Rachel Eyres, Market Unit Leader of Energy & Utilities at Expleo UK, explains the challenges that will need to be overcome in developing a more dynamic grid.
With the government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, electric vehicles will be taking over sooner than we think. The ambitious plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 will increase the adoption of electric vehicles, with hopes to reduce the carbon footprint on British roads in the process. While we can only welcome this ambitious plan for EVs, cars are only one part of a much bigger challenge: creating a sustainable power supply for those vehicles. Without a more dynamic grid, it is unlikely that we will meet the government’s net-zero target within the next decade.
To meet the 2030 targets, the electricity market will need to take a serious look at its power grids to minimise blackouts and electricity loss in areas of the UK. We will need to create a smart charging infrastructure for EVs that is compatible with our existing power networks to reduce the need for new generators or larger networks to service peak charging times. This challenge is well known amongst Distribution System Operators – those who distribute electricity – who will need to rework the infrastructure to allow multi-directional flow of electricity and balancing of supply and demand throughout the day.
The evolving grid
The old linear distribution model supported the traditional flow of power in one direction – from the generator to your home in a very predictable pattern. But this old model is simply not smart enough to support the way electricity will be produced and consumed in the future. As we look at the innovations that smart technology has brought to the world, including smart metering and smart goods, it is clear that a more dynamic grid is required.
Electric vehicles are only a small part of the move towards a greener future, which also includes microgeneration at people’s homes, a move towards cleaner forms of heating, and introduction of storage technology into our power system. The mass adoption of EVs, however, may have a negative impact on our grid as more people will need to charge their electric car at the same time, creating a surge in demand too large for the existing power networks.
In the worst-case scenario this could lead to blackouts. A negative experience for the user could slow down further adoption of EVs. Without major changes to our infrastructure, the UK’s energy supply is currently not ready to support a surge in adoption of EVs and change needs to happen fast.
Identifying the challenges
Smart charging allows the charging of electric vehicles to be scheduled in times of reduced demand on the system, and also allows for power to be discharged back onto the grid from car batteries at times of peak demand. This will be an effective solution for the mass adoption of EVs but comes with the challenge of rethinking the grid.
This is a huge IoT challenge that will take DSOs time to develop and maintain. The new markets will need extensive monitoring and measurement which will come with its own challenges, from field maintenance to device management, as well as new business capabilities that organisations will need to adapt into their business models.
An even bigger challenge is rethinking how customers engage with this part of the energy system. Smart charging effectively asks consumers to become a mini virtual power station, earning money from their vehicles at peak times, and adapting their lifestyle to reduce strain on our power grids. This engagement is a huge transformation from the current relationship consumers have with both their energy providers and their driving, and it needs careful planning and design. Technology can only solve part of the problem; we will rely on consumers and brands to solve the rest.
We’re at the very beginning of an exciting new era for consumers in the automotive and energy sector. While this leads to a deep rethink of the way we use technology, the industry benefits from years of learning from their smart devices and enterprise-grade IoT services. These learnings are an integral part of the wider engineering and technology challenge we face today: creating a grid that is fit for purpose for a world where many energy sources will be used to fuel clean transport.
Developing the infrastructure and delivering the transition will change the industry in ways that it has not seen before, enabling us to deliver on the government’s expectations for net zero and becoming a champion of clean energy and transport.