Smart EV charging could hold key to decarbonisation

The widespread of low carbon vehicles into the energy system could be supported through managed or smart charging, helping the UK to meet its climate goals, according to the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

On 12 November, the ETI published an insight report, Smarter Charging: A UK Transition to Low Carbon Vehicles, in which it explained that while significant process had been made on decarbonising electricity, the UK now needed to see similar with transport. It noted that “significantly more” than 4mn plug-in vehicles will be needed on the road to hit 2030 UK government policy targets.

It explained that the report had been prompted by the completion of its Consumers, Vehicles and Energy Integration (CVEI) project. The two-year CVEI project saw charging trials commissioned to collate detailed journey and charging data from 127 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and 121 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). It found PHEVs to be attractive to the majority of UK drivers, provided they cost the same over a four-year period as current cars, have sufficient range and recharging is both easy and cost-effective.

With regards to decarbonisation, the report noted BEVs and PHEVs as being complementary rather than competitive, with preference considered less important to decarbonisation and charging than the proportion of miles actually travelling using electricity, along with the greenhouse gas emissions produced by generating the additional electricity. It explained households driving a lot of miles on electricity and charging mostly on electricity from low carbon supplies are key to the reaching the UK’s climate targets.

The report called for foundations to be set for extensive access to vehicle charging along with effective, customer-focused charging management – or smart charging – to ensure charging does not become a barrier to mass-market uptake. It explained that charging access through market design and shaping incentives for consumers was required to achieve the most efficient use of existing resources, noting mass market consumers had appeared receptive to this. It warned that unmanaged charging by mass-market drivers peaked at the same time as current electricity demand, meaning there are potentially serious consequences for UK infrastructure.

Jonathan Wills, Chief Executive Officer at the ETI, said that they believed the UK was now at the end of the first phase of vehicle electrification, adding that evidence from progress already made was pointing towards the challenges that would now have to be addressed at the next stage. Wills explained: “The UK needs a strategy to provide enough capacity, coupled with enough intelligence to meet drivers’ needs, while at the same time avoiding risks to the electricity infrastructure or the addition of high-carbon peak generating capacity. Understanding driving patterns and needs and providing appropriate infrastructure, market designs and incentives will need national policies and standards to support local plans and investments.”