Electric vehicle smart charging – easier said than done?

National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios 2018 provides the most detailed view yet from the annually updated publication of the predicted impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on the electricity system. It confirms that provided EV “smart charging” becomes prevalent, the increase in peak demand arising from the anticipated rise in EVs can be managed. National Grid estimates that net peak demand from EVs is currently 0.2GW. By 2030 the scenarios suggest that with smart charging the impact will be in a range of 2.6 to 8.1GW – to put this in context National Grid estimated peak demand being just shy of 60GW in 2017.

The early groundwork to deliver smart charging is being provided for in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which gives the government powers to lay regulations to require all charge points (public and private) to meet prescribed technical requirements that enable smart charging. Last week’s Road to Zero strategy stated that the government will consult on the details this summer.

To complete the piece, the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment recommended that Ofgem should take on the role of regulating the interaction between charge points and the electricity network immediately, ensuring that EVs can be optimally assimilated into the system. We wholeheartedly endorse this urgency, as so many elements of the electricity value chain are under review there is a risk that complex and interlinking work streams could begin to crystallise and then need revisiting to accommodate EV charging.

This begs the question: What is smart charging and how does it work? There is no hard and fast definition, but the consensus of the documents referenced here is that smart charging is a means to take advantage of lower-priced off-peak periods when demand and network congestion is otherwise low. The details that will need to be thrashed out though are complex. These include:

  • Does the consumer have total control over when they choose to charge their EVs? Are there instances, where local network operators should have some control over charging patterns to avoid localised network overloading and avoid costly reinforcement measures?
  • Should industry parties (with or without consumer consent?) have visibility of clusters of EVs to modulate charging patterns at a local level to optimise network capacity, even where they are not supplied by the same supplier?
  • How exactly do smart chargers interface with smart meters? Is there a requirement to mandate that smart chargers should be connected to the smart meter communications infrastructure to provide a common platform for industry parties to interact with charging systems?
  • Does smart charging also entail selling power (and network balancing and congestion services) back to the system – e.g. from vehicle to grid (V2G) services?
  • How do smart charging requirements differ for “slow” and “rapid” charge points? And should the industry agree on the definitions for  “slow” and “rapid” charging?
  • Is there a need for rules to determine the range of prices consumers face for smart charging, especially where prices are dynamic and linked to spot wholesale markets? and
  • Is there a need for additional consumer protection measures covering, for example, data access, service quality to safeguard charging performance and impact on battery degradation when third parties control charging and mis-selling risk given the complexity of commercial propositions?

The National Infrastructure Assessment report stated: “Too often in the past, short-term interests, a lack of coordination, and a tendency to endlessly debate difficult issues and delay difficult decisions have meant the UK has been slower to adopt new infrastructures than other countries. This time can be different”. Although it is hard to disagree with this assertion, the success of defining and codifying smart charging is contingent on many current electricity industry work programmes, including network access and charging reforms, system balancing services changes, the creation of Distribution System Operators (DSO), smart meter deployment, implementation of market-wide half-hourly settlement, the potential move away from the “supplier hub” retail supply model, and supply licence changes and code governance development.

These and more are all issues we are sure the EV and Energy Taskforce, to be established this summer, will be contemplating. There is a serious amount of work that needs to be completed if the government is to meet its ambition, as stated in Road to Zero, that by 2019 all government-supported charge-point installations will be required to have smart functionality.

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