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EVs and the grid—it’s all about give and take

Rob Stocker explores the role EVs will play on grid infrastructure

There is no disputing that we need more flexibility within the grid in the UK, and across countries globally, if we’re to accommodate an influx of new energy resources. Large volumes of renewables are and will continue to feed in, while increased demand from the electrification of transport and heat continue to cause strain during peak times. In the UK, although there is flexibility within the grid, the nation’s energy regulator Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) has recently proposed to create an energy marketplace that aims to address the challenge of how we unlock value from assets that are connected to our distribution networks.

Using electric vehicles (EVs) as an example, there is a huge long-term potential for both give and take on the grid. Advancements in smart charging will transform the way that EV users charge their vehicles, opting to take from the grid at times that suit the grid’s capacity—offering the potential to avoid peak times and essentially manage the ‘surplus’ energy that exists within our systems at other times of the day—and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is offering drivers a way to feed power back into the grid in times of a supply deficit by discharging back into the grid to plug supply shortfalls.

Schneider Electric
Businesses may need to invest in grid connection upgrades, battery storage, on-site power generation, or a combination of these

Whilst the Ofgem marketplace will provide further flexibility within the UK market, similar models are possible in other global markets. For example, the Netherlands or Norway, which already have a relatively progressive level of EV penetration, could make contributions to their national energy system in the more immediate term through a more orchestrated approach to charging EVs in aggregate.

However, both in the UK and in countries with a high number of renewable assets, there has been a lot of news recently around turning off renewable power generation because the grid simply doesn’t need the load—or can’t cope with it. Where EVs are concerned, given there could be millions feeding in to the grid via V2G, it would be much easier to manage compared to a wind turbine or a solar panel. That is because like any battery storage system, the power can be stored and doesn’t have to be fed in if the grid can’t cope with it, whereas with renewable power, it must be turned off or wasted. So, from that perspective a marketplace approach could benefit the grid through the EV’s aggregated capacity, and EV users via capacity payments or rewards.

Electric school bus charging
Electric school buses could help address grid concerns

Beyond passenger EVs, flexibility needs to be extended to other transport modes; for example, in the US, where it has one of the largest fleets of school busses globally. These school buses are used in a very predictable fashion where they drive the same routes each day and therefore serve as a huge opportunity to participate in grid balancing services during their hours of non-utilisation, which is, in effect, most of the day. In states like Texas, that recently faced blackouts during times of grid imbalances, this type of marketplace or system, where EVs are feeding in and out of the grid, could offer a salvation that they’ve simply not had to date, especially as they transition further renewable power into the grid.

All of this will have to be considered with regulation in mind though. If you’re pooling sources of power into a central depository, so to speak, there will be challenges associated with how each of these sources of power are regulated and it may be a consideration that they’re brought under the same regulation, which, on its own, will bring its own challenges.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Rob Stocker is Consulting Associate at Charles River Associates (CRA)

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