Won’t somebody think of the network?
26 May 2021
Understanding the impact of EVs on electricity networks
Transport electrification is one of the key routes to decarbonisation. The impact on the electricity network is sometimes cited as a barrier to this change. In this article we explore the drivers behind the electrification of transport, and the results of a trial, delivered by EA Technology in partnership with Drive Electric, for Western Power Distribution, which demonstrated how this can be achieved while still ‘thinking of the network’.
The transport sector now accounts for the largest share of UK energy consumption by sector. However, there has been no significant reduction in emissions from transport since 1990.
What’s happening now?
There’s significant policy support for EVs to help achieve Net Zero. The government is encouraging consumers to switch petrol and diesel cars and vans for battery electric vehicles through various measures:
- EU level binding emission targets for new vehicles apply to manufacturers
- Ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine-powered vehicles in 2030 (previously 2035)
- Purchase subsidies for battery electric vehicles
- Grants available for individuals and businesses installing charging points
- Attractive benefit in kind tax rates for EVs (compared to petrol/diesel cars)
Here in the UK, sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are increasing. But there’s a problem that goes hand-in-hand with that: the Road to Zero could increase today’s energy consumption by around 30% by 2050. So what about the electricity networks?
Source: Table 4.18 http://fes.nationalgrid.com/media/1432/fes-data-workbook-v30.xlsx
Getting ready to take the pressure
There have been plenty of scare stories in the mainstream media about electricity networks’ ability to cope, but the industry has been preparing. The National Grid has been busy modelling impact at a system (national) level to show how tariffs could reduce the increase in peak demand as vehicle owners charge their EVs. Energy suppliers are experimenting with time-of-use tariffs to EV drivers that reward them for charging off-peak, too.
The development of standards so EV chargers have smart technology built in, coupled with engagement with consumer groups about smart charging, is starting the process of education about when to charge EVs. Distribution networks are modelling where they will need to be reinforced so that they can plan extra capacity. At the same time, they’re improving the connection process for charge point operators, making it quicker to get a connection, and changing design standards for new houses are helping to future-proof the network.
Exploring the future through Electric Nation
Innovation projects are critical to understand what demand EV charging will create, and they have also allowed network operators to trial of smart charging with customers to prove feasibility and acceptability. Western Power Distribution’s Network Innovation Project Electric Nation
was one such initiative developed to address the challenge of increasing demand on distribution networks from the electrification of transport.
Delivered by project partners EA Technology, Drive Electric, TRL and Lucy GridKey between 2016 and 2019, Electric Nation aimed to:
- Expand understanding of the impact of domestic EV charging on distribution networks (range of vehicles, up to 7kW charge rate)
- Increase understanding of charging behaviour for different vehicle types
- Evaluate technical feasibility and customer acceptance of smart charging solutions to manage additional demand
The field trial
The two-year field trial included 673 participants and more than 130,000 charging events. Smart charging in Electric Nation involved sending signals to slow charging down when necessary or using tariffs to encourage drivers to charge outside of peak times
What we discovered about demand management
We wanted to determine whether it would inconvenience drivers if charging were slowed down, for example during the evening peak), whether or not participants would accept this, and how they would respond to time of use tariffs..
Data from the trial showed that cars are generally plugged in for much longer than they need to charge for, particularly when they are plugged in the evening. This is because, in most cases, the car is plugged in overnight. This means that there is flexibility in the charging – it can be slowed down and still be fully charged when the driver next wants their car.
Data from the trial showed flexibility in charging. However, without an incentive, EV charging could create additional demand in the evening peak which would sometimes be greater than the network capacity – particularly in winter when other demand is also high. Demand management through smart charging could be a solution to this. The trial showed that demand management was technically feasible and acceptable to the majority of participants –satisfaction scored by participants remained high and was not linked to the amount of management they experienced.
The final part of the trial looked at whether a Time-of-Use incentive supported by an app and smart charging could reduce the additional demand created in the evening peak. This approach was highly effective at moving demand away from the evening peak. During this trial there was always enough capacity available for those who wanted to charge in the evening peak. Engagement with the app was high, with 61% of participants using the app. Satisfaction remained high, and 76% of participants would recommend the app and tariff to their friends.
So what does this all mean? There’s plenty of work underway preparing electricity networks for transport electrification. Electric Nation is one example of this. It showed us that smart charging is something that works well for EV owners: moving the charging load to times when networks are less used (i.e. during the night) means lower energy costs for all users. Smart charging does not inconvenience drivers – and providing them with a smartphone app means they are always in control of their charging schedule.
Resources for further reading
Download Electric Nation reports:
Find out more about other EV projects:
Integrating the Electrification of Transport
Experts in electric vehicles and electricity network solutions
EA Technology offers…
- EV-electricity network impact studies
- Demand control technology development
- Mass EV trials / customer research
- Pioneering customer engagement
- Multi-sector stakeholder engagement
- Cost-benefit analysis
- Consultation management & delivery
Commercial, strategy & regulation
- Strategic leadership and advice on implementation of commercial/regulatory mechanisms to facilitate EV uptake on networks
- Evidence-based development and delivery of local, regional and national EV strategies to support carbon reduction targets
- Development and implementation of customer messaging strategies to support EV demand control
- Project management & partner brokering across automotive / utility / network operator / Government / consumer bodies
- Exemplary track record of customer engagement for world-leading EV trials
- Pioneering research on network impact and demand side management
- Feasibility & network studies
- Advice on procurement, connections, deployment, safety and technical innovation relating to electricity networks in areas including:
- Buses, freight and fleet
- Connected and autonomous vehicles
- Wireless charging
- Energy storage and EVs
- Workplace charging / smart car parks
- Enhanced frequency response and EVs
EA Technology is the recognised authority in the United Kingdom on the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on the electricity network, and the pioneer of smart solutions to mitigate this impact. This is evidenced through several high-profile projects including:
2012 – 2015
Trailblazer trial deployment of electric vehicle demand control technology to assess and mitigate impact of EV clusters on local electricity networks (>200 customers engaged)
2016 – 2017
Cross-sectoral stakeholder management to achieve cross-industry consensus on standardised mechanism to facilitate EV uptake on local electricity distribution networks
2016 – 2019
Trial of complex smart charging demand control technologies across wide range of EV types (battery capacities and charging capacities); customer acceptance across 500-700 trial participants
EV Network Group
2016 – 2018
Cross-sectoral group established by EA Technology to promote technological and infrastructural needs, to maximise the number of electric miles by 2030 in the most cost efficient way; supported by the UK Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles.