National Highways is supporting electric vehicle drivers across the country thanks to a multi-million-pound investment into new high-powered charging infrastructure.

The government-owned organisation has awarded the £8m Energy Storage Systems – essentially giant battery packs – contract to Ameresco, who will upgrade seven motorway service areas where the grid supply is not enough for high-powered charging infrastructure.

Supported by Costain, it’s hoped the move will help bring an end to ‘charge anxiety’ by improving access to chargepoints across England’s motorways at sites with poor national grid connectivity for EV drivers.

The priority sites include:

Beaconsfield on the M40
Corley on the M6 Northbound
Clacket Lane on the M25, both Eastbound and Westbound
Maidstone on the M20
Taunton on the M5 Northbound
Tebay on the M6 Northbound

The Energy Storage Systems support high-powered chargers with the aim that all motorway service areas will have at least six high-powered, open access chargepoints by the end of 2023.

Malcolm Wilkinson, Head of Energy for National Highways, said: “We are working differently and innovating to support the switch to zero emission journeys.

“Whilst we have limited control over the number of petrol and diesel cars on the network, by supporting the expansion of the high-powered chargepoints network, we hope to increase EV drivers’ confidence for all types of journeys, both long and short.

“These new Energy Storage Systems and the high-powered chargers they supply will help ensure that motorists are unlikely to be caught without somewhere to charge, which is a fantastic move for drivers and the environment accelerating the speed in which we transition to new electric vehicles.”

Transport Decarbonisation minister Jesse Norman said: “Expanding the UK’s rapid charging network is essential if more people are to switch to electric vehicles, and should make charging cheaper and more convenient.

“Drivers today are never more than 25 miles away from a rapid chargepoint anywhere on England’s motorways and major A roads. But this news marks another innovative step to making sure that rapid charging is accessible and reliable for drivers.”

Mark Apsey, Managing Director, Ameresco Ltd, added: “We are excited to be working with National Highways installing Energy Storage Systems across the UK’s motorways for the roll-out of high-speed EV chargers. These systems will facilitate the uptake of EVs by creating the infrastructure needed for people to switch with confidence.

“Transport accounts for around 27% of UK GHG emissions and it is imperative we switch as quickly as possible if the UK is to meet its target to decarbonise by 2050.”

With the growth in demand for high-powered chargepoints comes pressure to provide the power to supply these, especially at locations where connection to the grid is poor.

Seven Energy Storage Systems, procured using Crown Commercial Services Heat Networks and Electricity Generation Assets (HELGA) dynamic purchasing solution, will temporarily bridge this gap, storing energy in quiet periods to provide high-power charging at busy times, until those motorway service areas can obtain increased power directly from the grid for rapid charging and the roll-out of additional chargepoints.

Energy Storage Systems comprise of grid-scale batteries safely housed in a heated and air conditioned 40ft shipping container, which can support additional high-powered (150kW) electric vehicle chargepoints at those motorway service areas.

Ameresco will work closely with the motorway service area operators Extra, Roadchef, Welcome Break and Westmorland to support them making applications to the local authority for planning permission and to the distribution network operators to secure permission to connect the Energy Storage System to the grid.

Ameresco are on track to have all seven Energy Storage Systems installed by the end of September 2023.

With a typical storage capacity of 2MWh, the batteries in each system (which will charge overnight when spare electric is available) have enough energy to support over 2 million miles of zero emission motoring each year.

To put the energy in perspective, just from a single charge, a system would be capable of meeting the electrical needs of a typical home for roughly eight months.

With petrol and diesel vehicles the largest carbon emission contributor on the roads, it’s hoped easier access to increased numbers of high-powered chargepoints will increase driver confidence in electric vehicles on longer journeys, encouraging people to make the switch.

National Highways has previously demonstrated its commitment to electric vehicles, with Energy Storage Systems among a host of measures it’s taking to improve air quality and tackle carbon emissions from road transport as Britain takes steps to become a zero-carbon economy by 2050.

The scheme has been made possible by National Highways’ Designated Funds programme designed to benefit people, the economy and the planet with an overall investment of £936m between 2020 and 2025.

The moves are all part of National Highway’s net zero carbon plan, which will see it rapidly cut corporate carbon emissions by 2030, as well as from road construction, maintenance and operations by 2040 and support the transition to zero-by 2050 emission vehicles.

It has already started sustained action towards decarbonising England’s motorways and A-roads so they can continue to bring significant benefits to motorists, communities and businesses in a net-zero future.

The plan puts roads at the heart of Britain’s net zero future through three key commitments; achieving net zero for its own operations by 2030; delivering net zero road maintenance and construction by 2040; and supporting net zero carbon travel on our roads by 2050.

You can read the full net zero plan here.