Expert Interview – "Controlled Charging Is the Best Solution"

Expert Interview – July 14, 2022

Interview with Bruce Douglas, Eurelectric, on the impact of e-mobility on the power grid

By the end of the decade, 65 million EVs are expected to drive on Europe’s roads, up from less than 5 million today. How will the spread of electromobility change the demand for electricity? What consequences will this have for the stability of the electricity grids? We talk about these questions with Bruce Douglas. He is Director Business Development & Communications at Eurelectric, the federation of the European electricity industry.

Bruce Douglas, Director Business Development & Communications, Eurelectric

One of the core missions you have is to promote the expansion of e-mobility across Europe. How will the increase in e-vehicles to around 65 million within the next ten years affect the electricity grid? How can enough electricity be generated to charge all these vehicles and how can the stability of the grid be maintained?

We need to electrify everything that is possible. We will not get 100% but we can almost reach 100%. There are two main goals at eurelectric: one is electrification and the second is decarbonisation. They must go hand in hand. In addition to the increasingly urgent climate crisis, there has recently been an energy security crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now we need to think not only about clean and secure energy, but also about affordable energy. Transport is an important part of electrification, but of course also the heating industry needs to be electrified. Specifically on the transport sector, we estimate that the number of vehicles on the roads of Europe will increase from less than 5 million today to 65 million by the end of this decade. We forecast that by 2030, about 34 million chargers will be required in Europe, most of which will be privately operated.

That means two cars per charger?

That's a lot of charging stations. The biggest challenge, in our opinion, is the implementation, the manufacturing and installation, but also the impact on the electricity grid. The increase in e-vehicles will inevitably lead to an increase in electricity demand. In a study we conducted with EY – called Evision – we discuss this topic. We estimate that electricity demand will increase by 11% per year only due to transport. This could potentially have an impact on the grid.

What impact do you think it will have?

The grid will be able to deal with this under certain conditions, I'll come to that in a moment. I will show two extreme examples. One is charging in residential areas with a large number of small charging stations. Here the impact is caused by the coincidence of demand, when people come home from work at 6pm, plug in their charger and have the normal electricity demand in the house. The two together can have a significant impact on the transformer load and cause a peak load. Solutions are available for this. The second example is highways where there are ultra-fast charging stations, which are very heavily loaded at one point and it is unpredictable when a truck will be charged. Here we still need solutions to manage the charging.

Now we have discussed two scenarios. The electricity consumption of people living in suburbs and the unpredictable electricity consumption on motorways. What is the situation in the city in this respect? What are the challenges here?

Here, too, we have the peak load between 6 and 10 o'clock in the evening. The difference is the charging infrastructure. While in rural areas everyone with their own driveway also has their own private charger, charging in the city is often a problem. Who is responsible and especially for the permitting and the installations themselves?

Do you already see some solutions specifically for that or are there some countries, some cities that figured it out in a best case scenario.

Especially when it comes to issuing permits, we already have a few best case scenarios. The process should be made as simple as possible for apartment building owners or for commercial spaces. Controlled charging is the best solution, either supplier-controlled or user-controlled, where the vehicle owner manages the charging process himself. And for that you'd need time of use tariffs. When it's a peak load, the electricity is more expensive and inevitably myself as a user would then adapt my charging accordingly to charge when the price of electricity is lower.

We have a panel about Vehicle to Grid (V2G) at The smarter E Europe every year. That is the big vision, to use all the EVs out there with the powerful battery package as an asset to stabilize the grid. How big is the potential and what is the current state of affairs?

We spoke about 65 million EVs on the roads of Europe. The utilization rate of cars is something like 5%. So 95% of the time there's almost like a stationary battery that could be used 65 million cars timed by even one kilowatt. It's a significant resource available and it's dispatchable. EVs participating in vehicle to grid. This service could help boost the efficiency, reliability and stability of the grid. And V2G has the potential to support the grid by balancing peak loads, regulating frequency and incorporating renewables. At the moment, we are still a long way from that. I know of only one or two manufacturers that offer it.

At the panel discussion at The smarter E Europe, I heard that the electricity grid in Germany cannot cope with the fluctuations of renewable energies at the moment. We have to let 6200 gigawatt hours of renewables go to waste. That shows the enormous potential, I think.

Curtailment is not new, that´s been part of the power system since the beginning. What it shows as the amount of variable renewables are fed into the grid, we need other solutions to cope with it. Interconnectors between the different markets helps enormously. Storage, obviously, will be almost like the Holy Grail. But the opportunity also lies with V2G, so excess renewable energy can be stored in EVs and returned to the grid when needed. This reduces electricity cuts and increases the use of renewable energy.

Consumers must also be brought on board, as V2G is associated with a surcharge. Would smart charging be a way to use the potential of vehicles?

Our proposed solution is managed charging. In other words, smart charging. By controlling the charging process, the needs of the grid can be taken into consideration much better. In the urban residential environment, peak loads could be reduced. In a pilot project, a German network operator - with the consent of the homeowner - throttled the charging power from 11 kW to 5.5 kW between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. This measure significantly reduces the peak load and reduces the need for investment in new grids. In the future, we will still have to invest around 300 billion in the expansion of the distribution grids. This is not only for e-mobility, but also for industry and the heating requirements of buildings.

What's the homework energy suppliers still have to do?

On the energy supplies, there are still some challenges. In Norway, for example, 90% of new vehicles are electric. An enormous market penetration. There, 50% of charging is managed. That´s probably the model for the rest of Europe. It will just happen. In addition, time of use tariffs, for example, are really critical to value and incentivice the correct time of charging to help the grid. Another task, for example, concerns charging on highways, which cannot really be managed. If several of the 350 kW charging stations are used at the same time - because people want to drive on quickly -, the load is quite high. Here, among other things, solar panels and storage could be installed to manage this peak load.

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