Concerns that EV growth could overwhelm power networks

September 27, 2016

The Electric Nation project has been launched to assess how the power grid will cope with growing numbers of electric vehicles on the roads. Being able to reliably recharge electric vehicles will be critical to building confidence among consumers, but there are concerns that large numbers of drivers trying to recharge at once could overwhelm power lines.

At the end of 2015 there were about 50,000 EVs including plug-in hybrids on UK roads, with forecasts suggesting this could reach 1m by 2020. The UK has the capacity to deliver enough power, but problems occur when local networks become overloaded if clusters of electric vehicle ownership develop.

The Electric Nation project aims to help network operators manage demand and avoid the cost of having to replace cables and substations. Research has shown that by 2050 30% of power lines that serve homes and businesses would require upgrading at a cost of £2.2bn if electrified transport became widespread. 

As an alternative, the Electric Nation project is focusing on the development of smart charging systems and whether they would be accepted by customers. These would ‘share’ the charge between users, particularly at peak times, with potential restrictions when the network is struggling to cope. The scheme will engage hundreds of electric car users to identify charging patterns and also their attitudes to charge management schemes.

Across Europe, the increased network capacity required to cope with the massive predicted increase in electric vehicles is equivalent to building more than 700,000 new homes. There will also be increasing pressure placed on public recharging points, with one expert suggesting that motorway service stations will require expensive upgrades to their power lines to cope with the increased demand from growing numbers of electric vehicle recharging points.

In Sweden, Renault has launched a scheme that helps cope with growing demand by enabling drivers to recharge their electric car at someone else’s home. Dubbed Elbnb, the scheme is based on the Airbnb concept which provides an online marketplace to enable people to list, find, and rent vacation homes in return for a fee. Drivers use a website or app developed by Renault to find spare recharging capacity during peak times so they can avoid congestion at busy recharging stations.

A spokesman said: 'With a lack of infrastructure around the charging stations for electric cars, we saw potential in uniting people together to do something about the situation.'

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