Electric Cars and The Grid

According to the slightly more excitable sectors of the news media, the extra load that battery electric cars will place on the energy grid will be massive, sudden and devastating.

Overnight, millions of people will switch to electric cars. The energy grid, being hopelessly unprepared for this unprecedented and simultaneous switch, will go into meltdown, causing blackouts, despair, and smelly fridges. Smelly fridges, being very unpleasant, lead to massive riots and of course, as is tradition in such forward-looking scenarios, the world as we know it comes to an end.

This blog is being written on a train near a rather busy toilet, so your author would like to think he has first-hand experience in the unpleasant smell department. But without any further digression let’s get back on topic.

From Chaos to Order

We are continuing our Whitecar Opinion series with a look at the energy grid, and how battery electric vehicles would be expected to affect it. Electric car battery charging for the most part is a sustained process occurring over a few hours, almost always at the home of the car owner, almost always at night and almost always using fewer kilowatts than an electric shower (the average car will charge at 7kW on a home charger)

Therefore we are not necessarily breaking new ground in terms of power consumption when we talk about an increase in electric car chargers. Based on figures from the National Grid, the current peak demand for electricity is 61GW. This occurs on a winter evening around 17:30 when people return home and switch on heating and lighting. At this time, many offices and factories remain open, with heating, lighting and machinery still operating.

Looking at the same 24hr cycle, but the opposing part of the demand curve, highlights spare overnight capacity of on average 16GW.

In the UK, in 2016, there were 36.7 million cars on the road. Based on the average daily mileage of these cars, charging 60% of them every night will require 15GW of electricity.

So, there is a gap, bringing us back to the eternal question…

Are the Fridges safe?

There are a few additional elements to factor in.

An increase in domestic solar power installations will very likely lead to an increase in day time vehicle charging.

Solar energy, when not required on the premises, will be distributed via the grid. Incentives will exist to encourage vehicle charging at times of high solar supply. This will help increase the renewable electricity content of the grid.

Battery charging also allows the grid to increase the amount of wind power that is consumed. Between now and 2030, 25GW of offshore wind power will be installed. This additional capacity will go a long way to matching up with the increased demand expected from electric cars.

All this is managed through smart vehicle charging facilities. These smart chargers are aware of grid conditions and are able to vary charging speed to prevent shortages. As a user, you simply tell the car or charger when you need to leave and how much energy you need by that time. The rest is managed for you.

When considering these additional elements, most analysis seems to leave out an important factor.

There will be fewer cars.

An increase in autonomous vehicles and an increase in electric cars, will present the opportunity to give up personal ownership of a car. In the city in particular, the option to do this would be a significant benefit. The car is charged at a convenient, intelligently connected location. It drives to you itself and collects you at a time that suits you.

And what fortune, you already know of a friendly, flexible, monochromatic electric car rental company!

From the Whitecar perspective, we are positioning ourselves to seize any opportunities provided by self-driving technology. More on this later..

The Grid and The Electric Car

To summarise what we face:

  1. An increase in power requirements, caused by electric cars.
  2. A decrease in total cars on the road, driven by advances in autonomous driving.
  3. An increase in energy capacity, due to increases in clean and cheap renewable generation.
  4. A revolution in smart grid technology, with intelligent, grid aware vehicle chargers.
  5. A more stable, more easily managed energy grid, making use of intermittent renewable energy.

This summary, while easily written, will be a challenge to realise. But it is far from impossible, and with the National Grid taking the time to clarify that they are not worried by electric cars (see this report: National Grid: EV Myth Buster) it is beginning to look inevitable.

We look forward to the future.