As part of their zero carbon initiative, Oxford City Council has taken its first steps in creating the world’s first Energy Superhub, known as Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO). This Superhub includes the replacement of council-owned automobiles with electric vehicles (EV), a ‘Try before you buy’ scheme for Hackney Carriage drivers in Oxford, the installation of a new, efficient electric charging network, and reductive carbon emission solutions for home heating. 

The Oxford City Council is undertaking work on ESO in collaboration with Pivot Power, a battery storage company specialising in providing the electrical capacity for large-scale EV charging infrastructure. This collaboration with Pivot Power also includes Habitat Energy, Invinity Energy Systems, Kensa Contracting, and the University of Oxford. 

Six council-owned automobiles have been replaced by EVs to date. According to the council, this was met with favourable reactions from the first drivers, and council workers are eagerly anticipating the delivery of 27 remaining EVs within the next three to four months. The council aims to electrify 25 percent of its 330 vehicles by 2023. 

Oxford City Council has effectively coordinated its ‘Try before you buy’ scheme with Electric Blue’s Hackney Taxi Trade in hopes that it will help accelerate the switch to zero emission capable vehicles. Drivers can opt in to test drive one of two EV models – either the all-electric Nissan Dynamo or an LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company) – for a two or four week period. The City Council has pledged to waive select fees for the first drivers to make the switch.

Pivot Power is installing a charging network at Blackberry Lane, South Oxford. The network will connect to public charging facilities at Redbridge Park & Ride with National Grid’s high voltage transmission network. Plans for the public Park & Ride Superhub include 20 charging points, ranging from rapid (50kW+) to ultra-rapid (150kW+), which can charge cars in a period of 15-20 minutes, and 30 fast charging points (<7kW), which charge cars over a period of a few hours. 

ESO is aiming to reduce carbon emissions in homes by supporting the installation of low carbon heating solutions that combine ‘shoebox’ ground source pumps with smart controls. This solution will be used in addition to time of use tariffs, which will work to optimise heat production by cutting costs and carbon usage.

Dr David Howey is leading Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science’s involvement in the project. His team is involved in various industrial projects, with a primary focus on maximizing industrial efficiency at minimal costs. They place a particular focus on predicting the degradation and lifetime of lithium-ion batteries, which are important to understand for warranties and maintenance scheduling.  

“Our focus within the project … is on understanding how batteries perform in real world applications like this, so we’re hoping to be able to compare data from the project against our models once the batteries go live,” Dr Howey said.

Councillor Tom Hayes, a cabinet member for the Zero Carbon Oxford initiative said: “Energy Superhub Oxford gives Oxford strengths that no other city currently has: the world’s most powerful charging network and the world’s largest ever hybrid battery, and as a result we can accelerate our electric vehicle charging infrastructure for businesses and residents … Our approach as a council is always one of healing our planet and healing our future, and only in ways which are rooted in justice and fairness.”

Councillor Hayes is hopeful that Oxford’s leadership in addressing the climate emergency will set a precedent for other UK cities.

“Oxford is a great place to try out new technologies and transformations, not only because of the large cluster of knowledge we have, but because our city is a great size for pulling on levers quickly seeing the impacts, learning from what we see, then making the right changes. My hope is that Oxford won’t just benefit from this transformation, but in time other UK cities will, too, because they use our learning,” Councillor Hayes said.

A sister project called Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO), funded under the same scheme as ESO, is also underway in Oxfordshire. LEO aims to trial a smart grid in order to help Oxford effectively transition to smarter electricity systems and to make these benefits accessible to homes, businesses and the wider community.