The Benefits of Smart Charging for the Grid, Business and Consumer
31 March 2020
There's no doubt that the electrification of transport will bring many benefits to society and the environment. However, the replacement of a large proportion of our transport fleet by EVs will have massive knock-on effects on our electricity systems. Critics have voiced concerns about whether our current grid systems can handle these new flows in power. For instance, if many people travel home from work and charge their EVs between 5pm and 8pm, this leads to a surge in the demand for power. To meet this demand, significant extra investments would be necessary to equip both the networks that transport that electricity, and our generation capacity to provide it. This could mean an energy price increase for users too. If EV infrastructures continue to rely on regular charging points, which simply supply power at a standard rate until the vehicle is fully charged, this could cause real issues for EV owners, businesses with charging points and network operators alike.
Smart Charging could be the key to avoiding such problems. It’s a method of intelligently managing EV charging so it doesn’t overload or destabilize the grid. By opening pathways for data connections, smart charging enables the car, utility company and charging operator to ‘communicate’ and therefore optimize charging. As such, smart charging will be essential for making the uptake of EVs an effective transition rather than a chaotic disruption.
Balancing the grid with smart charging brings benefits to many different parties: from the user to the operator. So let’s explore how smart charging actually works and how it will benefit the key stakeholders in the new era of cleaner transport.
How It All Works: Smart Charging Features Designed to Help the Grid
Smart charging has three central features: Power Sharing, Power Boost and Dynamic Power Sharing. These features improve the energy efficiency of EV charging and make sure that it doesn’t put too much pressure on the local grid.
Power Sharing means energy capacity can be distributed evenly across many different active EV charging stations over time, so peak energy demand can be reduced by ‘shifting’ some energy consumption during peak hours to lower-demand parts of the day. The video below illustrates how this works in practice:
Power Boost automatically balances power consumption dynamically between the charger and the rest of the devices in your building. If it looks like you’re reaching maximum capacity, power boost will automatically reduce how much power is being consumed by your car. It can even pause the charging session altogether until enough power becomes available again to complete the charge. The graph below demonstrates the difference between Power Sharing (load balancing) and Power Boost (peak shaving).
Dynamic Power Sharing combines Power Boost and Power Sharing capabilities. It continuously measures EV charging demand against a site’s maximum allowable energy capacity. This means power can be distributed more evenly across charging stations according to local energy capacity and the site’s chosen tariff (Power Sharing). It also means charging can be stopped or energy consumption lowered temporarily when needed (Power Boost). As a result, charging operators can satisfy energy demand at their sites without having to increase the installation’s overall power capacity. Maximum energy capacity is also never exceeded, meaning no extra demand charges or blackouts.
Who It Works For: The Benefits of Smart Charging for Stakeholders in Our EV Future
Network Operators: Optimizing and Stabilizing Operations in a Balanced Grid
Normally, EVs simply plug-in and charge, taking as much energy from the grid as they need to. However, smart charging allows network operators to optimize energy flow into EVs. In other words, they can regulate energy intake according to peaks and lows in energy demand. This means they can provide more reliable services to their customers.
Smart chargers ‘communicate’ with the cars they are plugged into, the utility provider, and the charging point owner through data connections, like in a cloud. Through these data connections, charging operators can measure and manage energy usage and power levels remotely, in real-time.
As a result, smart charging enables grid operators to develop dynamic connected energy systems that can withstand future surges in demand for EV charging. It future-proofs business for grid operators, who can offer the best service to their customers by avoiding power shortages and providing energy whenever needed despite unanticipated spikes in demand.
There’s no need to spend billions on reinforcing grids to prepare for more EVs. Instead, by leveraging the power of smart charging to balance the grid, operators can optimize charging infrastructures to be more efficient, more convenient and more cost-effective for everyone involved.
Businesses: More Control, More Convenience, and More Cost Savings
For businesses with charging points, the management of their charging services will be key to benefiting from the increasing adoption of EVs. Now’s the time to implement smart charging improvements that are fit-for-purpose as EV use soars in the years to come.
First, smart charging enables businesses with charging points to set limits on consumption of energy. This ensures the business doesn’t exceed their building’s energy capacity, avoiding costly demand charges in the process.
Second, smart charging points can be linked to an app or online platform. This allows businesses to monitor and manage charging remotely and in real-time. If business owners want to open up their charging points for public use, this data is critical to optimize pricing, availability and charging power to external customers.
Third, installing charging stations in offices can bring economic benefits that increase the long-term value of the building. A charging station can increase traffic to a particular commercial area and also provide a new revenue stream through energy storage. Of course, the exact revenue potential will depend on the pricing structure any given company can competitively bring to market, however by offering optimized charging at off-peak hours to external customers and potentially storing energy to sell back to grid operators, firms can maximize the financial benefits of having a charging station at their site.
EV Owners: Simpler, Safer, Greener and Cheaper Charging for Vehicles
When a car is charged with a smart charger, it will adjust to the maximum energy limits set by the operator. For instance, this limit might be a home’s maximum energy capacity or a predetermined budget set by the EV owner. This means EV owners can relax, knowing their car won’t overuse energy and they have full (remote) control over their energy usage.
Furthermore, smart charging devices ensure EVs always charge safely. They automatically test the connection between the vehicle and the device before they start charging. Since all charging events are monitored and can be controlled remotely, any unusual activity will be flagged by the charging operators’ system. They can then resolve any issues without involving EV owners at all.
Finally, smart charging makes powering EVs significantly cheaper and cleaner for owners concerned about their carbon footprint. EV drivers might choose to be part of a demand-response smart charging project, typically run by energy providers. This can mean receiving preferential energy rates in exchange for agreeing to charge at lower power or at certain times to balance and settle the grid.
As societies move towards more renewable energy sources, whose energy production might vary by day or by season, some owners might have solar panels in their homes. Demand-response mechanisms (like Power Sharing and Power Boost) allow users to align their charging with renewable energy availability. This allows owners to reduce collective reliance on dirty peaker power plants which support grids when demand peaks. Crucially, EVs can also act as storage devices for times of energy surplus, for example when excess electricity is generated in summer. This not only facilitates our clean energy transition, but saves money along the way.
Beyond smart chargers, when bidirectional chargers become the norm, energy companies may also start offering incentives to EV drivers to use their car batteries as temporary power reserves. That’s because bidirectional chargers allow stored electricity to flow into and out of EV batteries. This is sometimes referred to as V2G (vehicle to grid) or V2H (vehicle to home). Thanks to this technology, selling energy back to the grid could be a great source of extra income for EV owners. Some schemes already exist: such as the UK’s Nissan Leaf and Ovo Energy’s partnership scheme. According to a study by MDPI, EV owners could earn up to €400 a year via V2G, and around €3700 over a car's lifetime.
Prepare for the Lean, Green Future of Smart Charging Now
In anticipation of a world more populated with EVs than ever before, it’s time now to look at the ways in which they’re powered. This assessment should be thought of as an opportunity to optimize and digitize the way we distribute, use, generate and store electricity for generations to come. At the heart of this transformation is smart charging. Especially when combined with bidirectional charging, it will help prevent power outages, improve energy-efficiency, save costs and facilitate the transition to a greener energy system. The benefits will be felt across the chain from users to businesses to operators to utility networks - and to the planet too.
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