David Smith, chief executive, Energy Networks Association Company strategy, Customers, Energy networks, Policy, Policy & regulation, Strategy & management, Opinion, David Smith, Energy Networks Association, electric vehicles, EV, EVs

"Perhaps the biggest shift that this innovation is driving is the embedding of principle that simply building new network infrastructure is not the best way to deliver the EV driving revolution"

Our electricity networks are committed to building a smarter, cleaner energy system, and a key part of this is focusing on decarbonisation and the future of electricity, heating, transportation and storage. The roll-out of electric vehicles will clearly be a key component of this transition. With the number of electric vehicles on UK roads growing from 3,500 in 2013 to approximately 146,000 plug-in cars and 5,200 plug-in vans on UK roads today, they are starting to play an important role in helping network operators understand not only how to deliver more EVs in the future, but what that will mean for our future energy system.

Key to this has been the EV innovation projects already run by network operators up and down the country. Ofgem’s RIIO price control encourages innovation through the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) and Network Innovation Competition (NIC) which allow network operators to run the projects that are essential to not only understand the operational lessons necessary to deliver EVs, but also the opportunities that they will create in the future. We are starting to see the benefits of vehicle-2-grid (V2G) services, and the role that can play in terms of providing flexibility services to networks.

Western Power Distribution’s (WPD) ‘Electric Nation’ project, funded through the NIA, is a leading initiative which focuses on collaboration with EV charging partners. Working with 700 EV drivers, WPD are installing free smart chargers which will be managed by the network to mimic situations where an EV cluster has evolved and is causing network stress, while also collating customer research surveys. Working with a wide range of makes and models of EV, the project will provide WPD with a more solid understanding of data and trends which allow them to analyse future development and demand on the electricity networks.

Through other NIA projects, Distribution Network Operators are working on Active Response mechanisms that move spare capacity to where there is current demand for electricity from EVs. This could increase network capacity, saving the Britain up to £270 million by 2030 through moving spare capacity towards plug-in electric vehicle charging.

Combined with operational experience to date, these projects have highlighted to ENA members the importance of increased visibility and mandated notification of where charging points have and will be installed on the network, the type of charging points (for example slow or fast), the importance of access to smart meter data and the need for smart charging infrastructure. This will improve certainty for more cost-effective investment planning. The government’s decision to promote smart charging over unmanaged charge points and the speed of uptake of these is critical.  Without this, there could be a proliferation of “dumb” charging points taking capacity on the electricity networks with no opportunity to manage the associated load, and hence leading to large reinforcement requirements for networks.

Perhaps the biggest shift that this innovation is driving is the embedding of principle that simply building new network infrastructure is not the best way to deliver the EV driving revolution. A new model of electricity distribution is needed, so network operators have options available to them beyond this.  Transitioning local electricity network operators to become distribution system operators (DSOs) is key and will allow operators to utilise infrastructure more efficiently to optimise distribution network capacity, as well as procure flexibility services from local markets. Smart technology and flexibility services, including V2G, will be key to helping them to balance supply and demand locally. Network operators have already pledged to rapidly increase the use of these services during this price control period, and all of Britain’s Distribution Network Operators are now well underway in developing and delivering their own DSO transition strategies. However, long-term institutional changes are important too, and this is where ENA’s Open Networks Project is already playing a leading role in laying the foundations for Britain’s smart grid, by re-designing and standardising the institutional arrangements for electricity distribution.

At the end of March, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee posed the question of whether Britain could cope with bringing forward a more ambitious target of 2030 instead of 2040 for the phase out new petrol and diesel cars. ENA’s response was clear – if the government wishes to do so, then our members are ready to deliver.

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