Electric vehicles & the UK’s ability to charge them

The last week has seen an explosion of news items about increasing numbers of electric vehicles (EVs), including France banning petrol and diesel cars by 2040, Volvo planning to sell only electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2019, and Tesla announcing that its Model 3 mass-market electric car has started rolling off production lines.

There have been many subsequent articles in the media about whether the UK’s electricity grid can cope with increasing numbers of EVs. Electric Nation, a Western Power Distribution (WPD) and Network Innovation Allowance funded project, is trialling a smart charging solution to the potential challenge of clusters of EVs charging at peak times on local electricity networks. WPD’s collaboration partners in the project are EA Technology, DriveElectric, Lucy Electric GridKey and TRL.

Mark Dale, Innovation and Low Carbon Networks Engineer at Western Power Distribution (WPD), comments: “While the UK electricity system has plenty of capacity to deliver energy to EVs currently and for the foreseeable future, smart charging can play an important role in ensuring electricity network upgrades are kept to a minimum as the numbers of EVs being charged at home increase. We believe that with the correct management of charging, the electricity network has the capacity to integrate the predicted uptake of EVs. Smart charging can allow management of the demand on the local electricity network and can help to avoid or defer work to upgrade infrastructure.”

Mark was a speaker at this week’s ‘Powering the Electric and Low Emission Vehicle Future’ Policy-UK Forum event. Mark adds that speakers from other organisations at the event, including OLEV, Ofgem, Cenex and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, also provided positive support about the introduction of controllable charge points.

Dave A Roberts, Smart Interventions Director, EA Technology, says: “We are now at a tipping point with the transition to electric vehicles. This is great news for motorists, and the environment, as EVs play a key role in helping to improve local air quality. Smart charging will allow increased uptake of EVs on UK roads and will save money – for the industry and therefore customers – on reinforcing local electricity networks.”

The UK Government has ambitious targets for the uptake of EVs, and sales are currently increasing at a rapid rate. An electric vehicle can more than double the demand on the local electricity network from a home when charging at peak times. If many homes in a local area adopt EVs, and they all charge at peak times, then this will have a significant impact on the local electricity network.

The costs to reinforce such local networks – e.g. through replacing cables, overhead lines or substation equipment – has been estimated to be at least £2.2 billion by 20501. However it is expected that such costs can be avoided in many instances by the widespread adoption of smart chargers, which can facilitate managed charging at times of peak demand, as well as providing added functionality for electric car owners.

In order to trial how smart chargers can help address the challenge of increasing number of EVs on local electricity networks, the Electric Nation project is recruiting new EV owners and providing a free* smart charger, so it can learn from the data – and the feedback – from trial participants.

The Electric Nation trial is taking place in the WPD network areas in the Midlands, South West and South Wales. It is seeking to recruit 500-700 people buying or leasing new electric vehicles (of all makes and models, pure electric and plug-in hybrids) to take part in the largest trial of its kind. Trial participants will get a free* smart charger installed.

Places on the trial are now filling up fast, so any new EV owners who want one of the latest smart chargers installed free of charge are advised to apply as soon as possible.

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