Taking the Electric Avenue
How will more electric vehicles affect the power network?
Electric buses are not sci-fi anymore, with fleets of them operating in a number of locations in the country. London was one of the first places to embrace them and will soon have close to 70 on the road. Locations such as Nottingham have followed. It’s not just buses though, it is all part of a wider interest and development in electric vehicles, with recent figures showing sales of plug-in cars having increased by 716% over the past two years.
It is an exciting time for anyone interested in low carbon fleets, but it also raises a question: If more electric vehicles are rolled out, what affect will charging clusters of electric vehicles have on local electricity networks at peak times? How can we ensure charging so many EVs will not cause black-outs?
To help answer this, My Electric Avenue was set up, a three-year Ofgem-funded project that has been carrying out trials to discover the impact that charging clusters of EVs might have. The trial results have shown that collaborative action will be needed by the energy and automotive industries to support the growing demand for EV charging in some areas of the UK. It also found that some of the smart solutions the industry is developing can help.
My Electric Avenue has been hosted by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution and led by EA Technology. It has been funded through Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund, with in-kind contribution from key partners. The project has analysed the various kinds of low voltage networks in the UK and four types are expected to experience issues due to the uptake of EVs at differing penetration levels.
By recruiting clusters of neighbours around the country who drove Nissan LEAF electric cars for 18 months, the project teams aimed to mimic a future scenario where many people in an area choose to use a pure electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). The results show that across Britain 32% of low voltage (LV) feeders (312,000 circuits) will require intervention when 40% to 70% of customers have EVs, based on 3.5kW (16amp) charging. Susceptible networks are typically characterised by available capacity of less than 1.5kW per customer.
Traditionally, these findings would mean the replacement of underground cables in the public highway. However, My Electric Avenue has been trialling a lower cost solution to this in the form of ‘Esprit’. The Esprit technology can control the charging of EVs if the local electricity grid reaches a certain level of demand. By incorporating Esprit into networks, the project is the first real life trial that has directly controlled domestic EV charging to prevent underground cables, overhead lines and substations being potentially overloaded.
Forecasts suggest that Esprit could save around £2.2bn of reinforcement costs up to 2050. However, for this solution to work, the group behind the project claims vehicle manufacturers and the energy industry will need to work together more closely.
My Electric Avenue Project Director, Dave Roberts from EA Technology, said, ‘The automotive sector has well established and effective communication channels to discuss industry issues. However, historically there has not been much cross-sector communication between the automotive and energy industries. My Electric Avenue has brought these two sectors together and has started dialogue, and this needs to develop further as vehicle manufacturers announce plans for increasing numbers of higher performance plug-in vehicles.’
Head of Asset Management and Innovation at Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution, Stewart Reid, said, ‘The project has been invaluable in showing us what challenges we are likely to face in the near future as more and more customers adopt EVs. It’s also demonstrated that there is a solution which is capable of helping us overcome these challenges before they affect our customers. With new vehicles due to place even greater demands on our networks, we are conscious of the need for both ourselves and the automotive industry to share our learning, challenges and innovations with one another. We are excited at this prospect, which will allow the decarbonisation of our respective industries to continue at pace.’