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'Smart charging' offers value to electric vehicle drivers and the grid, finds Aurora report

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Smart charging will allow electric vehicle (EV) drivers to save £170 a year while providing the flexibility needed to meet rising demands on the grid brought about by the EV revolution, according to a new report from Aurora Energy.

It expects that the key obstacles to mass uptake of EVs – cost, range and access to charging – will be overcome in a matter of years, leading to 10 million on the roads of Great Britain by in GB by 2035. This will account for 30% of the total fleet and 60% of sales by this point, and could be as high as 15 million if battery costs fall faster than expected.

However, such an increase in EVs is forecast to prompt an overall increase in power demand of 19TWh per year. If plugged in and charged in the current way – when drivers arrive home from work to charge during the evening peak - it would require 3GWs of additional generation capacity at peak times, as well as requiring potentially costly reinforcements of the power network.

But far from reinforcing the scare stories associated with rising EV sales seen over the last year, which even prompted National Grid to publish a myth-busting document, Aurora argues that these impacts can be significantly reduced through smart charging.

Putting forward the case for either Time of Use Tariffs (TOUTs) to encourage drivers to charge off-peak or energy suppliers to optimise EV charging to charge at the lowest price, the report – ‘The E-mobility revolution: impacts on the GB power system and new utility business model’ – claims the benefits for EV owners are potentially significant, reducing charging costs by around £170 per electric car per year.

This would be almost £100 less than the estimated annual charging cost per EV in 2018 (£280), assuming 8,000 miles driven per year, consumption of 0.27 kWh/mile and a retail electricity price of 13 p/kWh throughout the day.

More importantly for the power sector, smart charging also reduces the impact of EVs on the power system minimising the impact on peak demand, and reducing the requirement to build additional generation capacity.

An additional 10 million EVs would result in only a 0.5 GW increase in evening demand if integration is smart as opposed to a 3GW increase if ‘dumb’ charging is implemented.

The research also highlights how renewables could benefit from smart charging as higher capture prices would see gross margins for the likes of wind and solar generation increase by 2%.

Richard Howard, head of research at Aurora Energy Research, said: “There are many scare stories out there suggesting our power system cannot cope with the growth in electric vehicles.

"On the contrary, our research suggests that provided EV charging is smart, the GB power system can easily accommodate 15 million+ electric cars. In fact, the flexibility of EV charging could be beneficial for overall grid operation, and improve the economics of renewable power.”

EV growth would also offer new business models for utilities Aurora states, particularly under TOUT or optimised charging which could result in revenues reaching over £1.5 billion per year in 2035.

The forecasts will serve as further evidence for the need to ensure ‘smart’ chargers become the norm, allowing for interaction with the grid to manage demand.

The initial results of the Electric Nation project, the largest trial of its kind conducted by Western Power Distribution, found there was sufficient flexibility to be found from EVs to manage charging away from peak electricity demand periods.

In October the government confirmed that all chargers sold in the UK will have to be ‘smart’ under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill currently progressing through Parliament.

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