The main concern that experts have about EV adoption isn’t about available capacity to charge, but about preventing unmanageable grid fluctuations. Chris Horne explores
The UK’s transition to electrification is accelerating at pace. Indeed, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), more than 38,000 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were registered nationwide in September, alongside 12,281 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). To date this year, almost 250,000 UK drivers have embraced electrification—an increase of 17.6% compared to the same period in 2021.
One in every five new cars now boasts an electric powertrain, while the decline of the internal combustion engine continues. With the 2030 ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars looming, vehicle manufacturers are quickly pivoting their production models. At the end of 2021, there were 50 BEV models available to buy in the UK. By the end of 2022, there will be upwards of 200.
It’s a similar picture in other key markets around the world but the UK offers an interesting case study. While positive news for regional electrification targets, what does this mean for the National Grid? After all, with EV sales in the UK alone set to exceed seven million by 2030, and electricity demand expected to soar, could we find ourselves in a situation whereby demand might outstrip supply?
Firstly, let’s bust an important myth: “is there sufficient grid capacity to charge EVs?” Well, according to insight from National Grid, which manages the electricity transmission network and some of the distribution network in the UK, drivers really shouldn’t panic. There’s more than enough generation and transmission capacity to handle the transition to electrification, even if we all made the switch tomorrow morning.
After all, the UK’s greatest demand for electricity was reported in 2002 (62GW); since then our national peak has fallen by almost 16% thanks to widespread improvements in energy efficiency. By the time every car on the road is electric, National Grid suggests that demand will only increase by an estimated 10%.
However, that isn’t to say that the transition to electrification won’t come without its own set of complex challenges. Indeed, the main concern that experts have about EV adoption isn’t about available capacity to charge, but about preventing unmanageable grid fluctuations. This means that, if everyone decided to charge their EVs at the same time, the increase in demand could be too quick for the grid to react to. This is particularly important to consider as the grid continues to decarbonise through renewable supply (such as large-scale solar and wind projects). Indeed, renewables are widely known to be ‘lumpy’, or in other words somewhat unplannable, due to uncontrollable conditions such as the weather.
So, in the instance that we experience soaring grid demand—most probably when the majority of commuters return home from work and all plug in their EVs simultaneously—the ability to ramp up supply immediately may become more challenging.
But there’s no need to panic. Fortunately, the transition to electrification hasn’t come out of the blue and, as such, work has continued behind the scenes for some years now to prepare for this very scenario. A significant step forward, announced in 2021, was the unveiling of the government’s Electric Vehicles Smart Charge Point Regulations (EVSCRPs). In addition, it’s important to note that EVs are typically not charged every day, but instead more like once or twice a week on average, which correlates with the average range of today’s EVs and the average weekly mileage in the UK.
Supporting the grid, managing demand
Along with some provisions around cyber security and the protection of customer data, the EVSCPRs introduce three new important requirements for charge point manufacturers and consumers: default off-peak charging; a random delay at the start of the charge; steps to promote customers to sign up to Demand Side Response (DSR) services. When it comes to off-peak charging, all smart points are now required to be set up so that an EV charges at the best time for the electricity network. The peak demand or rush-hour periods on the grid happen in the morning and late afternoon, so by default EVs will only charge overnight or during the middle of the day.
If someone is used to their EV charging as soon as it is plugged in, or is desperate for a charge, then they can override these settings, but the intention is to encourage more EV charging at off peak times.
When it comes to the ‘random delay’, every new charger now includes an automatic pause of up to ten minutes every time the EV starts to charge. In the grand scheme of things, this might seem minor, but even a tiny, randomised adjustment will help to alleviate pressure in periods of high demand. This is seen as particularly important in the aftermath of a local power cut, to stagger the connected demand as power comes back online.
While the requirement to sign up for DSR services is simply encouraged through the regulations, the opportunity is important. Via DSR, electricity flowing through low carbon technologies (such as EV chargers and heat pumps) can be turned up, turned down or shifted in time to make demand more flexible.
By effectively running a micro energy system, it’s possible to not only alleviate pressure on the grid, but eliminate it for significant periods of time
Myenergi is currently running a ‘flexibility beta’ DSR trial with customers who have opted in to better understand its potential when it comes to balancing the grid. As part of the trial, it is making small adjustments to how and when customers charge, with the aim of reducing stress on the grid. The aim is for the learnings of this programme to be evolved into a full service.
Collectively, the requirements outlined within the EVSCPRs aim to tackle unmanageable grid fluctuations head-on. Doing so can collectively minimise periods of high demand and balance the grid more effectively.
From smart to eco-smart
While the transition to electrification may pose challenges of its own, thanks to investment, planning and legislation, the UK has already introduced numerous initiatives to minimise impact on the grid. In result, the national infrastructure is perfectly poised for the electric car parc of tomorrow.
There is, however, one final way that consumers can take matters into their own hands and further reduce pressure on the grid. Myenergi has designed the market’s first eco-smart EVcharging device—zappi—a future-proofed solution that, alongside operating as a mains-connected charging device that automatically optimises around one’s energy tariff to enable charging at both cheaper and greener times from the grid, can seamlessly integrate with renewable energy technologies to harness self-generated electricity supply.
Households with solar panels or a domestic wind turbine already installed can use zappi to charge their EV for free. While charging through mains supply is still far cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running a gasoline or diesel car, doing it with renewable energy can take EV charging completely off grid.
By effectively running a micro energy system, it’s possible to not only alleviate pressure on the grid, but eliminate it for significant periods of time. So, while the national transition to electrification poses hurdles, smart charging technology is helping to solve them. Going one step further, eco-smart charging has the potential to eradicate much of this pressure entirely.
About the author: Chris Horne is Chief Technology Officer of myenergi