It’s time to be smart about the electric vehicle revolution
Tom Pakenham, Director of Electric Vehicles, OVO
The heatwave over the May Bank Holiday weekend brought a surprising amount of sunshine to the UK making it the hottest on record. Defying its critics, solar power became the UK’s number one source of electricity for over six hours, generating more electricity than gas - a huge achievement for the solar industry. And in the same period the UK smashed another record for how long it can go without burning coal, this time lasting 3 days.
While the hot weather generated an incredible amount of renewable electricity, it can also lead to increased air pollution in our cities. The fumes from congested traffic are damaging to our health with air pollution currently estimated to contribute to shortening the lives of 40,000 people a year in the UK. Air pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing the transport sector today.
The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, due to reach Royal Assent later this month, will go some way to help clean up the air in our cities, but the challenge doesn’t end here. Every day in the UK more than 124 million litres of road fuel is consumed adding up to 45 billion litres per year. If you assume that in the future the energy in this liquid fuel will need to be replaced by electricity to drive our vehicles, you can see the scale of the challenge we are facing.
Electrifying transport represents one of the biggest opportunities for Government and policy makers to clean up our air, but as more and more consumers choose electric vehicles the potential for large spikes in electricity demand increases dramatically. It is estimated that by sometime between 2021 and 2022 one million electric vehicles or plug in hybrids will be on the road in the UK. If they were all plugged in and charging at peak times this would require about 700 of the world's largest offshore wind turbines to be built, which thanks to the intermittent nature of renewable energy, would also require an additional 10 thermal power stations to back them up. If we are to fulfil our renewable and electric future, decarbonising heat and transport, keeping energy costs low and the grid stable, we need to find smart charging solutions capable of integrating growing numbers of electric vehicles onto the network without compromising energy security.
Being smart about charging
Right now the UK’s electric charging infrastructure market is still in its infancy with an estimated 85,000 residential charge points installed across the country, compared to a total UK passenger car market of more than 30 million. Policy decisions made today have the potential to exert significant influence on the UK’s electric vehicle adoption and the decarbonation of transport.
The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will outline Government powers regarding electric vehicles and regulation, the consumer experience of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, infrastructural provision at key strategic locations like Motorway Service Areas (MSAs) and most importantly, requirements for charge points to have ‘smart capability’.
At OVO we believe the Government must set a minimum standard for Smart Charging Equipment Standards that is both technology neutral and performance based. By setting a performance based standard it will allow industry sufficient flexibility to innovate which can unlock cost savings, improve product quality and ultimately enhance customer experience. By contrast, a fixed conformance standard may cap functionality unnecessarily, preventing customers from enjoying additional benefits above and beyond the required standard.
Last month we launched two new electric vehicle smart chargers: OVO Smart Charger, which can maximise off-peak charging and when the grid is greenist; and the OVO Vehicle-to-Grid Charger, which has the ability to export excess energy from the vehicle battery back to the home or grid during peak period. These products will put the UK at the forefront of the biggest change in the energy system since the industrial revolution.
Rapidly falling costs of small scale technologies like these products are completely revolutionising the energy sector and paving the way for accessible and affordable smart charging. It is imperative policy and regulation evolves fast enough to keep up with these innovations.
A flexible approach to energy
The energy networks and in particular distribution companies are central to enabling the transition to a flexible and intelligent energy system that can support the adoption of low-cost renewable energy and transform how we deliver flexible power. But only if they are incentivised by Ofgem to do so. Current incentive structures could do much more to accelerate change in the energy system, and do not prioritise the procurement of flexibility services over investment in new network infrastructure.
At OVO we’re advocating a ‘Flexibility First’ approach which calls on Ofgem to ensure that network companies are incentivised to prioritise the development of robust competitive markets for procuring flexibility services over and above more costly and inefficient alternatives such as building more network capacity to accommodate rising electricity demand at peak times.
Here, network companies could be rewarded for making better use of the existing network, rather than building new and costly infrastructure. The energy system of the future
Electric vehicles are being adopted in ever-growing numbers; 150,000 plug-in cars in circulation as of May 2018. Chargers are now more affordable, accessible and with the advent of ‘smart’ functionality, consumers will soon reap rewards from innovative, forward thinking solutions. The shift towards electric vehicles is happening faster than you think and we need to ensure decisions made today regarding infrastructure are optimised for the future energy system.
We might be at the early stages of the electric vehicle revolution, but now is a critical decision-making period to get the charging aspect right in order to smoothly transition the UK to a cleaner, greener and more energy efficient future.