Norman Harding

Corporate Fleet Manager, London Borough of Hackney

We have caught up with Norman Harding to get his feedback on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure. Norman is an experienced Corporate Fleet Manager at London Borough of Hackney.

The London Borough of Hackney Council’s fleet is rapidly increasing the number of ultra low emission vehicles including electric vehicles and is aiming to get staff walking and cycling for council business. In 2015 the Council was awarded £380,000 of funding from the Mayor of London’s air quality fund to assist with the project.

EV Charging Infrastructure Team: Can you describe your role in EV charging market space?

Norman Harding:

London Borough of Hackney operates a typical local authority fleet with a broad range of vehicle types from cars, LCV’s, truck & bus, and various forms of agricultural and heavy plant & machinery. We have always been at the forefront of exploring and operating alternative fuels but from a BEV point of view, we are currently on our fourth generation of electric vehicles, operating basic lead/acid battery vehicles during the 1990s through to the latest long-range BEV’s now, including being the first local authority in the Country to operate a Tesla as a fleet vehicle. To ensure full utilisation of our BEV fleet I’ve had to install corresponding charging infrastructure which for our early vehicles were usually industrial plug/socket combinations depending on the power requirements.

EV Charging Infrastructure Team: It might not be well known to many of your peers but it is interesting to note that you have been dealing with Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure at the Council since late nineties. Can you share with us your experience?

Norman Harding:

My BEVs have largely done what the manufacturers claimed they would acknowledging they all tend to exaggerate the available range. I currently have 59 BEVs on the fleet which are mostly Nissan eNV200 vans but I have a few cars made up of Nissan Leafs, a Peugeot Ion and a Tesla, and I also have a number of utility vehicles made by Bradshaw. I want to develop my BEV fleet but are currently limited by the lack of choice and whilst I acknowledge some larger LCVs and even HGVs are just coming to market they are still prohibitively expensive and only a few can be adapted for specialist bodies. That said, I am confident that global vehicle manufacturers are committed to developing quality products and have the R&D, manufacturing and dealer support systems to ensure good customer experiences from their products.

However, I’m far from convinced that the same can be said for the charging infrastructure market which seems chaotic with a plethora of proposed directions and suppliers – some which I believe are tiny companies remarketing someone else’s product who then either go into administration or get bought out by bigger players who won’t honour warranties or maintain the previous companies equipment. Equipment reliability, fault response and customer satisfaction is a long long way off what we expect in the motor transport industry. Furthermore, there seems to be a disproportionate focus on ‘on-street’ charging with numerous non-uniform billing mechanisms and back-office data systems to show electricity spend whereby many of the early adopters who are ‘back to base’ fleet operators dont want to bill their drivers but want to monitor vehicle and driver performance through energy per mile comparisons which cant be done unless the charging system has the ability to record mileage at the point of charging. Some suppliers offer workaround systems for achieving this but this usually entails another layer of spend for telematics or phone apps when it seems sensible to me for the charging point to communicate directly with the vehicles canbus system to download this information at the point the driver plugs in to charge. Or even for the vehicle to provide the back office data rather than the charging infrastructure.

My personal experience of charging infrastructure has been appalling and I hope other fleet operators considering installing their own can learn from my experiences and avoid them. Most of my depot based chargers started off as ‘intelligent’ charge points. Initially, my first stage installation was with a company who to be fair were very good and their equipment was and still is very reliable. Unfortunately for me, they were bought out by one of the very big and very well known companies and its been a downward spiral ever since. They installed my second stage infrastructure which proved incredibly unreliable. Because of the unreliability and poor data (for my fleet requirements) I paid this supplier to convert them to ‘dumb’ chargers in the hope of getting improved reliability even if it meant forfeiting the data. We agreed a programme of works in the Autumn of 2019 but they wouldn’t touch the equipment installed by the company they bought out. The programme of works should have been completed before Christmas 2019. Its now almost June 2020 and the work is still not completed. Trying to get any form of customer service or even a response to a phone call or email is almost impossible.

Another problem with EV infrastructure for back to base operators which doesn’t get much media space is the cost when compared to ICE vehicle fuel supply systems. As a freight operator I have bulk storage tanks at my main operating depot for most of my ICE vehicles with a small number utilising fuel cards. There is quite a high initial capital cost for bulk storage tanks and a decent fuel software system but this is still less than for a multi-point charging infrastructure (I have 48 points across 13 depots). Furthermore, provided they are maintained appropriately the bulk storage tanks will last for decades and service an infinite number of vehicles. With charging infrastructure there is also quite a high capital expenditure for the installation but ongoing annual maintenance, back-office and air time fees are also expensive and in this fast developing sector it would be quite easy for your charging infrastructure to be obsolete within a few years.

I’ve had some success with a trial of home charging where five of our drivers volunteered to have charging units installed at their homes. I was careful to choose a supplier other than the one above which is working relatively well. After site surveys and some initial teething problems they have settled into a reliable working pattern and we reimburse the drivers for the energy used in their fleet vehicles. The supplier is trying to develop software to capture mileage as they recognise this is important to freight operators.

Despite all this I am going to pursue BEV for my fleet but I’m going focus on developing BEV for my car and LCV fleet and I’m going to operate a renewable biofuel called HVO on my HGVs that is actually environmentally cleaner than equivalent BEV vehicles if the energy is not from renewable energy source power stations. If I can get the funding I would like to operate a couple of BEV HGVs to monitor their efficiency and operational reliability. From the charging infrastructure point of view I’m going to wait a couple of years to see how things pan out.

EV Charging Infrastructure Team: What are the key targets in EV charging infrastructure provision for you in 2021 and going forward?

Norman Harding:

I’m not setting myself any targets for 2021. I’m going to keep an eye on the market to see how technology develops for back to base fleet operators. I think there will eventually be a better understanding from the market for three distinct BEV users:

  1. back to base fleet operators using their own private network such as freight and bus operators; 
  2. company car fleets that are likely to need to use publicly available charging networks or high powered centralised fast charging hubs and 
  3. domestic users and self employed tradesmen that will predominantly charge from home but will need easy access to public charge points when necessary. 

If the market develops to suit my needs then I may, subject to funding, develop the infrastructure in my main depot and a couple of other high profile sites.

EV Charging Infrastructure Team: What would your advice to industry peers who are also looking to increase the provision of EV charging infrastructure at their facilities be?

Norman Harding:

Don’t take anything at face value; constantly research technology claims and assess all the pros & cons. Question unfamiliar terminology – don’t assume it means something. Be aware that although you’ve spent a small fortune on a rapid charger not all vehicles can take that level of super-rapid charge – check what your fleet vehicles can take and match accordingly. Talk to others that have already ventured into this market and ask probing questions – I’m happy to talk to anyone privately where I don’t need to be so diplomatic and perhaps explain more freely. Once you’re ready to progress ensure you build in contract penalties and KPI’s to ensure quality of product and service.

EV Charging Infrastructure Team: Taking your industry experience and projects you worked on into account, what are you going to be looking for at our Focus Day on 9 October 2020?

Norman Harding: 

Although I’ve been around alternative fuels all my career (I’m going back as far as 1977) you’re never too old to learn something new and I want to ensure that at least I maintain my awareness of upcoming technology even if I’m not ready to apply it. 

Norman is attending our EV Charging Infrastructure, AC, DC, V1G, V2G Stakeholder Focus Day on 9 October and is happy to have further conversations with his peers. 

If you would like us to pass your message to Norman prior to Focus Day please contact Jane Huggins on who will be able to facilitate your communication with him.