ESS Modular Completes A World First

19th October, 2021

ESS Modular recently delivered a state-of-the-art building on behalf of GRIDSERVE at the world’s first fully Electric Forecourt® which the company has opened near Braintree in Essex.

The Electric Forecourt® is part of GRIDSERVE’s wider ‘sun-to-wheel’ infrastructure, built to deliver low cost, net zero carbon energy to every vehicle that uses one of GRIDSERVE’s chargers. ESS Modular worked closely with the design and architectural teams to deliver a building where drivers can relax and shop in state-of-the-art facilities. It includes a comprehensive retail space hosting WHSmith Travel, Costa Coffee, Boots, Post Office, and Gourmade. The facility also includes a waiting lounge, high-end washrooms, dedicated kid’s area, wellbeing area with exercise bikes that generate electricity, and business meeting room pods.

“The opening of this facility represents a major milestone in achieving GRIDSERVE’s purpose to deliver sustainable energy and move the needle on climate change,” says Toddington Harper, Founder and CEO of GRIDSERVE. “It’s our collective responsibility to prevent greenhouse gas emissions rising further, and electric vehicles powered by clean energy represent a large part of the solution. However, charging has to be simple and free of anxiety, which is why we’ve designed our Electric Forecourts® entirely around the needs of drivers, updating the traditional petrol station model for a net-zero carbon world and delivering the confidence people need to make the switch to electric transport today – a full decade ahead of the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars.”

The Braintree Electric Forecourt®, adjacent to Great Notley, just off the A131, enables 36 electric vehicles to be charged simultaneously, with high power chargers that can deliver up to 350kW of charging power, enabling people to add 200 miles of range in 20 minutes, and much faster in the future as electric vehicle battery technologies mature. Together with GRIDSERVE, the project has been funded by Hitachi Capital (UK) PLC, Innovate UK and OZEV.

The Electric Forecourt® is also designed to help people make the process of switching to electric vehicles as simple and straightforward as possible. The upper floor of the on-site building showcases the latest electric vehicles, and there are multiple digitals screens that help people learn about and source electric vehicles.

Unique Engineering Challenges Paul Sherlock, Head of Engineering at ESS Modular, shares some of the unique engineering challenges which this bespoke building posed and how working collaboratively with suppliers and partners ensured an exceptional end product.

“The GRIDSERVE forecourt building in Braintree was constructed wholly from offsite volumetric modular units which were constructed offsite and fitted out to a high degree before being transported to site, being bolted together and fitout being completed. There were several unique engineering challenges to overcome which differentiated this project to more standardised designs as follows:

• Several curved beams form part of the modular floor and roof frames

• The roof of the stairs to the rear of the building is a 90-degree curved shape, meaning the wall and roof elements are one and the same

• A large area of curtain walling glass was fitted-out offsite which is very sensitive to movement, meaning several design iterations were undertaken for temporary offsite, lifting, in transit and permanent load case conditions to ensure the modular frame would not deflect by too much and potentially crack the curtain walling

• There is an area of the first floor to be used as a car show room which has particularly high point loading design requirements

• There is a car lift adjacent to the building which had to be treated as a completely independent structure but had to be designed to stay within agreed acceptable distances of the building for tolerance reasons

• There is a green wall on one elevation

• There are a lot of heavy elements (planter boxes, large tv screens) hanging from the roof at first floor level which required a high degree of spatial co-ordination at design stage

• There are large open plan areas within the building footprint which necessitated the introduction of heavy transfer beams, but which were also required to allow a high degree of offsite fit out

“The curved beams required a very detailed finite element analysis from our structural engineers (a simple beam analysis would not be sufficient for such a section) to account for all loading conditions as noted above (temporary offsite, lifting, transport and permanent), but also required an in-depth knowledge of the steelwork fabrication process to curve the beams.

“Tolerances of such curved beams are notoriously hard to control, and as we required several of these beams to be the exact same, there was a large co-ordinated effort between our structural engineers, our steelwork fabrication manager and our steel fabrication partners to ensure what was to be delivered to our manufacturing facility would be fit for purpose. The same is true for the curved section of the rear stairs. Rather than a design solution being dictated by our structural engineers, by collaborating with our fabrication partner we arrived at agreed upon design principles and tolerances which delivered a product that everyone was happy with.

“The open plan area of the floor was designed to allow for temporary support columns in very specific locations which would not impede offsite fitout, our standard module installation procedure or the transfer beam install, but would also perform their structural requirements for all load cases as previously mentioned. This required a problem-solving collaboration effort between structural engineers, steelwork detailers, architects, our manufacturing team and the installation team to ensure the complicated connections and various steel locations would perform as per structural engineer’s requirements.

“As a very high level of collaboration was required between all design disciplines, the use of 3D models (Revit, Tekla) and a Common Data Environment (BIM360) was crucial. This also allowed us to check the model for clashes at regular intervals. The creation of a digital model meant we used a “single source of truth” approach, ensuring that all design partners are working from the most updated information. During the manufacturing process within our live factory environment, our operatives also have access to these programmes, so that they can manipulate the model for a more global view of the building they are constructing and gain an appreciation for how any small local elements fit into the larger project scope.”

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