Leading the charge: how Shell Recharge is planning to reshape the UK’s public charging network




Shell Recharge Sponsored Feature

15.7.2022

The switch to electric isn’t just transforming the look and driving experiences of the cars we drive. Drive anywhere in the UK now and you’ll notice that public charging points are rapidly becoming the fabric of modern life. Whether you’re at the supermarket, getting a drive-through coffee or visiting a petrol station forecourt, new charging points are popping up at an incredible rate. Routes that might have had just a handful of charging stations a year ago now have bigger sites with multiple chargers and significantly faster charging capability. The future, it seems, is already here.

One of the brands leading the charge (quite literally) towards an electrified future is Shell. The company is working on a huge expansion programme that will see it increase its charging network significantly. Shell intends to ramp up its chargers at forecourts and in towns and cities to more than 100,000 by 2030 across the UK. According to Shell, this would mean that 90% of all UK drivers will be within a 10-minute drive of a Shell rapid charger. 

Charger numbers are, however, only one part of the picture. As customers begin to have more choice on their journeys, charge point operators know that attracting customers will be about more than just having an available connector. As the network evolves, brands such as Shell are already looking into what drivers, including those who are unable to charge at home, will want. 

Electric car drivers want reliable, fast and convenient rapid chargers, along with all the facilities enjoyed by other motorists

We caught up with Sasha Evans, Head of e-Mobility for Shell in the UK (and Ford Mustang Mach-E driver), to get the low-down on what the brand is learning from its pioneering all-electric forecourt in Fulham, London, and what it plans to introduce as it builds out the Shell Recharge Network. 

What have you learned from electric car customers so far?

We’ve found that they want to avoid dead time while their cars are charging. All customers are unique but most want to use their time productively. That might be grabbing a coffee or a bite to eat, buying some groceries, or sitting in a comfortable rest area with wifi so they can use their devices. We already have a lot of these facilities at our existing forecourts, and we know from sites such as Fulham, customers really appreciate having great facilities on-site and are already being seen as a must-have feature at a charging station. 

This is especially the case for drivers who don’t have access to home charging or the Ubitricity network of lamp post chargers. For these customers, being able to shop, eat and get some work done while their car is charging is something that would persuade them to come and use Shell Recharge. 

What are the main things electric car drivers are looking for?

Reliability, speed and convenience are the three main factors that come up every time we talk to our customers. As an electric car driver myself, I know that reliability is the most important thing to get right. If a charger isn’t working then not only am I having to find another site, I’m also going to be wary of the location next time around. That’s why we’re completely committed to making our chargers the most reliable on the UK public network. 

We also know that drivers want a variety of options that meet their charging needs. For example, ultra-fast 175kW chargers are perfect for a forecourt on a major route where drivers want to get back on the road as soon as possible. At a supermarket, where a driver might be up to an hour in the shop, having a bank of lower output units makes much more sense. And for drivers with on-street parking who can leave their cars overnight to charge, our Ubitricity lamp post units are the perfect solution.  

Ubitricity lamp post chargers are perfect for drivers who don't have access to a home wallbox

What frustrates customers the most?

From our research of drivers who regularly use the rapid charging network, we’ve found that there are some real charging ‘bug bears’. The first is availability and the reliability of chargers. Even when customers have been able to start a charge, interrupted sessions or slow speeds are equally frustrating for drivers. 

At Shell, we have an intense focus on the uptime of our chargers, and we are learning and tracking the root cause of any downtime. That means we can offer the best and most reliable charging experience to our customers. We are obsessed with this!

Drivers have also told us that ‘ease of use’ is a priority for them.  Chargers that are easy to use and have a simple, transparent pricing structure are most favoured. 

Thirdly, we found that drivers who are new to electric often struggle to know where to charge. Petrol and diesel car owners don’t need an app to find a forecourt, but right now, that’s still the best way to locate a rapid charger. Obviously, that will change in time as sites become more commonplace, but until then, our own Shell Recharge app shows live status of our newer points along with pricing information and directions. Drivers can also start charging sessions from the app.

How do you decide the number and speed of chargers at a new site?

We match the speed of charge to the dwell time of the customer. The dwell time is the time a driver will be occupying a charger and varies according to the car, the charge speed and the amount of energy the customer wants. 350kW chargers are great but there are very few cars that can benefit from this speed currently, so it makes sense to have units that are in line with car charging technology. Even with a car that can accept very high charge rates, the difference in dwell time between a 350kW charger and a 175kW charger is relatively small. Right now we think it’s better to have more units available for all drivers rather than a smaller number of ultra high power ones that only a handful of cars can use to their full potential. 

What have you learned from your flagship Fulham site where you converted an old petrol station into an electric-only hub?

The first thing we’ve learned is that if we build great electric car hubs, then customers will come! We’ve had a positive response from customers who see a Fulham-style hub as the way forward for charging. Yes, we had teething issues in the early days, but this was a completely new concept for us and we’ve learned a lot. It continues to be incredibly popular with drivers and it’s shown us that having a large number of ultra fast 175kW units on one site has allowed us to maximise use. I’m constantly checking feedback from the team at Fulham and on ZapMap and when drivers describe it as ‘a heaven of EV charging’, I know that we’ve done a good job. 

We are working hard on accelerating and improving our EV infrastructure and customer offer – we have big plans and look forward to exciting low carbon times ahead!

Shell's flagship hub in Fulham, London, will be a template for a new generation of Shell Recharge charging hubs

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