EVs may blow up the energy grid if we don’t make it flexible

EVs grid
Image by Fahroni | Bigstockphoto

ITEM: Households with one electric vehicle (EV) could consume 37% more daily energy. Apart from boosting their utility bills, that’s going to put extra strain on the energy grid unless the shift to EVs is accompanied by a plan to make the grid flexible enough to support recharging them.

That’s according to a study from ABI Research, which notes that while governments are setting aggressive goals to ban sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, little attention has been given to developing a smart, flexible energy system capable of handling the energy demands of an EV world.

According to ABI, EVs will shift peak demand in homes from 4-8 kWh to 11 kWh. And that’s going to create new loads, shapes, and peaks that resource plans have not previously taken into account.

More EVs = greater risk of electricity outages

The upshot, says James Hodgson, Smart Mobility and Automotive principal analyst at ABI, is that higher EV adoption – combined with the increasing use of intermittent renewable energy – increases the risk of electricity outages during peak periods because the available energy supply won’t be enough to satisfy the demand.

“While many regions have enough electrical energy available to meet the future EV demand, energy supply is not always available when needed,” Hodgson explains. “California, for example, witnessed an all-time electrical grid peak load record in 2022, reaching 55,061 Megawatts (MW). That is 6,155 Kilowatts (kW) above the average peak over the past 20 years and enough to power 4.6 million houses.”

That means everyone from OEMs, end consumers and governments to grid operators, utilities, and other energy supply and distribution stakeholders will have to cooperate to enable a smooth transition from ICE to EVs, he adds.

Load balancing solutions

On the bright side, making the grid flexible doesn’t necessarily mean re-energizing the existing electrical infrastructure, which would be resource and time intensive. The industry is exploring alternative load-balancing solutions solutions with a quicker turnaround.

For example, there’s smart charging, regarded as the least complex and most effective tool.

Assuming chargers are connected to charging operators, strategies such as dynamic power sharing (which prevents sites from exceeding maximum energy capacity) and dynamic pricing (altering price per kWh based on utilization) can easily be deployed with significant results.

Users can sign up for demand response programs and get energy bill rebates or other financial incentives by shifting charging time from peak to off-peak hours or allowing utilities to remotely control the time and rate that plugged EVs are charged.

As an example, ABI cites energy supplier OVO Energy, which claims residential flexibility can generate $6.8 billion in cost savings for the whole system in the UK.

Sell your surplus energy

Another possibility is V2G applications, which combines smart charging approaches with bidirectional energy flow. Put simply, EV batteries would store excess energy during off-peak times and become energy resources during peak times. However, this approach is more suitable for commercial vehicle fleets rather than consumers.

On the other hand, intelligent energy platform Kaluza says that end consumers enrolled in its V2G trial earned an average of £420 a year by selling surplus energy back to the grid.

Other effective EV charging optimization solutions include battery-buffered chargers, energy storage, microgrids, charging hubs, and swappable batteries, the report says.

Staying ahead of demand for EVs

Whatever solution works best, the point is that everyone in the energy ecosystem needs to get ahead of demand while there’s still time. According to the International Energy Agency, global sales of EVs doubled in 2021 to 6.6 million, and even more will be sold in 2022.

Granted, EVs will still only account for 13% of light-duty vehicle sales. With an estimated 1.4 billion cars in the world, that doesn’t seem like a lot.

That said, it depends on the market. Canalys reports that 4.2 million EVs were sold worldwide in the first half of 2022. China accounts for 57% of them. Canalys reckons that China is the largest and fastest-growing EV market in the world. It’s also a market where grid imbalances caused by increased electricity usage in peak times are already a problem, according ABI’s Hodgson.

“As EV adoption continues to grow, so will the reliance on electrical energy, and the significant peak consumption increase is worrying. Therefore, ecosystem players must collaborate to deploy tools to balance the grid and develop and adopt standards to make these tools widely available to end consumers,” he says.

The report is here.

Related article: Smart charging will be crucial to keep EVs running in future

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