How smart charging can help unlock flexible capacity from EVs

Dagoberto Cedillos, Strategy & Innovation Lead at Open Energi explores how smart charging can help unlock flexible capacity from Electric Vehicles.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have taken off in 2017 with governments, manufacturers and industry queuing up to announce bold commitments, product launches and sales figures. The next decade will be critical for EVs, and their accelerating deployment will have a significant impact on infrastructure systems and markets.

A lot of attention has been given to ‘worst-case’ scenarios but smart charging technology means EVs can be managed to the benefit of the system, accelerating our transition to a sustainable energy future and supporting low carbon growth. New analysis by Open Energi suggests that EVs could provide over 11GW of flexible capacity to the UK’s energy system by 2030.

The analysis demonstrates the potential EVs could have as a significant grid resource able to provide flexibility to support renewable generation, balance electricity supply and demand and alleviate strain on the network at a local and national level, without impacting drivers.

The rise of EVs

The last 12 months have seen EV deployment strengthened by manufacturer commitment, government influence and price curves. Manufacturers including VolvoJaguar, and Volkswagen to name a few have made bold statements, announcing plans to electrify their product lines and assigning large budgets for R&D. The choice of EV models will almost double by 2020, as the release of Chevy’s BoltTesla’s Model 3 and Nissan’s new Leaf lead EVs into the mainstream.

Battery prices, which account for around 50% of the cost of an EV, have fallen more than 75% since 2010 and are expected to continue to do so at about 7% year on year to 2030, whilst Governments of France and the UK have agreed to ban sales of diesel vehicles by 2040. Other countries have set aggressive sales targets, for example China, who has set a 7m target in its 2025 Auto Plan. And all want to become world leaders in EV technology. Here in the UK, BEIS has announced funding for battery, V2G technology development and EV infrastructure development, all of which will be critical to the long-term success of EVs.

EVs and electricity demand

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), in 2040 54% of global new car sales and 33% of the global fleet will be electric, with a demand of up to 1,800 TWh (5% of projected global power consumption). In the UK, National Grid suggests around 9 million EVs will be on the road by 2030. This uptake in EVs will have a significant effect on our electricity system.

Although EV charging will cause an increase in overall electrical energy demand, the greater challenge lies in where, when and how this charging takes place. The overall electricity demand change will be a single-digit percentage increase but if all this energy is consumed at the same time of day, it could result in double digit percentage increases in peak power demand. This may create challenges for generation capacity and for local networks, who could be put under strain to meet these surges in power demand.

A flexible resource

Smart charging can help turn EVs into a significant grid resource offering flexible capacity to the system. Open Energi’s analysis quantifies flexibility based on different charging scenarios, speeds and time of day, using industry forecasts for EV numbers to attribute a volume to each scenario. By 2020, with an estimated 1.6 million EVs on the road, there could be between 200-550MW of turn-up flexibility at different times of day, and between 400MW and 1.3GW of turn-down flexibility.  This could be unlocked with smart-charging. Available flexibility would change throughout the day depending on charging patterns and scenarios. In 2030, with 9 million EVs on the road, this rises to up to 3GW of turn-up and 8GW of turn-down flexibility respectively.

Smart charging technology can alleviate strain on the grid and turn EVs into an asset that can work for the benefit of the system. Optimal night-dispatch for example, can ensure all vehicles are charged by the time they’ll be used the next day without compromising their local network infrastructure. Cars could help to absorb energy during periods of oversupply, and to ease down demand during periods of undersupply. On an aggregate basis, they can help the system operator, National Grid, with its real-time balancing challenge, and provide much needed flexibility to support growing levels of renewable generation. Suppliers could work with charge point operators to balance their trading portfolios and manage imbalance risk, helping to lower costs for consumers.

However, the success of EVs – and smart charging – will be driven by user-experience. Smart charging can only happen with the consent of the driver, and drivers will only consent if their car is charged and ready to go when they need it. A combination of artificial intelligence and data insight can help to automate charging without affecting user experience, so that the technology can learn and respond to changing patterns of consumer behaviour and deliver an uninterrupted driver experience. Getting this right is key to aligning the future of sustainable energy and transport.

A full explanation of the methodology used is available here.