grid, this will pave the way toward a UPS EV infrastructure strategy that can dynamically make use of a conventional power upgrade, a smart grid, onsite storage and, in many cases, local power generation including solar and other alternative sources.
“Our previous work on electric freight vehicles has shown that local grid infrastructure constraints are one of the main barriers to their large-scale uptake,” said Tanja Dalle-Muenchmeyer, programme manager for electric freight at Cross River Partnership. “We need to find smarter solutions to electric vehicle charging if we want to benefit from the significant air quality and environmental benefits these vehicles offer, and we believe this is such a solution.”
UPS has a long history with EVs, having first introduced them into its fleet in the 1930s, and reintroduced modern EVs in 2001. Currently, UPS has more than 300 electric vehicles and nearly 700 hybrid electric vehicles deployed in Europe and the USA. The company recently ordered 125 new fully electric Semi tractors to be built by Tesla in 2019, one of the largest pre-orders to date. Additionally, in September UPS announced it would become the first commercial customer in the USA to start using three medium-duty electric trucks from Daimler Trucks Fuso brand, called the eCanter.
These initiatives will help UPS attain its goal of one in four new vehicles purchased by 2020 being an alternative fuel or advanced technology vehicle. The company also has pledged to obtain a quarter of the electricity it consumes from renewable energy sources by 2025 and replace 40 per cent of all ground fuel with sources other than conventional petrol and diesel, an increase from 19.6 per cent in 2016.
UPS operates one of the largest private alternative fuel and advanced technology fleets in the USA. Now at more than 9000 vehicles worldwide, the fleet includes all-electric, hybrid electric, hydraulic hybrid, ethanol, CNG, LNG and propane.
Recharging a fleet of electric vehicles can be extremely expensive as it often requires upgrades to the external power grid, an option not attractive to most businesses or operators. This system will allow UPS to increase the number of EVs operating from the central London site from the current limit of 65 to all 170 lorries stationed there, without the need for such upgrades.
This is achieved with a smart grid that uses a central server, which is connected to each EV charge post as well as the grid power supply and the on-site energy storage.
The system adopts an intelligent approach to charging by spreading this throughout the night so the building can use the power it needs to run the business of logistics – lights, sortation machinery and IT – and ensure that all EVs are fully charged by the time they are needed in the morning, but at the same time never exceed the maximum power available from the grid.
As a result of this project and the learning that comes with the related investments, UPS can tailor the lowest cost approach building by building and determine how best to adopt and charge a fully electric fleet. This will be accomplished by combining a variety of technologies including conventional power grid upgrade, smart grid, on-site energy storage with batteries and local power generation, using, for example, solar energy generated on facility roof tops.
Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has launched a consultation on managed EV charging, seeking views on proposed ways to help avoid potential overloads on local electricity networks caused by sharp increases in the use of electric vehicles.
The consultation forms part of SSEN’s Smart EV project, undertaken alongside technology partner EA Technology and supported by GB distribution network operators. The project, funded by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance, set out to review and research charging technology that will allow the transition to electric vehicles to take place with minimum disruption to customers and avoiding unnecessary network reinforcement.