Currently reading: Analysis: How UK will keep EVs charging
Will the network be able to cope when EVs go mainstream? National Grid has a plan
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4 mins read
24 January 2020

In a few years, EVs will be taking to UK roads in much greater numbers than they are today. But will the UK’s electricity-generating network be able to keep up?

Although there has been widespread concern that it won’t, the current assessment by National Grid plc (which also manages the UK’s natural gas supply) is far more optimistic. If the right steps are taken, then far from overloading the network, EVs could actually contribute to reducing energy consumption by 2050.

Thanks partly to the 2019 Climate Change Act, which aims for net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 across the board, energy supply for EVs will form part of a massive UK decarbonisation strategy. In its annual Future Energy Scenarios report (FES), National Grid lists four possible ways in which the UK’s energy model will shape up. Two of those will achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

National Grid’s electricity network is split into two main parts: the high-voltage three-phase network and the local, low-voltage single-phase networks, carrying electricity from substations to properties.

If nothing is done, it is expected that demand on both networks will double at peak periods once the mass roll-out of EVs begins, causing serious problems.

National Grid predicts that 50% of all new cars will be plug-in hybrid or fully electric by 2030 and that there will be 35 million EVs on UK roads by 2050.

In the short to medium term, it is predicted that overloading the network in peak periods can be avoided by smart charging. Smart chargers fall under the control of network operators and each charger can be told when to begin charging to spread the load on the networks into low-peak times. Successful trials over the past few years have established that consumers have no concerns with the time of day their EV gets charged, particularly because it usually happens overnight.

The time shift can be overridden for urgent use and chargers potentially controlled by the consumer via an app.

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The Automated and Electric Vehicles (AEV) Act of 2018 mandates the transition to a smart domestic charging infrastructure. As of 1 July last year, all new domestic chargers must be smart to qualify for support from the government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

The overall balance of energy use in the UK is expected to change, leading eventually to a reduction in consumption due to increased efficiency. One key example is a dramatic shift in the way homes are heated, raising the efficiency of homes to EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) class C or higher, and the rolling out of at least 2.5 million domestic heat pump systems by 2030.

Hydrogen is expected to play a big part, mainly in heating. The idea is that electricity is used to reform natural gas to produce hydrogen in conjunction with CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) to neutralise CO2 from the hydrogen manufacturing process. All household and industrial boilers would eventually need to switch to hydrogen, emitting no CO2 and minimising the use of electricity.

Even with smart charging, demand for electricity will increase again as EV numbers grow, but that is expected to be offset by the roll-out of vehicle-to-grid charging. This will allow vehicles charged at low-peak prices to transfer energy to the home during more expensive peak periods, reducing the load on power generation stations during those times.

Ultra-rapid public chargers should help quell fears of range anxiety and lack of convenience for prospective EV buyers. BP Chargemaster has already begun the roll-out of 400 ultra-fast 150kW chargers planned by next year. These are capable of delivering a 100-mile range top-up in 10 minutes. National Grid also proposes the creation of ultra-rapid charger clusters (150kW-350kW) at motorway service areas. According to its 2019 FES, National Grid has already identified 54 sites that, it says, would put 99% of EV drivers within 50 miles of a cluster at any time.

National Grid says those sites can be linked cost effectively to the high-voltage transmission network directly. It also recommends that this happens before price parity with petrol and diesel cars is reached in around 2025, to avoid range anxiety being a barrier to EV uptake. It warns that this will work only with government intervention under the AEV Act, saying that a market-led approach would lead to a postcode lottery.

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What's needed

UK consultancy Capital Economics forecasts that to meet 2050’s ‘net zero’ targets, the UK will need: 25 million EV charging points, 22 million home heat pumps, and £240 billion total outlay.

Making the most of what's there

A rapid-charging project called DC Share is under way with Western Power Distribution, Electricity North West and Ricardo. Its aim is to boost the capability of local networks to power rapid chargers.

Although local AC distribution networks can be protected from mass EV plug-in at peak times by smart charging, that doesn’t allow for attaching power-hungry rapid charger clusters to the same networks. For that, expensive ‘network reinforcement’ may be needed, such as increasing the capacity of transformers, overhead lines and cables.

The DC Share project will tap into surrounding networks, drawing unused power to drive rapid-charging hubs. The project will lay a DC equalisation cable network between transformers, so those experiencing heavy demand can be supported by others that are lightly loaded.

If successful, this approach would be cheaper and more efficient than implementing the usual network upgrades and enable greater numbers of rapid chargers without the need to generate extra power.

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Comments
20

bol

24 January 2020

I'm not worried about electricity capacity because renewables are developing so quickly. That said, I think national grid under estimate the percentage of new cars that will be electric or hybrid by 2030. My guess would be more like 80%. Once we reach tipping point people will need a very good reason indeed to buy new combustion engined cars. 

24 January 2020

"All household and industrial boilers would eventualy nood to switch to hydrogen,..".

Fairly balanced article but it was worth pointing out what's happening in Norway, Holland etc. And just because 50% of sales might be electric come 2030 that doesn't mean 50% of cars will be electric what with cars lasting 15 years or so.

24 January 2020

Its tough to let go, especially if you have sunk lots of R&D budget, but hydrogen is not going to be the way to power either homes or cars. Its hugely inefficient to hydrolise water, compress and then transport vs the comparative ease and lack of investment required to use pre-existing electricity grid to deliver electricity directly to consumers.

The only niche area where there might be a future in hydrogen is aircraft- where the energy density of batteries is insufficient at the present time.

24 January 2020
Surely there'll only be ONE peak period - from early evening when everyone gets home through until about 05:00 when chargers are either being disconnected or are in trickle charge mode to preserve battery life.
And on the grid capacity subject, we are presently patting ourselves on the back at how much of our electricity is generated from renewable sources. As I write this there's a massive high pressure sitting over the UK and not a knat's fart of wind outside. We need to be careful on how quickly we rush to close traditional power stations. Nuclear has to be the way forward.

24 January 2020
Cobnapint wrote:

Surely there'll only be ONE peak period - from early evening when everyone gets home through until about 05:00 when chargers are either being disconnected or are in trickle charge mode to preserve battery life.
And on the grid capacity subject, we are presently patting ourselves on the back at how much of our electricity is generated from renewable sources. As I write this there's a massive high pressure sitting over the UK and not a knat's fart of wind outside. We need to be careful on how quickly we rush to close traditional power stations. Nuclear has to be the way forward.

Actually peak car charge time will be after 11:59pm (which is/was actually off peak) because that cheap rate electricty si around 9p a Kw rather than 14p a Kw.
On wind, last week 30% of power was supplied by the wind, so you just need a mix and more wind turbines! On nthe uclear there's some potential good news from RR regarding SWR(?), basically small power stations but more of them. Could be the way forward

24 January 2020

I do not understand how the national grid can say that the current network can cope when the whole of the south west is already at capacity, I'm building a new manufacturing facility in Torbay and western power have told us that we can only have 25% of the electricity we have asked for due to network constraints and this will not change any time soon, they even suggested they would put micro gas turbines on site to generate what they cannot provide through the grid.

Somebody is not telling the truth!

24 January 2020

They need to rename it from Smart Charging to Controlled Charging, as that is what it is in reality. The energy or charger provider is now controlling how quickly your car gets refueled. For most situations, that's fine. However, imagine if you get home and your car is running at 10% battery (which will probably be most days). But your partner is heavily pregnant. You plug in and allow it to do its thing. But because there is too much demand on the grid at that time it won't charge. 

Your partner then unexpectedly goes in to labour 90 minutes later. If the charger was running at normal rate, you'd have a decent amount of charge by now, especially if you had a rapid charger installed. But because your charger is controlled externally and the provider has seen that there is too much demand on the grid to give you the full beans, your car has charged a grand total of an extra 5%. You have 15% battery capacity to get your partner to hospital. Will you make it? Will you make it back?

ICE cars this isn't a problem. You can keep your car at a 500 mile range with a quick stop at a petrol station. Essentially, you could keep your tank full every day if you wanted to with a 5 minute stop on your way home.

I will never knowingly have a technology installed on my home that can prevent me from getting to where I need to be because someone in an office or an algorithm thinks they know my life and habits. Life is unpredictable. 

24 January 2020
tkemp22 wrote:

They need to rename it from Smart Charging to Controlled Charging, as that is what it is in reality. The energy or charger provider is now controlling how quickly your car gets refueled. For most situations, that's fine. However, imagine if you get home and your car is running at 10% battery (which will probably be most days). But your partner is heavily pregnant. You plug in and allow it to do its thing. But because there is too much demand on the grid at that time it won't charge. 

Your partner then unexpectedly goes in to labour 90 minutes later. If the charger was running at normal rate, you'd have a decent amount of charge by now, especially if you had a rapid charger installed. But because your charger is controlled externally and the provider has seen that there is too much demand on the grid to give you the full beans, your car has charged a grand total of an extra 5%. You have 15% battery capacity to get your partner to hospital. Will you make it? Will you make it back?

ICE cars this isn't a problem. You can keep your car at a 500 mile range with a quick stop at a petrol station. Essentially, you could keep your tank full every day if you wanted to with a 5 minute stop on your way home.

I will never knowingly have a technology installed on my home that can prevent me from getting to where I need to be because someone in an office or an algorithm thinks they know my life and habits. Life is unpredictable. 

Would only happen if you worked 100 miles from home, the hospital was in a different town from your digs, if you didn't have any sort of energy storage system installed at home, and if the government had the ability to completely switch off your power (would be unlikely, given how affordable localised solar is becoming). If your wife is heavily pregnant, you should be far more prepared.

24 January 2020
Sonic wrote:
tkemp22 wrote:

They need to rename it from Smart Charging to Controlled Charging, as that is what it is in reality. The energy or charger provider is now controlling how quickly your car gets refueled. For most situations, that's fine. However, imagine if you get home and your car is running at 10% battery (which will probably be most days). But your partner is heavily pregnant. You plug in and allow it to do its thing. But because there is too much demand on the grid at that time it won't charge. 

Your partner then unexpectedly goes in to labour 90 minutes later. If the charger was running at normal rate, you'd have a decent amount of charge by now, especially if you had a rapid charger installed. But because your charger is controlled externally and the provider has seen that there is too much demand on the grid to give you the full beans, your car has charged a grand total of an extra 5%. You have 15% battery capacity to get your partner to hospital. Will you make it? Will you make it back?

ICE cars this isn't a problem. You can keep your car at a 500 mile range with a quick stop at a petrol station. Essentially, you could keep your tank full every day if you wanted to with a 5 minute stop on your way home.

I will never knowingly have a technology installed on my home that can prevent me from getting to where I need to be because someone in an office or an algorithm thinks they know my life and habits. Life is unpredictable. 

Would only happen if you worked 100 miles from home, the hospital was in a different town from your digs, if you didn't have any sort of energy storage system installed at home, and if the government had the ability to completely switch off your power (would be unlikely, given how affordable localised solar is becoming). If your wife is heavily pregnant, you should be far more prepared.

You can be as prepared as you want. If your charger isn't functioning as you expect, that is a factor outside of your control.

Does anyone have home energy storage??? I heard a while back about the Tesla power wall, but that thing is ridiculously expensive.

Currently, anyone with a 'smart meter' installed can have their supply remotely terminated/interrupted by the energy supplier. It's not a government thing, the energy companies themselves can turn it off. It's one of the 'features' of them (My father in law works for Western Power and refuses to install one for that reason)

24 January 2020
tkemp22 wrote:

They need to rename it from Smart Charging to Controlled Charging, as that is what it is in reality. The energy or charger provider is now controlling how quickly your car gets refueled. For most situations, that's fine. However, imagine if you get home and your car is running at 10% battery (which will probably be most days). But your partner is heavily pregnant.

Emmm your partner is pregnant AND by chance your car is only at 10%, emmm call an AMBULANCE, if available use your other ICE/EV car, ask a neighbour. You're clutching at straws!

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