The UK’s National Grid could be in danger of blacking out when more UK motorists switch to electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming more common. In 2020, despite the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world, more new electric vehicles were being used than ever before. Of the new car registrations last year, 11% were for ultra-low emission cars.
The UK has released a plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, with hybrid vehicles to follow in 2035. So there is no doubt that more and more car buyers will be switching to electric over the next few years.
Electric Vehicles Emit Less Greenhouse Gas
This revolution is hugely positive for the environment. Electric Vehicles emit less greenhouse gas and air pollutants than either petrol or diesel cars. And this includes the consideration of producing the vehicle and energy used to keep them running.
The UK’s transport network is very much focused on the car. Road vehicles, including cars, buses, trucks and motorbikes – account for almost 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions that emanate from transport.
Back in 2019, the UK Government amended the Climate Change Act 2008 to set a ‘net zero target’ for carbon emissions by 2050. This amendment meant that greenhouse gas emissions needed to be reduced by 100% over the next 30 years.
Future of Vehicles
So the future of vehicles switching to electric is underway, and for positive reasons, but with this mass transformation of using cleaner energy comes another problem: the strain on the National Grid.
The headline request by the UK’s Transport Committee in July 2021 was for the National Grid to be able to cope with the surge in demand for electricity as sales of Electric Vehicles increase.
Huw Merriman, Chair of the Transport Committee, stated:
“Unless the National Grid gains more capacity, consumer behaviour will have to alter so that charging takes place when supply can meet the additional demand. The alternative will be blackouts in parts of the country.”
In the past, the National Grid has claimed that they are prepared for the uplift in demand for charging. They claim that even if everyone switched to charging Electric Vehicles overnight, the UK would still use less power than it did in 2002.
However, it gets more complex when we consider when people will likely be plugging their car into a charger. Typically, electricity demands are at their highest between 6 pm and 8 pm, the same time that many people return from work in their car and are likely to plug their car into a charger.
When people are using the most electricity and potentially returning home from a commute and charging their electric vehicle via the National Grid, this early evening load is what the Transport Committee is concerned about, as it could lead to a demand that the National Grid cannot handle.
Mooted as a solution is smart charging. Essentially, a smart charger will be connected to the internet and can dictate when to charge the vehicle. For example, if there is a high demand, the charger will pause. When the load lightens, it will resume charging.
To work effectively, smart charging would need to be adopted by high numbers of users. As a minimum, the Transport Committee suggests that all public charging points are fitted with smart charging.
Another way to encourage charging outside of peak times is to incentivise customers to use more energy at off-peak times to balance demand. This method has already proved to work with a level of success with domestic energy.
As Electric Vehicle chargers become more common in the UK, voltage optimisation becomes more important.
European electrical equipment manufacturers typically design their systems to operate at 220 volts. In the UK, the generated supply of voltage is usually between 240 to 245 volts. For other countries, the supply is over 220 volts. This difference can mean their application, such as an Electric vehicle charger, results in more energy usage than required.
Voltage optimisers reduce energy usage by optimising the utility mains supply voltage to ensure the load equipment’s intended voltage. Doing this reduces the ongoing electricity costs and contributes to reducing carbon emissions.
The Transport Committee presented a collection of suggestions to the UK Government to both increase the production and sale of electric vehicles and the ‘net zero targets’ deadline closes in.
One of these suggestions was to prevent excessive charging to consumers and the need for them to hold multiple accounts for public charging points.
Charging at home is considerably cheaper than public charging, so pricing should be fair for people who have to charge their electric vehicles in public spaces. The Committee welcomed the Government’s assurance to control interoperability between charge points and pricing clarity for the charge points in public spaces later this year.
The British firm, Gridserve, is replacing the charging points at all motorway service stations. In their place will be a more reliable and faster-charging technology.