EVs are becoming increasingly common on the roads of the UK. Public charging points are becoming more widely available, new models of vehicles are being introduced with larger batteries and home EV charging stations are being released which charge vehicles faster. This is reducing many of the barriers that have prevented wider EV ownership, making them a mainstream choice.
While the UK electricity system has plenty of capacity to deliver energy to EVs, if lots of people in one area have electric vehicles and clusters of cars develop, more EVs would have a greater impact on local electricity networks. Charging vehicles with larger batteries, at faster rates, and over longer periods could exacerbate this pressure.
The Electric Nation project is being hosted by Western Power Distribution. It is being delivered by a partnership of EA Technology, DriveElectric and Lucy Electric Gridkey. The project is funded via Ofgem through its Network Innovation Allowance scheme. The project aims to provide local electricity network operators with the tools to be able to ensure that their networks can cope with this massive new challenge, whilst avoiding replacing cables and substations.
At the end of 2015 there were about 50,000 EVs on the roads in the UK. This included battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Forecasts suggest that by 2020 there will be over 1 million EVs. Between October 2013 and October 2015 registrations of EVs increased by 716%. In 2015 there were 32 types of EVs available to lease or purchase in the UK, this is set to increase to over 40 by 2017. EV charge rates and battery capacities are steadily increasing. This allows vehicles to achieve longer ranges and the customer base to increase.
This growth of EVs presents a new challenge for the UK’s electricity transmission and distribution network operators. As groups of neighbours acquire EVs, localised clustering is likely to have an impact on electricity networks. It has been proven by the My Electric Avenue project that at least 30% of GB low voltage networks (the cables and substations nearest to homes and businesses) will require investment by 2050 if adoption of electrified transport is widespread. This would represent a present day cost of £2.2bn. Disruption to customers in terms of roads being dug up and associated inconvenience would be huge. Battery sizes and charging rates have increased since the My Electric Avenue project so the impact on the electricity network will be greater.
The Electric Nation project is focusing on the local electricity networks that supply homes and small businesses – the low voltage (LV) network. Electricity networks are run in a safe, secure, reliable and sustainable way to provide energy to local communities. This trial will help the Distribution Network Operators, who manage these networks, increase their understanding of the impact of EVs on their networks and how this impact could be reduced using smart chargers.
The project will show how effective demand management using smart chargers is an alternative to costly network reinforcement. It will provide network operators with the information required to obtain a demand control service in the future. The project will also develop a tool that will allow local network operators to identify which parts of their network are likely to be affected by the future adoption of EVs and recommend the most economical solution to solve any issues this could cause.