Over the last decade, the extraordinary transformation of the automotive industry has been matched only by that of the energy sector. Residing in the middle of this change are technological advances that have allowed the move towards an electrified, lower-carbon way of living. This progression has the power to change the relationship between vehicles and homes—and at the heart of this is smart technology.
The automotive industry has seen massive growth in electric vehicles (EVs). Almost every manufacturer offers EV models to meet the ever-growing consumer demand for greener transport. The UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that the number of plug-in hybrid vehicles in the country grew by 90% year-on-year as of October 2021. Between this consumer acceptance and the government ban on the sale of new gasoline or diesel cars from 2030, EV uptake is expected to grow exponentially.
The global smart meter market has seen similarly unprecedented levels of growth as the world looks for ways to integrate more renewables into daily life. In 2020 alone, the UK’s national smart meter network, run by the Data Communications Company (DCC), more than doubled and is currently made up of more than 16.5 million smart meters. These smart devices are transforming the way the energy grid operates as well as how we think about energy use at work and in home life. The parallel growth in smart meters and EVs is no coincidence—they are tied deeply with the societal shift to building a low-carbon future.
It is critical that energy infrastructure grows alongside the swelling numbers of EVs travelling on the roads. EVs will change energy demand in ways society cannot yet anticipate. But what is clear is they will require much more energy to be produced by the grid when nearly every vehicle will be powered by it. The network will need to be smarter and faster to respond to these massive new shifts in demand, and that, in turn, will depend upon better data. In the same way that smart meters gave a ground-up view of energy consumption, the industry needs a digital, data-rich approach to EV charging, i.e. smart charging.
A future EV smart charging network could look to connect all home and business chargers, allowing a central system to see current energy use. These chargers could also have some controls to lower their charging output temporarily if needed by the grid.
Specifically, they would allow the grid to do more with less and make the best use of renewables. The live view of usage across the nation will allow the energy grid to anticipate and adjust to spikes in usage. In an all-EV future, something as simple as people driving to a football match could spike usage to unsustainable levels in a specific area. Some grid oversight of these individual chargers could help share out the available power, providing greater grid stability—allowing everyone to charge a small amount as opposed to shutting down the system completely in an overwhelmed area. Minute changes to charging speeds across Britain would help stabilise the grid nationwide, all without most people noticing at all. The DCC is currently running an EV smart charging proof-of-concept, showing how it could be done cost effectively with current technology and existing chargers.
The good news is that infrastructure for EVs has begun to improve. Two major announcements from the UK government and the energy regulator, Ofgem, will alleviate the potential limitations on the uptake of EVs along with constraints on the electricity transmission system.
The UK government has stated that from next year electric vehicle charging stations will be required for all new homes and businesses. The new measure aims to boost EV adoption by adding up to 145,000 extra charging points per year. Government is also expected to put out a new policy on a future smart EV charger standard, which, like the smart meter grid, will put security and grid stability at its core.
Other changes by Ofgem are lowering the costs of grid connections, making it easier than ever to install public charging points across the country. In the home, smart meters are helping make charging cheaper and greener by giving people greater control over their energy, giving them access to new tariffs designed for charging their vehicles.
Making money from your EV
One of the opportunities smarter chargers could bring is vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, which enables energy to be sent back to the home or power grid from an EV battery. This relatively simple technology, paired with smart grid-level controls, could yield massive benefits for the grid. EVs can store a considerable amount of energy: V2G will allow consumers to put their EV batteries to use when they are not driving. Some of the best-selling EVs have batteries 40 to 70kWh in size, while the average home in Britain only uses roughly 8-12kWh a day – allowing a vehicle to power their home for days.
When charging an EV at home, its battery could be used flexibly, and this could all be automated seamlessly by a smart meter. For example, by allowing people to sell their EV’s stored energy to help balance the nation’s power grid during peak times they will be helping the grid while making a modest return, lowering their monthly energy bill. Another option for people with solar cells on their roofs would be storing the excess energy generated during the day to use at night, cutting bills effortlessly.
Technology already exists to deploy this to all new EVs; however, to be successfully implemented it requires auto manufacturers to agree on how the system is standardised—including how this incorporates a future EV smart charger standard. A UK-wide project, funded by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, has been using special V2G chargers across the country in a trial that aims to gain greater perspectives on how the V2G system can help manage the power grid’s capacity.
The future of smart technology
The potential of all this technology is huge and many aspects of it are happening already in some limited way. It is clear smart technology will be essential for the grid to cope with this mass adoption of EVs. Critical to smart technologies’ success is making them more accessible to everyone in society. As more and more people adopt EVs this charging technology must seamlessly integrate into the home. Like smart meters, which are designed to help people save energy in a straightforward way, EV charging technology must allow people the freedom to use energy as they need, all while giving them the chance to help save money and reduce their carbon impact.
About the author: Chris Barlow is Director of Innovation at DCC