Andrew Cunningham highlights why grid-adjacent charging solutions are required in the push towards decarbonised transport
When it comes to electric vehicle (EV) charging, using renewable electricity from the grid is the optimum solution. But what happens when the electrical distribution grid can’t match the demand or isn’t available in remote locations? Against the backdrop of the pressure to decarbonise transport, coupled with the significant constraints on grid’s capacity, reach, and connections delays, an alternative renewable charging solution is needed.
The pressure on the gird
In the UK there are one million electric cars on the road, meaning roughly one in every 32 cars comes with a plug. This rapid growth in EV adoption has led to the urgent need to expand the UK’s charging infrastructure. According to a relatively conservative report from RECHARGE UK, UK public charging demand will almost triple by 2050, from 10.9TWh to 29.8TWh. The UK has a target of 300,000 public EV charge points by 2030. There are currently 50,000 public chargers, and Zapmap’s data suggests there will be 100,000 by August 2025. At a rate of 25,000 chargers per year, the UK will fail to meet its target, which will hamper its ambitions for net zero and fall short of the 29.8TWh of charging demand.
An unsupported copper cable based distribution network alone is never going to be sufficient to support EV charging at the extent or locations needed
Several factors contribute to constraining charging infrastructure growth, but it’s important to understand why it’s a difficult problem to address in the first instance. In general an electrical distribution network operator makes on average 3.5kW of electricity available per house. Given that organisations are routinely fitting public chargers that require 50kW, then fitting two new public EV chargers is the equivalent to powering a new housing estate. In 2023, ultra-rapid chargers over 100kW were the two fastest-growing types of public charging, at 68% year-on-year growth, which only worsens the issue.
The new power demand is beyond anything seen before and the electrical distribution grids were never designed to support transportation. No matter how much commitment or investment is made, it’s clear that an unsupported copper cable based distribution network alone is never going to be sufficient to support EV charging at the extent or locations needed. The grid will need to be augmented in some way and additional technologies deployed to make up the shortfall.
Long delays in connecting to the grid are exacerbating the problem too, causing frustration for EV users, fleet managers, local authorities, and charging infrastructure companies.
Some electric charging companies are resorting to using diesel or HVO-fuelled generators, which produce particulates and NOx, in an attempt to get the capacity needed for EV charging to power their new fast charging stations due to years-long delays in connecting to the grid. Similarly, some UK councils have turned to diesel generators to augment their grids, while others, such as York, have parked their £8m (US$10.1m) EV bin lorry fleet because the infrastructure hasn’t kept up with demand.
To overcome this issue, grid-adjacent charging solutions are required, and 100% renewable hydrogen-fuelled fast charging avoids these limits in reach and capacity.
Hydrogen-fuelled charging hubs
Traditionally, the shortfall in charging capacity has been addressed with fossil fuels. Fuels are a great way of moving energy around. To put this in context, filling a car with gasoline transfers energy at a rate of about 8,000kW. The current grid is built on the premise that this amount of electricity simultaneously powers 2,250 typical houses. However, given the negative impact fossil fuels have on the environment, in relation to CO2 emissions, air quality and public health, an alternative is needed.
Green hydrogen is an energy-dense, zero-emission fuel source that can be used to avoid the issues inhibiting the growth of the UK charging infrastructure. It is produced by using renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, to convert water into hydrogen through electrolysis. The hydrogen is then pressurised and stored like other fuels, ready to be shipped and used in multiple applications. Because green hydrogen is created from 100% renewable energy and water, the entire process is emissions free.
Hydrogen can be used to support the rollout of EV charging infrastructure by using it as a fuel to power generators that provide zero emission electricity to augment and supplement the grid where needed, boosting capacity and supplying the vast amounts of sustainable power required. For example, one hydrogen power unit that delivers 250kVA of three-phase, 400V critical power, and is backed up by a 260kWh battery system, can run ten fast charging posts 24/7.
Supplementing and surpassing the grid
Some sites are blessed with adequate grid capacity and able to install copious charging facilities. However, sites where the infrastructure is needed most are not always blessed with copious electricity supply. The mismatch of where capacity is available and where it is needed will be an almost permanent issue in the transition to electrified mobility. By using hydrogen generators, organisations can install EV fast charging posts where the grid alone isn’t sufficient, which helps to decarbonise transport beyond the grid’s reach.
However, it’s equally important that existing charging infrastructure can be supplemented by hydrogen-fuelled charge points, too. At many locations, the grid needs to be augmented with additional power and charging capacity from hydrogen-fuelled charging hubs to deal with peaks in charging demand. For example, holiday seasons see record numbers of EVs charging on long journeys, causing queues and delays that can be avoided by adding additional fast charging posts and using hydrogen fuelled generators combined with batteries to even out the demand put on the local electricity grid.
Imagine half of the bays in all car parks have EV chargers—something which will be a necessity in the very near future. This can be easily achieved using a clean fuel supplied generator. The hydrogen-fuelled generator can be used temporarily until the required grid capacity is installed and then simply moved to the next location, or it can be used as a permanent top up to keep up with demand as it grows.
For higher demand charging locations, hydrogen power units can be combined to create charging hubs with greater capacity. Used in conjunction, they can achieve up to 2MW of fully redundant power that can be used to augment grid power at high demand locations such as large commercial fleet depots.
This dispatchability of power is vital to addressing the issue, where direct grid access is available and plentiful, this would always be the preferred solution, however we know this isn’t always the case. By using hydrogen to augment or ‘top up’ the power supply, users can access the electricity generated where and when it’s needed, like preserving tinned tomatoes to enjoy out of season.
Hydrogen-fuelled charging hubs also immediately overcome the significant delays that organisations are facing when connecting to the grid, bypassing the queues that can take years to gain approval. For local authorities or fleet managers aiming towards sustainability targets, this is a much quicker solution than waiting for potentially expensive grid upgrades and connections.
Hydrogen in the field
Many organisations operate fleets beyond or at the edge of grid infrastructure, such as construction, agriculture, and military fleets. The importance of transitioning suitable vehicles in these types of fleets is recognised, which is why the Ministry of Defence has committed to achieving a zero-emission white fleet by 2027. To achieve its goal and trial solutions for off-grid and overseas operations, the Defence Support arm of the Ministry of Defence has deployed three hydrogen-fuelled charging hubs to supplement the grid power at strategic locations across the UK: RAF Leeming, HMNB Devonport, and the Merville Barracks in Colchester.
The trial allows the Ministry of Defence to electrify its fleet in strategic locations, overcoming grid capacity, connection delays, and reach limitations. Commenting on the installation of the hydrogen-fuelled charging hubs, Air Vice Marshall Richard Hill, Director of Defence Support Major Programmes, said, “Using hydrogen to power some of our white fleet EVs is a significant step forward in accessing a broader range of sustainable energy sources. This will provide resilience and mobility in off-grid and compromised-supply locations.”
For mission critical fleets, having fully redundant power helps to boost the resiliency of the charging infrastructure. Hydrogen-fuelled fast chargers can act as a backup source, as well as critical power for other functions, in case of outages.
Matching charging availability with need
In summary, green hydrogen is an energy-dense fuel that can power EV charging solutions capable of bypassing the limits on current electrical distribution grid capacity, avoiding delays to new connections, and extending the reach of electrified mobility to meet driver and fleet needs. Because it is produced from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, it has zero emissions; enhancing and not hindering organisations’ attempts to decarbonise.
About the author: Andrew Cunningham is Chief Executive of GeoPura