#GreenGB Week Day 5 - VCharge: The intelligent technology platform facilitating more renewables on to the grid

19 October 2018 | Nikhil Ramakrishnan

At OVO, we believe that the transition to a distributed, domestic energy system of the future relies on the development of new innovative technologies and products. We want to help solve the complex challenge of addressing climate change, including how we integrate millions of electric vehicles (EVs) onto the grid and how we provide reliable, affordable and renewable energy at scale.

VCharge, our proprietary technology platform will be a crucial part in achieving this aim, acting as the intelligence behind the energy system of the future.

For the 5th day of GreenGB Week we delve deeper into the capability of the technology, speaking to Robin Abraham on the intelligent platform for the future electric grid.

Hi Robin, can you give us a description of your role at VCharge and what attracted you to work for them?

Hi! I’m the Product Manager for the Optimisation Product team at VCharge. We are responsible for building a system that is able to intelligently control the charging behaviour of a range of connected domestic products (EVs and electric heaters) on our platform, in response to external signals such as customer needs, the state of the energy system and weather forecasts.

My experience, prior to joining VCharge, was in the financial markets, particularly relating to technology enabled, automated, intelligent trading markets. The aspiration of VCharge is to create a similarly intelligent, market-based system to manage the supply and demand of energy on the grid, in addition to the noble mission of helping decarbonise the grid. A challenge that is exciting, complex and audacious!

Can you explain how VCharge works?

I’ll try to explain this using the example of a hypothetical customer who owns an EV and an OVO Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charger connected to the VCharge platform.

For context, the V2G charger is able to both import power from the grid to charge the EV battery, as well as export power from the battery into the home and even the grid on request. In contrast, with a conventional EV charger, once the customer plugs their EV in it starts charging immediately until the battery gets to full capacity and in many cases that may happen earlier than when the customer actually needs to take their next trip. In other words, there’s some inherent “flexibility” in charging an EV that is not utilised by a conventional charger.

In the very near future where EVs are the dominant means of transport, imagine hundreds of thousands of EV commuters plugging their car into a conventional charger when they get back home from work. The demand stress on the grid during those evening peak hours would mean that a lot more additional system capacity would be needed to deal with the additional peak demand, which would be extremely expensive.

With a V2G charger, a customer can use their VCharge app to indicate when they need their car ready for its next trip. When the customer connects their EV to the charger, VCharge can take into account some information on the state of the EV battery (e.g. how full it is), along with the individual customer’s preferences and a forecast of the state of energy system for, let’s say a day ahead, to take optimised control decisions on how to charge that EV.

VCharge app

This allows shifting the EV’s energy consumption towards times of higher energy supply or lower cost which can align with times of higher renewable generation.

Furthermore, during the high demand peak hours when it will try to avoid charging, the V2G charger can use some of the EV battery capacity to power the customer’s home and export power back to the grid!

There are still more ways in which such connected smart products can offer services to the grid and network operators. This not only helps to alleviate stress on the grid, but facilitates the utilisation of clean, renewable energy.

OVO's V2G Charger 

So this technology can be used in a range of products?  

This technology can be used in a range of smart devices, we are focussing on connected appliances that offer some flexibility when they consume energy and have some capacity to store that energy. This could potentially be EVs combined with V2G chargers, EVs combined with other types of smart chargers, home batteries and electric heaters.

How does the technology specifically facilitate more renewables on to the grid? And what impact will this have on the way renewables are utilised?

As mentioned, periods of higher energy supply can align with periods of increased renewable generation. By enabling products to shift their energy consumption to these periods at scale and store that energy for later use, we’re over time effectively increasing the utilisation of renewable generation and helping to gradually smooth out the peaks and troughs in daily energy demand - which in turn increases the incentives for more renewable generation on the grid, creating a virtuous cycle.

Below is a chart based on publicly available data in the month of September 2018 from the UK National Grid (showing Grid Carbon Intensity) and Elexon (showing System Prices) that helps illustrate this point.

The Grid Carbon Intensity of electricity is an estimated measure of how much CO2 emissions are produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed and is estimated from metered generation. Hence, a higher number for Grid Carbon Intensity indicates “less clean” generation of electricity. The System Price is the “imbalance price” calculated by Elexon that is used to settle the difference between contracted generation or consumption and the amount that was actually generated or consumed in each half hour power trading period, in the UK. Broadly, higher system prices indicate a higher demand for power relative to the total generation available. What you can see here is that: relative peaks in System Price can align with relative peaks in Grid Carbon Intensity. Therefore, if you had the ability to shift consumption away from those evening and morning demand peak times to times of relatively lower carbon intensity - like night times and the afternoons, we can utilise more of those times with lower carbon intensity generation.

Can you give us an example of how this worked in practice?

We used this technology for a project on the Orkney islands in Scotland to divert excess energy generated by wind turbines into electric storage heaters and water cylinders in people’s homes. In the absence of such technology, the turbines would have to be turned off or “curtailed” which would’ve resulted in the wastage of clean, renewable energy.

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Why is the time ripe now for a technology like VCharge?

There are some big trends we’re beginning to see today that are unlocking new synergies between the world of energy and technology.

First off, there is a big push towards the decarbonisation of heat and transport thanks to improved unit economics and Government policy. For example, the UK Government has committed to banning the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. This implies that we’re going to see very different customer energy demand patterns and storage capability then, compared to what we see today.

Secondly, an increasingly higher proportion of energy generation on the grid is coming from renewable energy sources like solar and wind. It is well known that we need to be able to store that energy to make the most of it.

Finally, the world is becoming increasingly more digitised, real-time information flows from connected devices are becoming more common, as is using Artificial Intelligence to automatically action insights from that data.

When you put those pieces together, it becomes clear that an intelligent technology platform is necessary to optimise and unlock the combined value to the energy system from them.

Hence the time is ripe for a technology like VCharge.