But failure to integrate smart technology into EV charging infrastructure could lead to EV uptake having the opposite effect
How important are emerging smart charging technologies to the electric vehicle (EV) revolution and the wider net zero transition? That is the question asked by two separate reports this week. And the answer from both appears to be, 'very'.
According to a new study published today by researchers at Element Energy, EVs have the potential to save France, Italy, Spain, and the UK €4bn a year, but only if governments prioritise the integration of smart charging technology.
The report echoes a separate analysis released earlier this week by the UK's Energy Systems Catapult, which calculates how vehicle to grid (V2G) charging technologies could cut £270m a year off the cost of running the UK power system by 2030.
The Element Energy report, entitled Batteries on wheels - the role of battery electric cars in the EU power system and beyond, analyses projected EV uptake out to 2040. It details how charging electric cars at the best time of day for the grid using smart charging technologies would allow EVs to avoid demand peaks and provide extra storage capacity when there is renewable electricity oversupply. As such, the technology has the potential to reduce the need to build additional grid storage and power plants potentially saving the UK, France, Spain, and Italy between €500m and €1.3bn each a year.
However, the report also warns that if smart charging functionality is not used and EVs are charged during times of peak power demand it is likely to increase the need for new fossil generation plants. As a result, it is essential the EU and national governments ensure all new e-charging infrastructure is capable of smart charging, according to Transport & Environment (T&E), which commissioned the research alongside energy companies Enel and Iberdrola and carmaker Renault.
"EVs will not crash our power grids as some misleadingly report," said Julia Poliscanova clean vehicles and e-mobility manager at T&E. "On the contrary, 'batteries on wheels' can spare Europe's grids from costly upgrades and allow more renewables to come online faster. All that's needed is to charge them at the right time of the day, for example during daytime in sunny countries."
The UK government is already taking steps to ensure e-charging infrastructure is capable of smart charging. Earlier this week, Roads Minister Michael Ellis announced new regulations that will require all EV charging devices funded through the state Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme to use smart technology from 1 July.
However, concerns remain that across the bloc some markets are continuing to deploy chargers that lack smart functionality and could quickly become outdated.
Element Earth researchers also analysed the potential for businesses to reuse EV batteries as stationary storage arrays, finding that the approach could save businesses 42 per cent compared to the price of installing new batteries. The study examines possible uses for repurposed batteries and highlights that deploying them could help avoid peaks in power demand from heavy users, such as depots charging electric bus fleets at night.
However, it goes on to warn that Europe does not currently have the capacity to recycle the batteries of the EVs currently on its roads. Most of Europe's recycling facilities handle lead acid batteries but not lithium-ion, which are used in electric cars. As a result, the EU's new batteries directive, expected later this year, must set ambitious targets for lithium-ion battery recycling which will provide investment certainty for the recycling industry, T&E said.
"Recycling is not only a key pillar of sustainable battery production, it also has huge potential to keep critical metals such as cobalt and lithium in Europe, creating new green industries and jobs along the way. Today the EU is not ready to capture these valuable materials. The next Commission should present a green industrial strategy with electromobility and batteries at its core," said Julia Poliscanova.
The report from the UK's Energy Systems Catapult reaches broadly similar conclusions, arguing that emerging V2G technologies can drastically reduce grid costs.
Produced as part of a consortium project involving Nissan Technical Centre Europe, Energy Systems Catapult, Cenex, Western Power Distribution, National Grid ESO, Moixa, and Element Energy, the report explores how motorists could incentivised to use EV batteries to provide grid support services.
It calcuates that V2G technology could help avoid £200m of investment in the distribution network by 2030 by reducing peak demand on the grid, compared with unmanaged charging.
It also argues that while controlling when EVs charge could save £180m a year across the whole energy system by the same compared with unmanaged charging, more sophisticated V2G functionality could increase annual savings by £40m to £90m.
As such, report argues that a household with a 7kW home V2G charger could earn £436 a year by providing services to support the power network, if the car was plugged in 75 per cent.
"Residential V2G charging could be economically viable in the near term, but will require a combination of high plug-in rates, a cut in the costs of installing frequency response metering equipment, and the ability to stack multiple revenue streams and move easily between them," the report notes.
It adds that in order to achieve wider uptake of fledgling V2G technologies the industry must reduce hardware costs significantly, develop viable commercial models to depreciate the assets over 10 years, and alleviate consumer concerns about EV range and battery impacts.
"By 2030 there will be millions of electric vehicles on our roads," said Chris Wright, chief technology officer at Moixa. "This report shows how they they can play a vital role in the UK's energy system as batteries on wheels, helping to manage supply and demand and saving hundreds of millions of pounds. It also shows how savings can be shared fairly with drivers, lowering the cost of owning EVs and supporting growth of the sector."
The benefits that should flow from EVs extend well beyond cleaner air and lower running costs, taking in improved grid decarbonisation and potentially reduced energy bills for everyone. However, as this week's reports show significant hurdles need to become if smart charging infrastructure is to keep pace with rapidly growing demand from the new generation of electric motorists.
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