World’s biggest commercial electric vehicle project announced in UK

Posted: 3 December 2018 | | 1 comment

Funding is approved for industry-led Optimise Prime project to test the end-to-end impacts of the rollout of commercial electric vehicles.


The world’s biggest trial of commercial electric vehicles (EVs) has been approved by UK energy regulator Ofgem, bringing together leading power, technology, fleet and transport companies to test and implement the best approaches to the EV rollout for commercial enterprises.

With businesses buying 58 per cent of all new vehicles in the UK, it will be commercial vehicles that determine the speed of the transition to low-carbon transport.

This three-year innovation project will come up with practical ways of overcoming the up-front costs that are currently holding back many of the country’s biggest commercial vehicle operators from making the switch to EVs.

Led by Hitachi Vantara and UK Power Networks, the trial will see up to 3,000 EVs from Centrica, Uber and a large UK depot-based parcel carrier take to the road, supported by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, Hitachi Europe and Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions.

The project will deliver an end-to-end overview of what the switch to EVs means for the cables and substations that deliver electricity to the community, for the businesses that need to invest in new infrastructure, and for the end users that need to power their vehicles. It is intentionally vehicle agnostic and includes depot, home and on-the-road charging scenarios.

Using large, real-life datasets and Internet of Things technologies, the project will create a detailed picture of the demands of electric fleet and private hire vehicles. This will make it possible to develop solutions that cut the cost of owning and running EVs, such as charging EVs outside the electricity network’s peak times.

Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation, UK Power Networks, said: “For electric vehicles it’s no longer a case of the tipping point, but the jumping point, because when large-scale commercial electric vehicle operators decide to switch from petrol or diesel to electric the impact will be instant. There’s incredible potential to improve the air quality of our towns and cities and we want to help that happen at the lowest possible cost to our customers.”

EV technology has now reached a maturity where the vehicles themselves are ready for day-to-day and long-distance commercial use. However, moving the energy source for transport from combustion engines is not something the electricity grid was designed for, whether charging happens in concentrated locations – such as depots – or is widespread at employees’ homes or in public places.

The UK’s big commercial vehicle operators must overcome several obstacles before they adopt EVs on a large scale – from the up-front capital hurdle to managing charging times.

Network operators, meanwhile, need to get a better understanding of the impact of commercial EVs on the country’s electricity grid. They are also looking to understand whether these vehicles can support the electricity network and help keep costs low for customers by discharging during peak times and recharging off-peak.

Jim Donaldson, Director of Innovation, Social Innovation Business, Hitachi Europe, said: “The current level of pollution from the vehicles on our roads is a major contributor to air quality issues which can be extremely detrimental to people’s health and wellbeing. Road transport in the UK currently generates 110 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, around a quarter of the UK total, and contributes to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. As electric vehicle technology begins to mature, coupled with changes in how we’re owning and using our vehicles, we’re now at a crucial point in this revolution. 

“The key to getting more commercial vehicles on the road is ensuring that it is practical and economical for operators to make the switch. This will require collaboration across industries to ensure that sufficient charging infrastructure is available in the right places and at a reasonable cost. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate how smart technology solutions can enable this, lowering the barriers to EV adoption and enabling an earlier transition to low-carbon transport.”

The project is also vital if the UK wants to meet its carbon reduction targets. The accelerated adoption of commercial EVs will save 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to London’s entire bus fleet running for four years or a full Boeing 747-400 travelling around the world 1,484 times. The flexibility provided by the project will also free up enough capacity on the electricity network to supply a million homes. 

Around 3,000 EVs will take to the roads in Greater London as part of project Optimise Prime to gather vital information that will help the UK to prepare for and speed up the transition to a greener and more efficient future.  

The project will launch early 2019. Following a programme design and build phase, the first Optimise Prime vehicles will be on the road during the second half of 2019. The test area will include a range of urban, suburban and rural scenarios across the South East, South Central and East of England.

To help the wider industry prepare, the largest cross-industry datasets on commercial EV charging and use will be shared openly.

One response to “World’s biggest commercial electric vehicle project announced in UK”

  1. Travelling on the M62 Huddersfield to Manchester, on late evenings on any day of the week, one observed large numbers of HVGs proceeding Eastwards to Yorkshire and elsewhere starting their journeys early enough to be at their destination in the early morning. Such large numbers wishing to charge at about the same time would probaly shut down all the tvs that were in action. The electricity can only move (charge) at a certain rate. How might this be overcome ?

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