Smart grid technology could unlock spare capacity for electric vehicles

A new trial launched by UK Power Networks aims to use smart grid technology to unlock spare capacity for use by the growing number of electric vehicles.

The electricity distribution company is hoping to maximise the power available from existing infrastructure while avoiding costly network reinforcement or substation replacement, according to engineering and environmental consultancy Ricardo, which is involved in the trial.

The four-year project is centred on a responsive, automated electricity network that reconfigures itself, moving spare capacity to where the demand is.

Ricardo’s energy specialists will develop power electronic devices and intelligent control systems to move electricity from heavily loaded substations to nearby substations with spare capacity.

The company said that the project, known as Active Response, has the potential to save customers £271m and reduce carbon emissions by 448,000 tonnes by 2030.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that a record number of alternatively fuelled vehicles — including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars — were registered in 2017, resulting in the sector’s highest-ever annual market share of 4.7%.

UK consumers buy more plug-in cars than anywhere else in Europe and demand grew by a quarter in 2017, the industry body said.

In London, the East and South East of England, where UK Power Networks delivers electricity, there will be an estimated 1.9 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2030, increasing demand on the power grid.

Active Response will be the first time that electricity networks have proactively moved spare capacity around the system to support areas that are using more electricity, Ricardo said.

It will provide additional capacity in residential areas in the evenings and at weekends when people are charging their cars, and then move that spare capacity to where it is needed during the day — such as city centres, commercial hubs or electric fleet charging points.

“Unlocking spare capacity is essential to adapt to the predicted increase in electric vehicles in a way that is cost effective for consumers,” said Sarah Carter, Ricardo’s business area manager for smart grids and networks.

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