Smart EV charging: a guide for businesses

A future that will see millions of electric vehicles on the road will also mean new challenges for Britain’s energy system. How can smart EV charging help the grid become more flexible? And what might smart charging look like for businesses?

Road transport generates 91% of transport related carbon emissions, with the sector as a whole contributing over a quarter of Britain’s total carbon emissions. Moving to electrified transport backed by an increasingly low carbon energy grid is essential if we’re to meet our climate targets.

Thankfully, the shift to EVs is approaching a tipping point, with September 2021 breaking electric vehicle sales records thanks to over 46,000 new EV registrations. However, mass electrification of transport will only be successful if there is the infrastructure to support it. And simply providing charging locations is only one piece of the puzzle. Others include making sure EV charging doesn’t create unmanageable new peaks in electricity demand. As well as whether EV batteries could help meet an increased demand for energy storage.

In our Renewable Nation report, which used energy models created by Energy Systems Catapult to identify how Britain could reach zero carbon emissions using a renewables-led approach, we explore how the develop of smart EV charging can meet the above challenges. Here we discuss how some of our learnings may apply to businesses.

How will the uptake of electric vehicles affect electricity demand?

In our Renewable Nation scenario, we found that 90% of road transport will be electrified by 2050, which means that the transport sector’s electricity demand could soar to 151 TWh. This is roughly half of today’s total annual electricity demand.

Currently, businesses and fleets account for over 68% of new EV registrations, with increased take-up likely due to business incentives for EV drivers such as zero benefit in kind tax. If this trend continues, the electricity demand solely for company and fleet vehicles will be significant. 

What is smart charging, and how will it help Britain be greener?

With electrification increasing for transport, heat and other sectors, our electricity grid doesn’t just need to grow, it needs to be flexible and efficient in the following ways:

  • Able to handle an increasing proportion of variable renewable sources such as wind and solar.
  • Able to store excess renewable power for later use.
  • Enable users to change habits, such as shifting more electricity usage away from peak times.

Electricity usage peaks from around 6pm to 10pm. If millions of EV owners return home from work and plug in to charge simultaneously, it could increase peak demand and overload local substations.

Smart EV charging is needed to counter this risk. Our Renewable Nation scenario finds that EVs will be capable of shifting 60% of their demand to off-peak times, which could help even out the peaks and troughs in electricity demand. And, by charging at times of high renewable generation, they can act as batteries for cleaner, greener electricity.

What could smart charging look like in practice?

This may all sound speculative, but some aspects of smart charging are already a reality.

For example, EV chargers already exist that enable users to schedule charging for off-peak periods (with a growing number of smart time-of-use electricity tariffs providing a financial incentive for doing so). The next stage could be chargers that charge during off-peak periods by default – or that use data-driven insights to automatically schedule charging for times of high renewable generation. 

An exciting area of current research is in the capabilities of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging. In a nutshell, V2G charging means charging EVs at off-peak times or when there is excess renewable power being generated, then feeding it back into the grid when it’s needed. In this way, millions of EV batteries provide energy storage that can help make sure that renewable generation doesn’t go to waste.

V2G charging could also provide a new revenue stream. A three-year-trial of EVs taking part in a frequency regulation service operated by National Grid found that consumers could earn up to £725 a year from supplying power back to the grid.

There is also the potential to save money on energy bills, with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology that can feed electricity behind-the-meter for use in homes or businesses. For example, a Good Energy study found that V2X charging could save households up to £300 a year.

V2G/V2X technology is still in its early stages, but if rolled out to businesses with multiple EVs or fleets, cumulative earnings could be significant. 

How can businesses support the development of smart EV charging today?

In the short term, businesses can support a greener transport system by investing in EVs and charging infrastructure. For example, providing workplace charge points enables EV commuters to charge at work, during daylight hours when solar power is being generated. Businesses that operate fleets and are moving to EVs must consider charging infrastructure that will make it easy to schedule off-peak charging. 

To read more about how green transport and smart EV charging are essential to enabling Britain to cut carbon emissions, download our Renewable Nation report.

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