Smart Charging: key to the energy transition
Making the most of clean energy, and supporting the grid that delivers it
As we confront the climate challenges of our time, greater sustainability is needed in all areas of life. We’re making particular progress with the adoption of Electric Vehicles. EVs represent a gateway to carbon neutral transport for millions, and cleaner air for all.
However, as the number of EVs on our roads increase, so will the demands on our electricity net. Charging ‘smart’ becomes crucial.
The Benefits of Smart Charging
As thousands of EV drivers know, ‘smart’ online connected charge points enable you to manage charging remotely, view usage data, be reimbursed for energy use by your employer, use dynamic power management so your local connection isn’t overloaded and receive updates over the air; optimal charging for years to come.
There are, however, wider benefits to smart charging that are less known. It can be key to the energy transition.
EVs: increased pressure on the grid
While EVs are more energy efficient than ICE cars, they exert more pressure on our electricity net. Studies suggest that when switching to an EV, a household’s energy consumption doubles. EVs will account for around 10% of our peak energy demand by the end of the decade, when global electricity demand is expected to reach around 550+ TWh, a six fold increase on 2019. (IEA)
Renewables: Disconnect between Supply and Demand
The increased energy demand comes as we are transitioning to renewables, such as wind and solar. While they deliver clean miles, renewables are less flexible. They cannot be turned off and on when needed, like coal or gas.
With non-connected EV charging, demand is typically concentrated into fixed peaks: in the morning when drivers plug in at work and when they plug in at home in the evening.
Supplies of renewable energy don’t generally align with these peaks. Renewables are generally most prevalent in the middle of the day, when power requirements from EVs are lower. As a result, the supply of green energy can at times outstrip demand. A surplus can result in ‘negative pricing’, where providers pay to push renewable electricity into the grid (in effect for 4% of 2020 in Ireland). A surplus can also lead to a halting of wind or solar production. This wastes potential clean energy.
The opposite can also be true: at peak charging times the supply of renewables struggle to meet demand. We call upon fossil fuels to make up the shortfall. Either way, clean energy is not used optimally, and emissions increase.
The Solution? Flexible Smart Charging
These patterns of energy demand, the peaks and troughs, are only fixed with non-connected ‘dumb’ charge points. Smart technology brings flexibility. When charging smart, we can align demand with the available supply of renewables. Clean energy is used as efficiently as possible.
This is done in a couple ways:
Peak Shaving - adjusting demand
Power consumption for a network of intelligent charge points can be turned down via ‘peak shaving’. Charge Point Operators (CPOs) work with Energy Distribution Networks, adjusting the energy demands of the charge point network. Demand is tailored to the available renewable resources.
There is less need to call upon CO2 intensive fossil fuels to make up for a shortfall. Emissions are reduced.
Peak Shifting - moving demand
We can also adjust charging patterns themselves via ‘Peak Shifting’. We move charging to when overall demand is lower and renewable energy is available. This is often also when energy is cheaper.
Drivers can save money and the planet at the same time.
A further benefit: supporting the Grid
As seen, Smart charging can help make efficient use of the grid’s energy. It can also help the grid itself. A large-scale network of households with cloud connected chargers can also be used to stabilise the grid. Traditionally we fire up coal power stations to rapidly respond to ‘grid frequency requests’, with the associated CO2 impact.
We are now exploring balancing the grid with intelligent, connected charge points as a green alternative. In our recent trial with Belgian energy company Elia, we found that EV chargers were actually faster to respond to frequency containment requests than coal power plants.
Now, in partnership with TenneT, we are going a step further, testing the process on a commercial scale. Starting in the Netherlands, we will use a mix of smart AC and V1G (uni-directional) and V2X (bi-directional) DC charge points.
Again, smart charging delivers solutions to the grid’s problems, whilst also reducing emissions.
Is there a catch for drivers?
No. Crucially, the wider benefits of smart charging come at no cost to drivers.Smart charging services can be tailored drivers’ specific requirements. They always have the charge they need to reach their destination. Drivers may in fact stand to benefit financially through preferential tariffs and other incentives.
Thanks to smart charging, EV owners can charge using cleaner energy, knowing they are supporting the wider charge towards a decarbonised future.