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Electric car uptake presents 'challenge' for UK power network

Published 16 January 2020

A Government-backed report has warned that the increasing popularity of electric vehicles provides a 'significant challenge' for the UK's electricity network.

The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce brings together experts from the automotive and energy industries ahead of the 2040 petrol and diesel car ban.

In its latest report, the Taskforce has called for incentives for electric vehicle drivers to plug in their cars during off-peak periods to prevent the National Grid from being overwhelmed with demand.

In 2019, around 38,000 new electric cars were registered on UK roads, accounting for just 1.6 per cent of the market share.

But if demand increases, the report warns that today's electricity demand could increase by nearly a third, with estimates suggesting that peak demand could increase by 24GW by 2050. This could lead to huge powercuts as the electricity network fails to keep up with demand.

To counter this, experts say the development of a new smart grid needs to be accelerated. Rather than relying on a small number of power stations, a smart grid would also take power from a large number of smaller providers, including renewable energy such as wind farms and solar panels.

This will give the network more potential to meet spikes in demand, while also utilising vehicle-to-grid technology. This allows electric cars to act as storage devices, pumping electricity back into the network when appropriate.

As part of this, the report also suggests that electric car drivers should be offered smart energy tariffs, rewarding them for charging their cars at off-peak times, reducing pressure on the National Grid.

"With the emergence of brilliant electric cars, the revolution on our roads is happening quicker than most people can imagine," said Octopus Electric Vehicles CEO, Fiona Howarth. "This will create a huge distributed battery sitting outside our homes - that can help us balance the grid as we move to a green economy."


Falkirk Bairn    on 16 January 2020

In Falkirk just before Xmas there was a gas problem - no gas for 4 days.
Followed by electricity cuts as people used electric fan heaters which overloaded the supply to about 8,000 people.

Upgrading supply to every street in the UK is a mammoth task.
It is some 4 weeks since a connection was started from a commercial site to a substation - say 300/350 metres. Still at least another 10 days to go.

Multiply that by every city, town & village in the country to lay the cable then you have to find 30GW of new & stable generating capacity - wind, solar etc are not stable sources.

Engineer Andy    on 16 January 2020

I've been saying this for ages now. No real surprise. Factor in when most vehicles will be charged - overnight - then all those lovely solar panels won't be of any use, and the wind is so variable (too strong or too low and the turbines don't work) and tidal isn't constant either and its implementation has serious detrimental effects on local ecology means that we'll have to rely on either fossil fuels and/or nuclear, which isn't even off the drawing board yet. What a shower.

Simon Pont    on 16 January 2020

Yep....IC engine vehicles do high mileages too. 150000 miles and more over the life of a vehicle is not uncommon. Those types of mileages are done by people doing quite long distances quite often in a day perhaps. Imagine the size charging stations will have to be to recharge vehicles on the motorway network mid journey! Football pitch sized and more whole vehicles charge up for an hour two! Daft!!! And battery life is 6/7/8 yrs . The vehicles will be one is going to buy an extremely expensive new battery for a car that old. Think of all the energy and CO2 tied up in manufacturing that vehicle, the energy needed to scrap it ....and also the energy used to create the IC engined vehicle it probably replaced (early maybe) under some scrappage scheme or other! What are the CO2 sums when all of that is taken into account and the (CO2) cost of generating enough electricity to run the things! My car is a 14 yr old 80k mile 1250cc 4cylinder dohc turbo diesel panda. It still runs like a new car and is good for another 14 yrs and 80k miles. The government thinks it's so clean it only charges me £30 tax annually. An electric vehicle? thanks!

njm106    on 16 January 2020

Not sure why you think the battery life is just 6-8 years there are plenty of EV's with batteries this old that are still working fine and some EVs with very high mileage (150k+) and again on the same battery it started with.

The only EV that has suffered with relatively poor battery life was the first generation Leaf (pre 2013) this was particular bad in hot climates and was down to a poor chemistry choice which Nissan changed with the Leaf's after this.

When you look at the figures in detail most EVs look like they would have ~80% of their battery capacity at 10 years old and 100k mileage and this figure is likely to improve as battery sizes get larger and therefore the amount of charge cycles for a given mileage is reduced.

The biggest issue for EVs is still the purchase cost it's hard to justify on an typical annual mileage of 10,000 a year unless you look over a 6-7 year period unfortunately most new car buyers are looking at 3-4 year period but it is getting better with the higher residuals and better PCP offers.

Craig_    on 17 January 2020

This conflicts with previous interviews I have heard where it was stated that if everyone switched to EVs tomorrow, only an extra few percent capacity would be needed. Local distribution boxes are the big issue as they would all have to be substantially upgraded to handle the load.

BrendanP    on 17 January 2020

Correct. The problem lies in the local distribution network, and the ratings of the transformer feeding the supplies in the street, and the cabling. Just because a house has an 80 Amp or 100 Amp supply fuse doesn't mean that every house on the street can decide to draw 80A from the supply at the same time. When the networks are installed, the sizing is based on a diversity factor. At any instant, a house might draw 65A, for example, if they have an electric shower running, plus a tumble drier, plus an electric kettle all on at the same time, but this will be counter-balanced by other homes that are only drawing 3 or 4A, and in any case, high loads like showers will only be on for a few minutes every day. Plugging in an EV to charge is not only a high load, but it can persist for several hours. You will probably find that the local distribution system is rated to supply a continuous average load of perhaps 20-30A per household. It won't be able to cope if every house starts pulling an extra 30A to charge their EV. There are also the harmful effects of harmonic distortion which adding all the chargers will create. I seriously doubt that many of the EV chargers which are being installed comply with the appropriate standards.

Edited by BrendanP on 17/01/2020 at 12:56

hissingsid    on 18 January 2020

I have never understood why EV's do not have solar panels built into their roofs
It may only be a partial solution to the charging network problems, but the idea of your car being charged for free while you are driving, or parked while you are at work (in daylight of course) has it's attractions.

If too many EV's are charged overnight, it will mean the end of cheap off peak electricity tariffs for those who heat their homes electrically. That would affect me, as I live in a village with no mains gas supply.

BrendanP    on 19 January 2020

Realistically, how many solar panels could you fit on a car roof, when you consider each solar panel on a house roof can generate 250W maximum? At most, maybe 500W max, but in reality probably about 150W average. Parked at work for 8 hours, that will put about 1.2kWh into the battery, enough to give an extra 4 miles of range. How much more would you pay for an EV with solar panels considering how expensive they are already?

You're right about more EVs on the road leading to 'cheap rate' electricity being a thing of the past. Electricity will become more expensive or everyone.

Falkirk Bairn    on 19 January 2020

London to Edinburgh trains East Coast mainline - Electric overheads all the way EXCEPT north of Newcastle there is not enough power to the line so for the last 80 miles the diesel engines do the work!

If we cannot get power to a train line what chance of getting power to every house on every street to heat the house, fridge, drier & charge a car ?

Snookey    on 21 January 2020

This talk of having electric cars putting energy back into the grid is a total nonsense. What if one receives a 'phone call and has to get somewhere urgently a hundred miles or more away? Then the car is sitting there with no fuel. At least with a petrol car it'd only take a minute or two to stop off and fill up if it was nearly empty. It's an entirely stupid idea which would reduce the practicality of one's transport, not enhance it.

Marcus T.    on 22 January 2020

My neighbour is a network Infrastructure manager for SSE. He says it will be many decades before the network can cope with a majority of electric vehicles in use.

FarnhamEV    on 23 January 2020

Never seen such a bunch of ill informed comments. Strange that nobody ever mentions how energy production is being transformed driven by the need to help us move away from the inefficient polluting vehicles (including ships/aircraft etc). Nobody for instance mentions new energy storage systems that capture energy for use to balance peak loads or the fact that infrastructure develops as commercial demands increase. Look back and the same people would say that mobile phones or the Internet would never take off and that in the early 1900s that cars would never take off because they were expensive, there was nowhere to buy petrol and they were likely to blow up.

If there are issues they will be dealt with, especially as comments like these combined with misinformation peddled by Luddite car companies and self interest groups, slow adoption.

Clunkclick    on 21 February 2020

Ways round the "Peak leccy Demand"/lowest eco generating supply point during day problem:-

1). "Off-line" , pre-charged, local reserve supplies e.g. Battery boxes attached to lamposts or in your garage/parking place, which charge themselves by taking "micro-bursts" of power, but only when the supply system signals its acceptable.

2). Intelligent on-board charging software that prioritises electrical supply system maintenance/continuity over vehicle battery re-charging at all costs. This would avoid re-charging at peak times, allowing "Get-you-to-work and back" charging levels during weekdays and perhaps a big re-charge on one weekday only and a weekend day. The effect of this would be to smooththe requirement for electrical generation throughout the week.

3). Making part of the car's battery pack hand-portable/exchangeable, so that you could have a "Get-you-to-work-and-back" sitting at home, already fully-charged and ready to go - and you'd also carry one in the boot as the equivalent of a spare tyre, in case of distance estimating mistakes. This system would come into its own On cold days, when battery capacity will be reduced. These could be available for sale/rent anywhere, On-line, supermarkets, garages, the corner shop.

4). Global warming and its effects are going to be with us for the next 300 years, so why doesn'tr HMG , coupled with finance and industry, get into flood alleviation as electrical power generation and fresh water supply bonus, rather than treating it as a problem. The UK landmass naturally slopes NW to SE (Post glacial effect), starting with the Welsh hills, construct a series of dams and linked reserviors, West to East across the country, which simultaneously alleviate flooding by storing the excess fresh water from winter/autumn/spring inundations and release it later to make-up the shortages experienced in the summers of water and power (Increased use of A/C, due to hotter summers, will be making summer power consumption outstrip that used in the newer mild winters).

5). A permanent UK Global warming task force be set-up, comprising of a consortium of HMG/Finance/Industry with the object of devising and implementing this type of "Joined-up" solution.

Clunkclick    on 21 February 2020

And of course, the main thing for the car industry to do to make electric cars viable in-the-round, REDUCE THE WEIGHT - ideally to below 3/4 ton per vehicle - this could be started by stripping out all the unnecessary carp that's been added for sales marketing purposes over the last 40 years, huge plastic dashboards, centre consoles and door cards, electric motors for windows, and ventilation systems, over complicated seating, compressor based air-con (Could be swapped for cartridge based peltzier system).

Then a start could be made to swapping all the panels and chassis for composites, swapping glass for perspex.

Don't tell me that the car manufacturers haven't already drafted a model constructed in this way and that several electronic CAD files are not sitting on some dusty, little- used server in the deep and dark confines of Wolfsburg, Aubergineville etc, etc.

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