Shaping the future of EV charging

A longer version of this article was originally published on InstallerONLINE

Electric vehicles are far from a new phenomenon. In fact, there were electric cars on the streets as far back as the 1830s. And with the arrival of rechargeable batteries in the 1880s, it was anticipated that EVs would become a common sight. Fast forward 140+ years and that anticipation is at last a reality.

Of course, it wasn’t until the 2010s that real progress was seen in the mass market take-up of EVs. RAC estimates that there are now around 715,000 Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and close to 500,000 Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) on the road in the UK, with more than 250,000 zero-emission BEVs registered in 2022 alone.

With the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans coming in 2030, followed by hybrids in 2035, the infrastructure behind widespread use of EVs needs to stay ahead of the curve – and at its core is the issue of EV charging. Speaking at EV:NEXT 2023, William Goldsmith, Head of Grid & Data Services at ev.energy, outlined the scenario: “The electrification of transport is a key part of the UK’s Net Zero ambitions… When we start filling our [vehicles] with electrons instead of hydrocarbons, there’s an increased energy demand on the grid so a key question is what will the impact of this be on electricity networks and on the increasing levels of renewable generation that we see being connected to the system as we rely more and more on wind and solar?”

ev.energy’s EV:NEXT 2023 conference took a deep dive into the ways in which EVs can actually be a part of the solution – with a focus on the five levels of smart charging.

five levels of smart charging from ev next

By eliminating Level 0 use and ramping up the truly smart options, modelling shows net EV demand will actually decrease after smart charging and vehicle to grid (V2G).

Flexibility and the energy trilemma
“The level of confidence is high that the energy system will be ready for expected levels of road transport electrification,” said Jeremy Yapp, Head of Flexible Energy Systems at BEAMA. “That is a fantastic achievement.”

On the subject of the energy trilemma (energy security, sustainability, and affordability), Jeremy states that the solution to those three challenges is flexibility: “What we’re seeing now is that the cheapest form of electricity is actually also the most secure and low carbon. Similarly, the lowest carbon form of electricity is also cheapest and most secure; and so on.”

“We’re at the precipice of EV flexibility becoming business as usual,” adds Emma Burns, Interim Head of Regulation at Flexitricity. “But with flexibility, it’s never about one market – it’s always about the revenue stack. How many different markets can we participate in?”

The role of EV drivers
According to Nick Woolley, CEO & co-founder at ev.energy: “We are unlocking energy flexibility, and flexibility is the key to solving the energy trilemma… but to get flexibility unlocked, you need to get drivers participating in flexibility markets… we think we can get 100% of drivers participating with zero effort [from them]. All they have to do is come home, plug in their electric vehicle, and smart systems and markets should all happen behind the scenes. The electric vehicle owner is not inconvenienced… They can get up the next morning… and rest assured that their electric vehicle is charged. I think we are making great strides towards that.

“In terms of charging with devices like solar in the home, we have a lot of customers who use our platform to put self-generated electrons into their electric vehicle and charge up their vehicle for free using zero carbon energy – and they have such a smile on their faces when they do that because there is no better feeling than charging your electric vehicle for free and doing it with your own self-generated, zero carbon energy. That’s the transition that we’re moving towards and we want to make that accessible to every electric vehicle owner… so that everyone can participate in the decarbonisation of energy and transport.”

The journey
It’s projected that there will be 10,000,000 EVs by 2030, by which time smart charging will have become the norm. And as Rachel Busfield, Head of Electric Vehicle Energy, Consumers & Innovation at DESNZ, notes, it isn’t necessarily about users buying into the terminology of smart charging but simply deferring to it: “I hope by then that drivers are just used to the fact that they need to choose or use the default off-peak settings, or will have the tariff or demand side response that’s feeding those incentives to use the off-peak times. That probably going to happen in the mid-2020s so by the 2030s, it’s just going to be the normal way of charging your vehicle… Through the latter part of the 2020s, I’m also really hoping to see more vehicle to grid, vehicle to home and vehicle to business solutions because I think that offers more flexibility for the grid but also bigger potential savings for EV drivers.”

As Jeremy Yapp points out, consumer behaviour has already changed: “You don’t think of yourself as a consumer with a behaviour… what I think we will see is people just doing it. People who are engaged in their energy use, who look at their in-home display, who think about their smart meter, who know what Market-wide Half Hourly Settlement is and what the acronym [MHHS] stands for, will behave in a certain way with their flexibility assets. And people who don’t know any of that stuff will also behave in a way that supports flexibility. They just won’t know they’re doing it.”

The installer’s view
Jordan Beech from EVC UK offers an installer’s take on the way things are: “Currently there are only a few chargers that integrate with these smart tariffs, and there needs to be a more fair pay policy in the market because they have a monopoly on it at the moment. The suppliers need to offer tariffs to incentivise more people to have smart chargers and make use of [them].”

While this last point highlights that there is still work to be done, it’s clear that we are on the right road to ensuring EV infrastructure delivers in all directions. The pace of travel in the past decade has been swift; in the next decade, it will likely be… well, electric.

ev.energy recently announced V2X-Flex, a collaborative project to define the future of the UK’s smart flexible energy ecosystem.

With Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) as project partner and the help of charger point and vehicle manufacturers including Indra, the project will focus on upgrading smart charging technology to ensure solutions are interoperable and bi-directional. The goal is to connect network operators and EV drivers through software to offer increased convenience, resilience, self-reliance, and carbon savings on top of direct financial benefits.

While the UK is shifting towards renewable energy, there are inconsistencies that need to be addressed. The intermittency of sunshine and wind means that renewable energy sources generate their energy depending on the time of the day and weather. This poses a problem in delivering on-demand power 24/7.

V2X-Flex is reported to have the potential to help unlock £2.5 billion in annual system flexibility value by 2050. This will be achieved through upgrading 26% of home and workplace EV charging from smart to bi-directional vehicle-to-grid (V2G), vehicle-to-home (V2H) or vehicle-to-business (V2B) charging. If over a quarter of the UK’s private charging infrastructure is upgraded to smart bi-directional, the net EV winter peak demand could be reduced by over 15GW – the equivalent energy needed to power 11.25 million homes.

InstallerSHOW 2023 will feature some of the biggest brands in the EV sector, plus a dedicated feature for visitors to get hands-on with EVs and EV chargers, find out more about how to connect EVs with heating systems and solar, and discover more about the funding and training options available. Check out our full list of exhibitors and don’t forget to register for your free visitor pass.

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