Watford Gap services: inside an unlikely motoring landmark

However, another idea, using virtual reality to imagine you’re in a Michelin-starred restaurant and then order your gourmet meal from a ‘dark kitchen’ on site that prepares and delivers food but does not serve it does sound interesting.

At the very least, it would put folk singer Roy Harper’s lines about his culinary experiences of Watford Gap to rest: “Watford Gap, Watford Gap, a plate of grease and a load of crap.” Other promising ideas include creating a landscaped garden for visitors to walk in while earning points to be redeemed against sustainable food and drink options.

Although it’s hardly original, one student’s idea to harness solar energy to power the building gets a big tick in Roadchef’s box marked ‘reducing carbon footprint’.

Not so another’s to install turnstiles at the entrance to the new building that would generate electricity as people turned them. “We’re about being welcoming and turnstiles are not welcoming,” says Mason.

Away from the student competition, blue-sky thinking of a different sort is taking place elsewhere at Roadchef. As director of EV implementation, Paul Comer has the unenviable task of predicting demand for EV chargers across the group – and not only that but also securing sufficient energy for them.

“Power supply drives the whole conversation,” he says. “Given the rising demands on charger availability and speeds, getting enough power to service stations is going to be crucial in the years ahead, but how much are we going to need to future-proof them?

“At present, Watford Gap southbound has a dozen 350kW ultra-fast chargers consuming 2MW of power each day and northbound six consuming 1.25MW. Utilisation is around 30% but by 2025 we expect each site to require as much as 20MW.

One megawatt will power 1000 homes for one hour so that’s a lot of energy. We also need to plan for electric trucks. They’re likely to require 400kW chargers since no operator can afford to have a truck standing still and recharging for longer than is necessary. And that’s before we start talking about hydrogen…”

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