The electrical infrastructure
According to National Grid’s latest ‘Future Energy Scenarios’ forecast, there could be over 35 million electric vehicles (EVs) on UK roads by 2050. The UK government is aiming for all new vehicles to be effectively zero emission by 2040. As a result, one of National Grid’s challenges is to ensure that Britain’s electrical infrastructure will be able to meet the extra demand created by all these new electric vehicles.
Due to the high energy capacity of electric vehicles and the high deployment of electrical vehicles, more pressure is being added to our electrical infrastructure. Not only it will affect National Grid’s high-voltage transmission network, but also the Distribution Network Operators who are responsible for the distribution of electricity to every home and business.
To give a rough idea of how much energy we are talking about; according to UK government statistics, an average UK house uses just over 10kWh of electricity in a day. Some Tesla Model 3s have a capacity of 75kWh. That means that the electricity in a Tesla Model 3 could power the electrical equipment in your house – for a week.
What is smart charging and load balancing?
“Smart” electric vehicle charge points have the ability to communicate to an end customer or operator for management purposes. They need to have the functionality to measure, control and report the live energy being exported to the electric vehicle. This means that smart charging connects the charge point to an end customer or operator through a simple data connection.
Smart charging allows drivers to remotely adjust when their electric vehicle should charge and to modulate how fast it should charge. Not only can this reduce energy bills, but it can also help to reduce the impact of EVs on the electricity system, maximising the use of clean, renewable electricity.
Some smart charge points have an additional feature called ‘load balancing’, which allow charge points to be installed without affecting the capacity of the site’s electricity connection. With load balancing, some commercial sites can avoid increased connection capacity costs. It also allows the charging power to be distributed equally across multiple electric vehicles or to schedule charging on a first-come-first-served, or even to prioritise the charging of some vehicles over others. This is one of most important functionalities for integrating electric vehicle charging into the existing infrastructure– and it would not be possible without IT.
Load balancing is an IT feature which is split into two different categories: Dynamic Load Balancing and Static Load Balancing. Static Load Balancing applies a fixed limit to the energy rate provided to a single EV or a fleet of EVs, such as: ‘only allow a maximum of 180amps across a network of six charge points’.
With Dynamic Load Balancing, the network of charge points actively monitors the incoming load on the electricity connection and adjusts how the power is distributed to a single, or fleet of, electric vehicles in real-time. Figure 1 shows an example of Dynamic Load Balancing in a graph. This more sophisticated approach requires real-time data communication but allows sites to benefit from any spare capacity on the incoming electricity supply and make full use of their site’s capacity.
Figure 1 shows an example of Dynamic Load Balancing in a graph.
What are the benefits for drivers?
To support the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the UK government offers grants towards the cost of charge point installs for some homes and workplace car parks. In July 2019, the government limited the grant to only smart charge points. The government has stated that ‘smart charging can also reduce high peaks of electricity demands, minimising the cost of electric vehicles to the electricity system – and keeping costs down for consumers by encouraging off-peak charging’.
By choosing to install a smart charge point for their EV, drivers may be eligible for a grant of up to £500 , and will also have the opportunity to lower energy bills by charging their EV when electricity tariffs are lowest. Some energy suppliers now offer tariffs that have significantly lower electricity prices during ‘off-peak’ hours, typically overnight. For example, one energy supplier offers a day rate of 19 pence per kWh and night rate of 7 pence per kWh, which means a saving of £9 to fully charge a Tesla Model 3 during the ‘off-peak’ hours – almost three times cheaper!
Without IT, we would not have any smart chargers, nor any control of the power being deployed to electric vehicles. Such functionality is helping to relieve pressure on electrical infrastructure, allowing site operators to make better use of their site’s capacity and provide a way to lower energy costs through scheduled charging.
Society needs IT to deliver smart chargers and load balancing.