The Atlanta, US, headquarters of the logistics firm is among potential first sites where UPS will seek to roll out smart grid technology being piloted at its London facility.


The smart grid will be able to charge 170 fleet vans and trucks serving customers from the postal, packing and dispatch hub in Camden. UPS collaborated with electricity utility UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership to implement the two-year project, which has taken just over a year to develop and commission.

Smart charging equipment, in combination with an onsite battery, and UK Power Networks’ active network management system, will enable management of the growing EV load at the Camden hub without placing strain on the distribution grid’s capacity.

In future UPS wants to have a clear plan in place for any of its buildings to go to full fleet electrification at lowest cost. The smart grid project at Camden has demonstrated this is achievable via conventional grid upgrading and smart grid load spreading with a battery. Off-Grid Energy in the Midlands, in the UK, supplied the energy storage system.

UK firm Off Grid Energy supplied the energy storage system for UPS smart grid EV charging pilot

The combination of behind-the-meter solar PV and energy storage at sites will ensure an available supply of clean electricity for EV charging, to further reduce costs. “There is also the possibility of grid services, to earn additional revenues, though the first priority is to ensure all electric vans parked overnight are fully charged,” says Peter Harris sustainability director for UPS Europe.


Second life battery opportunities

Harris says there is the opportunity to take EV batteries from UPS’s electric vans and trucks for use in stationary storage systems at sites. The batteries will still have about 70% capacity when they come out of
warranty from use in vehicles.

At present 52 of the vans that use the depot are electric. Existing infrastructure enabled electrification of the first 10 at no extra cost. However, UPS had to spend in the region of £700,000 (€800,000) on upgrading equipment to support electrification of no more than 65. Further upgrades, requiring further significant investment, would be needed to go to 170 vans.

The fees include the purchase of assets to get the electricity to UPS from the grid, but which sit outside of UPS’ fence line. “Things like ring mains, heavy duty wiring, this would all belong to the network operator, and remains at the site, but is paid for by the customer,” Harris explains.

The EV charging smart grid project at Camden, as a first, has been expensive, so could only be done with the support from government funding agency Innovate UK.

Rolling out similar projects will cost significantly less.


New partner supports further fleet electrification

The remaining vans and trucks at Camden will not switch to electric immediately. UPS announced in May it is working with UK-based technology firm ARRIVAL to develop a pilot fleet of 35 electric delivery vehicles (EVs) to be trialled in London and Paris.

ARRIVAL is the first commercial vehicle manufacturer in Europe to provide purpose-built electric delivery vehicles to UPS’s specifications.

To date UPS has been retrofitting, with the assistance of EFA-S, a partner in Germany, mid-life diesel vans, by stripping out engines and refurbishing the steering. EFA-S fits the battery drivetrain. It can take months to turn round a batch of just a few.

The Camden project has been a big learning curve for UPS.

One issue discovered as the project went live is that the chargers installed in the vans were not talking to the smart grid software. For example, a driver returning to the depot parks the van at 20:00 and plugs it in, but the instructions are not to charge for four hours, until midnight, to take advantage of lower tariffs. However, some of the chargers had not been waking up to start charging.

“You could say the chargers aren’t smart enough. We didn’t need to stipulate that back when we first started driving EVs, but it is all fixable. That’s why we have the next year to iron out any issues,” says Harris.