New £9m project aims to discover the impact mass electric vehicle charging could have on our electricity infrastructure
Matt Burt
3 April 2014

An £9m trial that will monitor the impact of electric vehicle charging on the local electricity infrastructure got underway in Buckinghamshire this week.

The ‘My Electric Avenue’ project will examine 11 ‘clusters’ of Nissan Leaf drivers around the country over the next 18 months, and provide information about how best to manage the demand for electricity when a large number of EVs in the same street are plugged in to their charging points at the same time.

The scheme’s first ‘street of the future’ has been created in Marlow, Bucks, where nine neighbours have received their new Leafs. Each ‘cluster’ of drivers has to receive their electricity from the same substation, so must live close to one another. The motorists have leased their Leafs for £100 per month, and had the charging equipment installed for free.

Electricity demand reaches its peak between 5.30-6.30pm, when residents drive home from work, turn on lights, watch television and prepare food. There is currently a question mark over what additional effect the charging of many thousands of electric vehicles would have on the grid.

As part of the scheme, a new piece of technology called Esprit is fitted to each of the participants’ charging posts, as well as at the local substation. If the demand for electricity reaches a certain level, the new device can delay the vehicle charging until later at night when the call for electricity has subsided.

Project director David A Roberts said: “Transition to a low-carbon economy is going to bring some fairly big changes to the way we all use electricity and energy. In particular, as we begin to decarbonise transport, that is going to pose a challenge to the electricity networks, both nationally and locally.

“It’s that local point that we’re really interested in. What we’ve seen with the uptake of technology such as photovoltaic solar panels in people’s homes is ‘clustering’. This is a social occurrence where one person in a street has them installed, and the rest tend to follow.

“Our hypothesis is the same will happen with electric vehicles, which could pose a challenge because the local electricity network isn’t designed to deal with everyone in a street using their appliances at the same time.”

Participants' driving and charging habits will provide information about managing the local electricity network as sales of cars with ‘plug-in’ capability continue to rise. It is also the first trial that directly controls domestic EV charging to prevent underground cables, overhead lines and substations being overloaded.

With some of the nation’s electricity infrastructure first put in place in the 1930s, the project aims to prove a solution that would avoid the need to dig up the roads to install higher capacity electric cables.

The My Electric Avenue project was first announced a year ago, and has now fulfilled all the criteria set out by energy regulator Ofgem to receive full funding from the latter’s low carbon networks fund.

In addition to Marlow, the other residential ‘clusters’ are in Chineham, Chiswick, Lyndhurst, South Gosforth and Wylam, with two more based in South Shields. In addition there are two ‘workplace-based clusters’: Slough Borough Council and Your Homes Newcastle.

The project is led by private company EA Technology together with Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution, and includes several other companies including Nissan, Fleetdrive Electric and Zero Carbon Futures.

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Comments
9

3 April 2014
If and when electric vehicles become all the rage, charging them could pose a new challenge to the old grid. Tesla uses superchargers which are essentially solar panels to harness electricity for their cars.
I don't know why solar energy is not being harnessed on a house level? After all it will remove the need for a grid altogether. Is the technology too expensive or unpredictable? What's the chance of sun turning off in a few lifetimes?

3 April 2014
Because Tesla are being disingenuous on this one-that solar array isn't capable of producing anything like the 480 KW required in the promo pictures-particulary at night. It is I believe called green wash, or possibly bullshit...

3 April 2014
Because as yet solar panels don't produce anything like the sort of power you need for high current products such as hair driers, electric showers and obviously cars in this case. I wonder how many people would have solar panels installed if the vast subsidies given by the government to promote them were removed and you actually had the money back from them what they actually produced in electricity.

3 April 2014
i have solar panels on my house that feed back to the grid. they have a 15 year payback time at current energy prices. if demand for electricity takes off because of electric cars, pushing up its price, i think it will become more common place.

the grid will always be required... my roof has 7 panels that produce around 10-15% of my electricity needs. they cover most of my roof. you would need 10 rooftops covered in solar panels just to supply one house. without the grid you would also need a battery storage system ( these commonly cost thousands of pounds, depending on the capacity). it makes much more financial sense to have a centralised system of distribution with a bit of give and take from individual homes.

i think the future, discounting the introduction of new tech will be a grid / micro home generation combo. there are currently no realistic alternatives to fossil fuels, and as long as they are around, because they are so energy dense there isnt much economic incentive to develop alternatives.

3 April 2014
Thanks for sharing that with us. 7 solar panels generating 10-15% of domestic electricity required is far from adequate and explains a good deal why the solar panels are failing to catch up. Electricity generated by burning fossil fuels (in plants located away from populated areas) is still better than burning diesel and petrol in city centres, but only so much.

4 April 2014
Let's be honest ... The only way we are going to be able to generate the large amounts of electricity required to satisfy the potential 'electric car' market is to build more power stations ... And given that fossil fuels are being exhausted, these power stations will have to be nuclear ... I wonder how many 'tree huggers' who buy electric cars will like that scenario? ...

4 April 2014
that fossil fuels are no-where near being exhausted it's clear that the fans of "zero emission" electric cars are going to finally have to face up to the fact that this is a mirage. At the present stage of development and, with an honourable exception for the Teslar which I'd love to try, no sentient human being would buy an electric car with or without the baffling £5000 gift that you and I and every other tax paying member of the UK give every time one of the manufacturers sells one of them. It may be time for even the greenest of Guardian readers to realise that if the electric car does take off it's going to need huge infrastructure investment to fuel them. I find the technology fascinating but, like bio-fuels increasing the price of food in some of the poorest parts of the world, the law of unexpected consequences will not be denied.

4 April 2014
Seems to be a £9m feasibility study into proving how we don't need to update the aging national grid. Instead of spending cash around the edges making the odd handful of people think we're making progress we actually need to splash a few hundred billion on new power stations.


4 April 2014
I like the sound of a V8 as much as the next person, but one doesn't have to be a tree-hugger to take a healthy interest in the development of electric cars. Fossil fuels, whether running out in near future or not, are becoming more and more costly to obtain.
The current breed of EV is too expensive for what they offers, other than the exception of BMW i3 and Tesla Model S which offer the performance, innovation and sophistication that justifies the hefty price tag in comparison with the conventionally fuelled cars.

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