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Won’t somebody think of the network?

  • 26 May 2021

  • Esther Dudek

Blogs & White Papers

Understanding the impact of EVs on electricity networks

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. We take a closer look at the issues and how one initiative where EA Technology partnered has revealed how we can help electricity networks prepare for electric vehicles’ (EVs) mass uptake.

Data source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-consumption-in-the-uk


Data source: https://data.gov.uk/dataset/9a1e58e5-d1b6-457d-a414-335ca546d52c/provisional-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics

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?

Data source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/942102/veh0253.ods

Source:  Table 4.18 http://fes.nationalgrid.com/media/1432/fes-data-workbook-v30.xlsx

Source: https://www.lowcvp.org.uk/projects/electric-vehicle-energy-taskforce.htm

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, enabling the trialling of smart charging with customers to prove feasibility and acceptability. Western Power Distribution’s Network Innovation Project Electric Nation

was one such initiativen 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). We found that flexibility is high when the charging duration is much shorter than the plug-in – meaning that there’s time to make up for the reduced charging speed.

Data from the trial showed flexibility in charging. However, without an incentive, the demand in the evening peak requires management. Demand management  was technically feasible and acceptable to the majority of trial participants – in fact, it operated successfully for most participants throughout the trial. Satisfaction scored by participants remained high and was not linked to the amount of management they experienced.

Time-of-use incentives proved to be particularly useful when supported by smart charging (with an app) that makes it simple for the user. In numbers, 61% of participants used the app at least once. We found that time-of-use incentives appeared to be highly effective at moving demand away from the evening peak.

Resources for further reading 

Download Electric Nation reports:

Electric Nation Report

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

Collaborative projects

  • 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

Smart solutions

  • 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:

My Electric Avenue:

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)

Smart EV:

2016 – 2017
Cross-sectoral stakeholder management to achieve cross-industry consensus on standardised mechanism to facilitate EV uptake on local electricity distribution networks

Electric Nation:

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.

To find out more about the Integration of Electric Transport, contact us on:+44 (0) 151 347 2313


Esther Dudek
Senior Consultant