When electric vehicles become mainstream, how will the UK’s national grid cope?

If the evangelists are to be believed, the automotive world is on the cusp of an electric vehicle (EV) revolution.

Indeed, the government has recently announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK from 2040.

In a recent report, UBS predicted that, by 2023, a car such as the battery-powered Chevrolet Volt would cost the same to make as a conventional fossil-fuel-powered Volkswagen Golf.

However, the UBS report also suggested the first of the new-generation EVs due towards the end of this decade from big European companies are likely to be loss-making.

With onerous EU CO2 fleet targets to be met by 2020 and 2021, though, these new battery-powered models will be vital as sales of economical diesel cars begin to collapse. The big car makers might be happy to take a loss when the alternative is an EU fine.

The upshot of the UBS report is that it thinks EV sales will climb to 30% of the new car market in Europe by 2025 and 14% globally. UBS reckons that once longer-distance EVs can compete on price with a Golf and are clearly cheaper to run over five years, the EV revolution will truly begin in Europe and annual sales of EVs will be five to six million. With proposed CO2 fleet targets as low as 65g/km by 2025, mass adoption of EVs seems to have been baked into EU legislation.

Which is all very well, but how will we be charging our EVs? Aside from the challenge of having enough charging spaces for hundreds of thousands of new EVs every year, there’s the pressing issue of the strains on the electricity transmission network. On top of that, there’s the question of how the electricity is being generated.

As I write this on a blustery afternoon in the UK, the national grid live monitor shows an impressive low-carbon performance. With demand at 34.5GW, the remaining UK coal stations are off, gas is producing 28.6% of the electricity, nuclear 23.7%, wind nearly 22% and solar 11%. That’s nearly one-third renewable and over half of the generation is ‘low carbon’.

A bright and blustery day is ideal for showing the potential of renewable energy, but critics are probably right to say ‘renewable’ also means ‘intermittent’. What happens in winter, when demand is higher and the days shorter? And what happens on a still winter night when large numbers of EVs are trying to charge up?

The challenge of charging a big EV fleet is going to be significantly more difficult in the UK because of plans to decarbonise its power generation network. According to the Climate Change Committee, a governmental agency, the UK is planning to totally transform the way its electricity is generated.

The UK is legally bound to generate 30% of its electricity by renewables by 2020. The target is for electricity generation to be almost totally carbon-free by 2050, so the UK’s electricity feed will come increasingly from renewables over the next decade. That’s another reason why having large numbers of batterypowered cars is necessary: when the wind blows and the sun shines, that energy needs to be soaked up by batteries and EVs will be ideal to do that.

If that’s not a big enough hurdle for the EV revolution, there’s the issue of strain on the network. One pressure group — the Green Alliance — has said clusters of recharging EVs could cause voltage drops locally, potentially damaging electric equipment. Even government ministers have publicly warned of the effects of EV owners all plugging in during the early evening. Electricity providers are talking of the need to spend significant sums on upgrading the network to take the extra loads.

The real solution, claims James O’Neil of Finnish company Ensto, is insisting that all car chargers installed from now on are smart chargers. Yes, he might well say that because that’s what his company makes, but he’s also right.

“While it’s being charged, an electric car will consume the same amount of power as a whole house will over 48 hours or even longer,” he said. Such loads will stress local networks, especially during evenings.

Ensto’s Chago chargers are connected to the web and use data streamed from the cloud to manage charging across a local area. But in the future, vehicleto-grid communication can use driving and parking patterns and even pre-selected sat-nav information to decide when and for how long individual vehicles are charged from the network. Such grid communication will be essential in the UK, especially given the 2040 plan.

To further even out power demand, O’Neil has also suggested these smart chargers be fitted in shopping areas and supermarket car parks. He said: “Regular charging throughout the day — including at workplaces — will also spread the load on the grid. Which is why fitting smart chargers is the only way to achieve genuine dynamic load management.”

There’s no doubt that the combined forces of long-term EU and UK government policies — the push towards EVs and the decarbonisation of UK electricity generation — will make our automotive future considerably more complex. It will take significant foresight and vision to ensure the UK is in a position to offer both worry-free EV motoring and low-carbon electricity by 2040.

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Comments
24

9 August 2017

The trouble with so called smart charging is that once you plug in your electric car, you may have no idea how long it will take before your car is fully charged. It may be all well and good to have smart chargers using sat nav data and other information to judge how much electricty your car will likely need and when you are next likly to use it, but there will be manay exceptions like coming home from work and then going out again two hours later for a night out. To cater for that there may be an override switch. Trouble is everyone will want to ovveride these things. No doubt smart charging is going to be required, but it may prove very difficult to achieve without lots of drawbacks. My view is that we should only worry about electrifying our cars once we have electrified everything else. How about removing 40% of our emissiosn by scrapping all boilers and replacing them with heat pumps, and insulating houses and offices better? It would be easier to manage the smart operation of heating systems in well insulated buildings as it is not norrmally critical as to exactly what time hot water is heated or radiators are switched on. Also, there is only a finite amount of renewable electricty in our system and will be for many years. Whilst this is the case it would be best to replace fuel use for electricity with the easiste targets first until such times we have more than enough renewable electricty.

289

9 August 2017

The renewable energy numbers dont look so good on a typical British summer day ,....today only 9% wind (not 22%) and 6% solar (rather than the 11% when Hilton wrote this article)

I am no EV fan, but we are an Island and should be using Tidal generation, the western side of the UK has huge tidal ranges capable of enormous electricity generation, and of course the whole country has tides running 24 hours a day (other than slack water) 365 days of the year - unlike wind/solar.  Fish arent stupid and will not swim into machinery commiting Hari Kari....(after all water mills have been in place for Hundreds of years without decimating fish stocks), so this really isnt an issue to block tidal generation.

After initial infrastructure costs (which cant be as expensive as building nuclear powerstations), this will be cheap energy and totally green with no decommissioning costs or nuclear waste concerns. Even better we would no longer be at the mercy of French power gen companies to rob us with 'highway robbery' unit costsw

9 August 2017

Couldn't agree more, 289.

9 August 2017
289 wrote:

The renewable energy numbers dont look so good on a typical British summer day ,....today only 9% wind (not 22%) and 6% solar (rather than the 11% when Hilton wrote this article)

I am no EV fan, but we are an Island and should be using Tidal generation, the western side of the UK has huge tidal ranges capable of enormous electricity generation, and of course the whole country has tides running 24 hours a day (other than slack water) 365 days of the year - unlike wind/solar.  Fish arent stupid and will not swim into machinery commiting Hari Kari....(after all water mills have been in place for Hundreds of years without decimating fish stocks), so this really isnt an issue to block tidal generation.

After initial infrastructure costs (which cant be as expensive as building nuclear powerstations), this will be cheap energy and totally green with no decommissioning costs or nuclear waste concerns. Even better we would no longer be at the mercy of French power gen companies to rob us with 'highway robbery' unit costsw

Come on 289, don't be daft - energy is neither created nor desroyed, just converted from one form to another.  If you start harvesting tidal energy, the moon will slow down, causing it to fall out of orbit and come crashing through your bathroom window one evening, probably just after you've stepped out of the shower.  I do like your fish energy idea, though - if we put a piece of machinery in the water and tied some string round their tails, is there a way we could harness the energy as they tried to swim away?

9 August 2017
289 wrote:

The renewable energy numbers dont look so good on a typical British summer day ,....today only 9% wind (not 22%) and 6% solar (rather than the 11% when Hilton wrote this article)

I am no EV fan, but we are an Island and should be using Tidal generation, the western side of the UK has huge tidal ranges capable of enormous electricity generation, and of course the whole country has tides running 24 hours a day (other than slack water) 365 days of the year - unlike wind/solar.  Fish arent stupid and will not swim into machinery commiting Hari Kari....(after all water mills have been in place for Hundreds of years without decimating fish stocks), so this really isnt an issue to block tidal generation.

After initial infrastructure costs (which cant be as expensive as building nuclear powerstations), this will be cheap energy and totally green with no decommissioning costs or nuclear waste concerns. Even better we would no longer be at the mercy of French power gen companies to rob us with 'highway robbery' unit costsw

9 August 2017
289 wrote:

The renewable energy numbers dont look so good on a typical British summer day ,....today only 9% wind (not 22%) and 6% solar (rather than the 11% when Hilton wrote this article)

I am no EV fan, but we are an Island and should be using Tidal generation, the western side of the UK has huge tidal ranges capable of enormous electricity generation, and of course the whole country has tides running 24 hours a day (other than slack water) 365 days of the year - unlike wind/solar.  Fish arent stupid and will not swim into machinery commiting Hari Kari....(after all water mills have been in place for Hundreds of years without decimating fish stocks), so this really isnt an issue to block tidal generation.

After initial infrastructure costs (which cant be as expensive as building nuclear powerstations), this will be cheap energy and totally green with no decommissioning costs or nuclear waste concerns. Even better we would no longer be at the mercy of French power gen companies to rob us with 'highway robbery' unit costsw

9 August 2017

So, to charge our electric cars, the suggestion has been made that we use "Smart" chargers, connected to the internet to determin the best time to actually "pump" the juice.

This is an addition to the IoT (Internet of Things), i..e. Smart devices connected to the internet. IoT includers CCTV cameras, Smart thermostats, Smart Bulbs, washing machines, fridges etc. Every device that is internet connected needs to have strong security protocols in place to ensure they can't be hacked - and, so far, they don't. Even when they do, there's always the risk of a flaw that makes the device vulnerable and there amy not be  away to update the software.

So, the charger network gets hacked and all chargers are set to charge, on full, at the same time - result - power grid overloads and collapses or vehicl batteroes re overloaded and catch fire.

Charger network gets hacked and the network is instructed not to charge - result - flat batteries and zero transportation

Individual chargers targetted - individual vehicles overload, so vehicle broken, damaged, catches fire

The whole electric vehicle matter is one huge challenge across a wide spectrum of issues

9 August 2017

“by 2020 and 2021, though, these new battery-powered models will be vital as sales of economical diesel cars begin to collapse” 2020, don’t UBS read the papers diesel sales have started to collapse already under the pressure of pollution uncertainties and ever more efficient petrol engines, and its only 2017.

As to “UBS reckons that once longer-distance Evs..” what do they actually define as “longer distance” the Zoe, Model 3 and next gen Leaf are 200 plus, what's their break though barrier. The comment is obvious and pointless at the same time.

Smart charging, people just plug it in at night and let a timer take care of it so you get Economy 7 rates if available. Plenty of people get by already without this Smart charger nonsense

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

9 August 2017

Good point Andy, this whole internet of things which is being sold to us as a convenient tool to make controlling our boiler while on holiday etc is a complete liability. In addition to the exposure of RF from smart meters which are potentially damaging to health. When you need juice the last thing you need is the ministry of juice telling you the computer says no. Isn't it odd that our government says we should be all driving around in EV while supporting the oil & gass industry to extract more fossil fuels by a process as destructive as fracking. You make a good point about the possibility of the grid getting hacked and causing harm, but hey Cameron thought it would be a good idea to let the Chinese to build our next generation of Nuclear Power Plants ! What could go wrong ? no need to hack we designed it with a built in device to cause as much economic damage as possible.  

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

9 August 2017

Where's your evidence (science report, not some American nutgreen) that fracking is destructive?  Same with RF from smart meters.

Base your opinions on the best scientific evidence available, and at least you'll have good backing (even though it may still not be true!).  But remember that consensus means nothing in science, and is actually the antithesis of it.  NEVER base your opinions on unsupported assertions of others who are subjective and may even be mentally retarded.

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