Insights / How the grid can cope with the surge in EVs

How the grid and your organisation can cope with the surge in EVs

Decarbonising transport will require a huge rise in the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the way. But will the grid be able to cope with charging all those EVs – and is there anything you can do as an organisation to prepare?


The grid is designed to cope

The Government, the regulator Ofgem and electricity generators have known for a long time that the need for power would increase enormously as more and more EVs come onto the road. Transport currently accounts for more than a quarter of all the UK’s emissions, so decarbonising it will play a key role in our journey to net zero.

It’s been estimated that each EV will use upwards of 2,000 kWh of electricity a year. Even if all the cars in the UK switched to EVs in a single year, that would only require 69.1 TWh – 20.7% of the electricity supplied in the UK in 2021.

But many have been wondering whether the electricity grid can cope with the increased need for power to charge all those new EVs. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimates that by 2050 EVs will be responsible for between 15 and 20% of total demand for electricity.

Technically, if all the EVs in Britain were to start charging at exactly the same time, demand might potentially exceed the total amount of electricity the Grid could supply. But that’s never going to happen in the real world.

And even if somehow that did happen, then the risk’s already mitigated. Smart charging and load management are just two of the ways this takes place:

Smart Charging

Smart chargers work via the internet, and have a number of features that can help the grid to cope with any extra demand. Typically, smart chargers can be managed with an app – for home users – or through an online portal for business users. EV chargers can be configured as part of a wider solution. This can feature solar or wind power generation and battery storage. It can also include a suite of tools to enable intelligent management and use of energy in order to mitigate CO2 use, cost and strain on the grid.

One of the benefits of smart charging is that suppliers can use the price of electricity to encourage people to charge at different times of day or night. It’s unlikely that drivers will be charging their EVs at times of peak demand. Instead, they’re much more likely to wait until power is cheaper.

Load Management

Load management systems are already in place to make sure that demand for EV charging doesn’t ever exceed the potential supply in practice.

All new EV chargers can be configured and managed remotely to reduce the load on the grid if demand for electricity looks like it could present problems. For example, if a huge number of EVs are set to start charging at the same time – say, when power is cheapest – an automatic limiting process will kick in. This will randomly determine at exactly which moment the charge will be delivered to each vehicle within a 10-miniute timespan. So when someone sets their app to start charging their EV at midnight, it might not actually begin charging until 12:10. That’s not going to make a huge difference to many individual drivers, but it could make a huge impact on the grid’s ability to cope. In certain cases, the actual amount of charge being delivered will be automatically limited. So any sudden spikes in demand can be smoothed out automatically before they become a real problem.

Do you have a comprehensive strategy for EV charging?

One solution for organisations considering how best to mitigate the risk involved in decarbonising their fleet is to draw up a comprehensive strategic programme. This needs to establish how many EVs you need, along with how and where they’ll be charged (at a workplace, at public charging stations or at the drivers’ homes). Then it should be possible to work out how many charging stations you need to install, where and when.

A strategic approach can also allow you to make the changes you need to your infrastructure in stages. So you could start out in a relatively modest way, and then scale up as you go. This way, you can build the learnings you’ve already made into the programme as it develops. In turn, this new knowledge will help you plan your organisation’s energy consumption.

Getting permission to build new charging stations can take a long time

A strategic process can help because it also allows you to plan for how long it may take to make the changes you need.

If you’re intending to install a large number of charge points, or if you’re considering installing rapid charging facilities, then the whole process could take longer than you expect.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with how prepared the grid is to cope with an increase in demand, or how long it takes to get connected. It’s simply a reflection of the length of time it can take to get the necessary permissions. These may include:

  • Getting permission from your organisation’s landlord if you’re based in a leasehold building.
  • Gaining planning consent if it’s needed to get permission to construct the necessary physical infrastructure.
  • Arranging with your Distribution Network Operator (DNO) to upgrade your organisation’s connection to the grid to cope with higher loads if required.

If you operate in an urban area, then you should bear in mind that the process could take even longer. This is simply due to the additional difficulty of obtaining permissions.

Ways to mitigate the risk of excess demand

Many organisations that have already switched to EV fleets have also taken steps to mitigate the risk of the grid failing to meet demand. By installing solar pv or wind turbines, and by using batteries to store electricity at their facilities, they can make sure their drivers can always charge their vehicles on-site. This is also an approach that’s been adopted by the operators of some early commercial rapid charging hubs.

An added advantage of this is that it has the potential to leave you with surplus electricity that you can sell back to the grid, enabling you to generate valuable extra income.

Find help with the transition to EVs

We’ve got a lot of experience in helping organisations make the transition to EVs. To find out how we can help you, get in touch.

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