In February, electric vehicle (EV) charging company ev.energy secured £295,000 from Innovate UK to scale up the UK’s first commercially operating virtual power plant (VPP) that just uses EVs.
The funding will allow the company to implement key changes, including handling smart charging at scale, CEO and co-founder Nick Woolley recently told Current±.
Ev.energy’s platform already has over 50,000 users, but it is working to enable millions of drivers to connect as “with more EVs connected to our VPP, the greater demand-side response benefits we can deliver, and the faster we can decarbonise the energy grid,” said Woolley.
Already, the VPP has been put to use, with its first commercial dispatch in response to a signal from network operator UK Power Networks happening on 1 December 2021.
This action showed that “VPPs like ours will completely revolutionise how we balance power on the grid,” said Woolley.
Current± asked the CEO about the key challenges ev.energy has found in running the VPP so far, and just how many EVs are needed for it to hit its full potential.
What have the biggest challenges with the operation of EVs as a VPP been so far?
Our biggest challenge is balancing the needs of the electric vehicle driver, with the technical requirements of our energy partners. EV drivers want us to help simplify the complex world of EV charging. The magic of our VPP is incredibly complex. That’s especially true when you consider that ev.energy is integrated right across the energy system - from understanding the weather forecast at your home, your home energy tariff, your local energy networks requirements, and the requirements of the grid operators like National Grid in the UK, or CAISO in California.
We constantly strive to make charging easy and natural for our drivers. It’s a challenge that our team loves solving, particularly when the results are so rewarding.
On the energy partner side, we’re also very lucky to have some great partners, like UKPN, Western Power Networks and SEE, who are highly collaborative, and proactively help us to develop our technology, and make it fit for the future.
We’re now in a position to dramatically scale what we’ve built into new regions. It’s been fantastic to see the journey so far and I’m excited about everything we have planned.
How open to participation within a VPP have you found EV drivers?
The EV drivers of today have been great to work with on this. Back in 2019 with the UKPN Project Shift study, we found that users are happy to engage with the smart grid when it aligns with their personal passions. We believe people should be rewarded for their good deeds, whether that's providing cash incentives or engaging in smart charging events (such as COP26).
Ultimately though, it’s important to put drivers at the forefront and reassure them that they can temporarily override these settings if they need to charge their vehicle immediately.
A great customer experience is one where we can reward drivers for doing the right thing, whilst keeping our service as simple as possible. Our goal is to get 100% participation - we believe that if smart charging can fit around your fundamental charging requirements, everyone should do it.
How many EVs are needed within a VPP for it to offer a significant source of DSR?
Every EV makes a difference to help reduce network congestion, decarbonise the grid and reduce power prices for everyone. If you smart charge with ev.energy, you are participating in our VPP and helping the grid in some way - every time you charge.
The exact schemes you will participate in vary, as DSOs, SOs and energy companies vary in scale and their requirements differ. We are already having a meaningful impact on the carbon emissions on the grid - we reduce carbon emissions by 10-30%, and helped our drivers to save hundreds of thousands in energy costs. I’m really excited about the scale of the benefits we can achieve in the coming years - there will be millions of EVs on the road soon - and that’s a lot of flexibility we can help provide to energy and grid companies.
How much regional variability is there in the availability of domestic EV chargers and how will that impact the amount of DSR they can provide?
The variability can vary from region to region and DSR to DSR. Domestic EV chargers are not evenly spread across the UK and vary due to the residential ratios of a region (off-street, on-street, apartment blocks) and the standard EV adoption issues. That being said, there are some interesting trends developing across the UK; creating hot and cold spots.
As per our latest data, first and second-tier cities in the UK are taking on 2-3 times more domestic charging than suburban areas. The South East of England is currently leading the numbers but the rest of the country is expected to catch up quickly over the coming years. The higher concentration of domestic chargers is increasing the frequency of demand signals as well as the industry confidence in DSR through EVs.
With growing scale, these regional differences will start to minimise and possibly create sub-regional trends. DSR services that a minor amount of domestic EV chargers can provide are limited but it’s still much-needed relief to the DSOs at peak times.