“Connection of charge infrastructure to the public electricity distribution networks is rapidly becoming an important issue," says Graham Ault of Smarter Grid Solutions

There have been significant changes in the electric vehicle (EV) market in recent months. Policy announcements on urban air quality and restrictions on sales of fossil-fuelled vehicles, new models from the global automotive players and investments by the petroleum and energy giants are all creating a springboard for quick and sustained EV growth. How, where and when that growth occurs and the relative strength of tailwinds and headwinds will be watched carefully by many interested parties.

What is not quite so clear, however, is how all the new EVs hitting the roads will be ‘fuelled’. There is amazing diversity in charge post design, customer interfaces, charge “experiences” and EV driver needs and behaviours. This creates an interesting environment for the energy sector, automotive companies, charge equipment manufacturers and charge infrastructure developers and operators. There is also keen interest from regulators, policymakers and innovators trying to steer the industry forwards in various ways.

“At-base” EV charging by individuals and private sector fleets seems fairly straightforward compared with the “away-from-base” en-route and destination charging requirements. The main questions for the development of at-base charging infrastructure appear to be timing the switch to EV to match specific needs (for example, personal and own fleet vehicles and uses), wider charging infrastructure availability and the total cost of ownership of EVs, including the charge infrastructure and the cost of fuelling at base and away from base. Many of the technologies and equipment offerings are already in place or emerging onto the market.

The at-base but with no permanent vehicle parking, en-route and some destination charging requirements still need to be resolved to provide effective infrastructure to cover a diverse range of EV driver, vehicle and journey types. Studies of at-base charging behaviours with different incentives and tariffs have been the focus of several trial projects.

Low-voltage network trial

Western Power Distribution’s Electric Nation project implemented a large trial of residential, at-base charging with various user interfaces, charge options, incentives, information and preferential pricing options. The full results of the Electric Nation project will be published in July 2019 and these stand to inform technical and business planning for charging.

Some en-route and destination charging infrastructure is already in place. But the customer experience has not always been great, especially when it comes to registration and payment schemes that do not easily enable cross-usage, coverage, maintenance and availability of chargers, as well as readily available and accurate usable customer information. Major municipal authorities, central government and larger infrastructure companies are now mobilising to deliver better coverage and a better experience in these areas to stimulate and match EV growth.

Connection of charge infrastructure to the public electricity distribution networks is rapidly becoming an important issue as charging infrastructure moves away from a residential focus to more serious and widely deployed public infrastructure. Distribution network operators expect point, cluster and aggregate capacity headroom issues in many parts of the network.

Internal business cases for individual and fleet EV operators of different types are still a challenge. Business models for en-route and destination charging are still in the early stages of innovation and trial, with no clear winners or significant rollouts yet. The issues to be addressed include low utilisation of public charge infrastructure, easy payment mechanisms at point of use, accessing available charge posts and sustainability of any incentive, for example, free charging at shopping destinations and workplaces.

Joined-up approach

The SP Energy Networks Charge project joins together several of these issues through a combination of regional transport planning, smart charging solutions and information on accessible connections to the public electricity supply system. It aims to merge transport and electricity network planning to create a map of where EV charge points are required and where they can be accommodated by the electricity grid. Some of the novel solutions to be put into operation later this year and next include charge infrastructure connection methods that support hybrid renewable, energy storage and EV charging, and solutions that make use of the available network headroom most of the time, with some constraint on charging during peak network demand periods.

Although some progress has been made, more is required to implement the appropriate EV charging infrastructure where and when it is needed. Look out for more EV models and new charge posts in the coming months.

But also look more carefully for the smart charging methods, pairing to renewables, new flexible tariffs, a variety of incentives and other novel solutions to the charging infrastructure challenges discussed here. Many of these may not be visible at first glance, but they are essential to the growth of EV charging infrastructure.

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