Energy & Utilities,  Government & Public

Innovate UK demonstrates how data ecosystems can support decarbonisation

Zühlke’s pioneering Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure Investor App uncovered the complexity of EV challenges – and showed how data ecosystems can help government, energy, and transport bodies to solve them. 

a woman fueling her car

  • R&D funding awarded from the 'Prospering from the Energy Revolution' programme. 

  • Zühlke designs unique ‘mechanical handshakes’ that span industries and sectors.

  • Hyper-local traffic and electronic vehicle (EV) hotspots highlight commercial and infrastructural insight.

A complex opportunity that transcends industry borders

As the old saying goes, it’s unwise to put the cart before the horse. But in the case of the UK’s burgeoning eMobility demand – and the infrastructure needed to charge millions of potential new electric vehicles – there’s a real danger of suddenly becoming a nation with way too many carts, and not nearly enough horses. 

That was something we at Zühlke wanted to investigate when we applied and won funding for Innovate UK’s 'Prospering from the Energy Revolution' programme. In partnership with both the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and OFGEM, Innovate UK’s programme sought new ways to better utilise and harness data between sectors.  

And that brief set us down an interesting path. With the UK targeting a ‘carbon neutral’ energy output by 2050 and banning the sale of new petrol or diesel cars from 2030, there are a lot of infrastructural hurdles to overcome in the near future. The most obvious is ensuring that there are enough EV charging points to meet this increased demand – some 500,000 in the next seven years. But this requires strategy.  

‘What you can't do is just upgrade everything at once’, says Zühlke’s Head of Data and AI, Dan Klein, ‘because that’s just not practical. So you've got to be much smarter about where the demand is'. 

The opportunity as we saw it, then, was to devise a tool that could link disparate datasets from the worlds of geography, transport, and energy.  

‘Because we're looking across sectors’, explains Senior Data Engineer Charlie Roadnight, ‘we can see that – while there are pockets that are working well – it's overall not very holistic. It's not consistent. But when you join many datasets together, you can solve really big challenges that cut across sectors.  

‘That’s the potential power of data ecosystems’. 

Determining the direction of travel

We spoke to hundreds of stakeholders from a range of sectors about the issues they face in rolling out EV infrastructure and found that things often take far too long in the planning phase – with lack of unilateral data being a key concern. 

So, on the advice from Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN), we were able to narrow in on a great testing ground for our concept: Ullapool, a small but densely packed village port in Northern Scotland. 

The process was one of thoroughly auditing available datasets from the geography, transport, and energy sectors across a few key verticals, as Charlie explains: 

‘It was really a case of going in and trying to find appropriate datasets that were rich enough for our needs. So I spent a couple of weeks really going through to try and understand the quality of those data sets. What we were looking for was granularity. You want to have granular data that takes you down to the population level of a single street or postcode, while also remaining accurate’. 

a hand fueling a car with electrcitiy

All told, the team found 40 potential datasets before whittling down the ones that would suitably interoperate. Then, any calculations designed to provide meaningful insights would require aggregating lots of ‘apples and oranges' data standards up or down towards comparable levels – no small task. 

The result of this auditing, scaling, and interoperating was a digital dashboard that users can use to cross-examine electric vehicle charging needs against things like weather, time of year, the direction of traffic, and even the Ullapool ferry timetable.  

By investigating all of those verticals together, the tool makes it easy to spot pinch points and areas where new infrastructure makes commercial and municipal sense. 

Allowing machines to shake hands

The resulting tool is a proof of concept, but it’s a powerful one; it connects data from bodies that otherwise don’t connect, and turns it into insight. 

As Steven Steer, Principal Data Consultant at Zühlke, puts it: ‘It’s the machine equivalent of getting people to learn how to shake hands and do deals with one another; if you allow machines to shake hands and do deals, they can create economic markets that don't currently exist.  

‘If you don't let people talk’, he adds, ‘they can't do business. If you don't let machines talk, they can't do business either’. 

Since launching the EVIIA tool, international ecommerce and logistics giants have indicated that the resulting information would be useful for helping to prioritise EV fleet rollouts around the UK.  

Energy and transport sector bodies have been equally surprised:

  • I think this is quite a step forward’ – HITRANS 
  • I think for us the most valuable piece is bringing the data together and having a scalable way of accessing reliable data in a common format’ – Octopus Centre for Net Zero 
  • This is a really useful platform that pinpoints issues very directly and quickly' – SSE Renewables.

Perhaps the most striking outcome from the whole project, though, came directly from our test base itself – Ullapool. Dan explains: ‘One of the things that became very apparent from the prototype in Ullapool, was when the local community looked at it and immediately saw that there needed to be charge points in an existing car park to cope with summer ferry traffic.  

‘It was that sort of blinding “we've got to do something here” moment that only a connected data ecosystem can produce’. 

Our EV investment app in the news

electric cars plugged in to charging stations
Jonathan Cook Zühlke
Contact person for United Kingdom

Jonathan Cook

Director Business Development

Jonathan Cook has 25 years' experience working for systems integrators, telecommunications, and engineering companies. He has pioneered better ways of providing engineering services, including Agile delivery, Lean user experience, and data science and data engineering. With a focus on practical innovation, he has a track record helping to implement new business models to decarbonise the energy and transport sectors.

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