Why Electric Vehicles are key to our energy networks

What do electric vehicles (or EVs) mean to you?

Fuel efficient or flawed by a lack of range? Fast and furious or slow and under-performing? Clever or confusing? Fad or future?

To the energy industry they mean TWO important but very contrasting things:

1) They could destroy our entire energy infrastructure…

…because more EVs will require more charging and there is simply not the capacity to manage that right now.

2) They could be the key to achieving a zero-carbon energy future…

…because if cleverly integrated into the grid, they can become battery storage on wheels – and we need that storage to smooth out the weather dependence and seasonal variability in solar and wind power.

One thing they almost certainly are is inevitable.

As the world targets a renewables-powered future, global leaders have made major moves towards ridding the planet of petrol and diesel cars, with electrification the most likely solution.

And some of these moves, if followed through, will be big.

In Germany – the home of European car giants VW Audi, Mercedes and BMW, no less – the federal council has called for a ban on the sale of all new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from 2030, and is pressing for that ban to be EU-wide.  The UK and Ireland, France and China – yes, China – are committed to fully or almost entirely banning ICE vehicles by 2040

Considering Germany alone currently registers around 3.5m new cars per year  and China clocked in at just over 24m in 2017 , that means a lot of EVs coming on stream once the bans come in – and even before.

In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts the number of EVs on the planet will go from the current 2m to around 50m by 2030 and rocket up to 300m a decade later.

That’s all great right? Well, not quite.

Consider this. Charging just one electric vehicle is equivalent to adding two or three houses to an electric grid. Plugging in millions without a radical rethink of our energy industry would require astronomical increases in electricity generation to meet the demand. 

So, right now, this rapid growth of the electric car industry is actually totally unsustainable.

CHARGING EVs THE SMART WAY

We can’t just keep adding extra capacity to the grid to solve the EV charging issue – but fortunately, there is another solution.

Our world is becoming filled with smart technology and the energy industry can use that to its benefit to become more efficient.

By using an approach called demand response, we can to manage the grid better, get more out of the resources we have and make the future resources we build more effective.

And EVs can be a key part of this.

If there is a high local demand for electricity yet no urgency to charge the vehicle at that point in time, charging could be deferred so the peak demand for electricity at that moment could be reduced.

JuiceNet, which has been developed by ENEL-owned company eMotorWerks, can do just that. (7)

It’s an intelligent control platform that dynamically matches drivers’ historical charging patterns, real-time input and signals from grid operators and utilities to aggregate and manage charging station demand.

It can control any connected EV and coordinate periodic, minor changes in charge rate and timing, which the driver can override at any time.

By managing and controlling these shiftable electric loads, grid reliability can be improved, EV ownership costs reduced and ultimately more solar and wind can be integrated into the grid.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential for EVs.

BECOMING PART OF THE GRID OF THE FUTURE

Distributed energy resources like home solar are fast becoming a major part of our energy resource. Instead of running on energy from distant power stations, many homes and offices are already mini power stations themselves, using their own energy and selling on any that they don’t use.

As that grows, we will need smaller community microgrids operating local energy marketplaces, all interconnected with each other.

And then we will really understand why it pays to be careful with our electricity.

The sun only shines in the day. The wind doesn’t always blow. So our energy will not always be there for us. Unless, that is, we can find a way to store it and share it to use at the times we can’t produce it.

Step forward, EVs.

If managed correctly, EVs could be turned from an energy drain into one of the world’s most important energy resources – because every one of them has the potential to store, move and manage the energy produced by renewables.

This concept goes beyond JuiceNet’s one-way charge management system to a full integration into the grid, where EVs can not only take energy from the grid but can also feed energy back into it.

This is about turning EVs into fully integrated mobile battery stores.

If we can store and release energy car-by-car, location-by-location, then with thousands of cars in thousands of different locations, this is hugely powerful.

The challenge is how to get them to talk to the local energy networks.  

And that’s where what we are developing at LO3 Energy can provide a solution.

Integrating JuiceNet into LO3 Energy’s transactive energy platform provides a way to plug EVs into local energy marketplaces, sharing energy data and management protocols and managing charging and discharging to optimize energy networks.

HOW IT WORKS

The system uses a specially designed blockchain – a ‘distributed ledger’ – to allow devices to log and store usage data and allow device owners to share that data with the local energy network, depending on set preferences.

The blockchain makes multiple copies of the same data and stores it on many different private computers so it can crosscheck and confirm data validity.

That network of computers can then automatically review preferences and actions – like start or stop charging my EV at a certain price point – and independently carry out that request, without involving a third party.

And because the data is stored on many different computers, it is virtually impossible to hack or manipulate.

This will allow EVs to truly become an integrated part of community microgrids, allowing local energy transactions to fuel local EVs in the most cost effective and energy efficient manner.

Achieving that could be a major leap forward for the future of energy.

Right now, the ‘heroes’ of the renewable energy revolution are solar and wind power, which are fast becoming more prevalent around the world.

But without storage they are flawed.

So, in fact, perhaps the fastest growing DER of all could actually be EVs…as long as we plug them into the right technology.