Can our UK electricity grid cope with the introduction of electric vehicles?

21 January 2020

The move to Electric Vehicles

The future of cars is electric. Globally, all countries have plans to end the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars. Falling battery prices will contribute towards making electric vehicles (EVs) more affordable. But the question remains, just how will our national grid cope with the additional electricity needed to power these EVs.

Power generation to support EVs

Plugging millions of power hungry cars into the electricity grid will cause a significant increase in electricity demand. An earlier Ofgem report estimates peak electricity demand will increase by a further 8MW by 2030. To put this into perspective, this is double the maximum output of our largest UK power station, DRAX. This might sound like a lot, but it is only an increase of around 12% of Britain’s current peak demand, 

Power infrastructure needed for Electric Vehicles

Generating this additional power is however, only part of the story. The infrastructure that transports the power to our homes and businesses will also feel the strain. The same Ofgem report estimated that 32% of Britain’s power infrastructure will need replacing at a cost of £2.2bn. The logistical nightmare of replacing thousands of miles of buried cable up and down the country is something that is worth avoiding where possible. 

The introduction of smart EV charging technology 

Smart charging technology will form a key part of the answer. This technology allows chargers to manage the amount of power they send to the car batteries. Smart chargers will therefore allow us to make better use of the infrastructure we already have as we can now be flexible with our demand.

How to benefit from cheaper electricity

People are going to want to charge their cars when the price of electricity is at its lowest. This will help level out the electricity demand over each 24-hour period and power will be generated at its most efficient rate. This may however create an incentive for EV drivers to charge their vehicles at the same time, which is not so good. 

The role of renewable energy sources

In a perfect system an EV connected to a smart charger could then be charged any time during the night when the price of energy is lowest in that particular area. If this system of localised pricing is rolled out across the country, it could in theory enable a level electricity demand. Levelling the demand is a positive step towards de-carbonising the generation network. As more renewable energy streams are being connected to the grid surplus energy from solar PV and wind will be available for use at different times of day and night to support the transition to EV charging. Smart EV chargers combined with agile energy tariffs can ensure that EV chargers are making the best use of surplus renewable energy, thus taking pressure off the grid and reducing the need for costly electricity grid upgrades.

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