Imagine a cold winter’s evening, when a Premiership football team are playing in the Champions League and it is a free-to-air match. Then suddenly, all at the same time as the half-time whistle is blown, all the viewers switch on the kettle to make a cuppa.

While the UK electricity network is designed to cope with this instant demand, year-on-year there has been a significant rise in the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on UK roads, and this is only set to increase. With larger volumes of EVs demanding instant charges, analyst predictions show that the load on electricity networks could double during evening peak periods. 

“Smart charging is a system that can manage EV charging demand thereby reducing pressure on electricity networks,” explains Anthony Machin, head of content at Glass’s. “With no management of the charging demand, it’s likely that the UK’s electricity supply infrastructure would require costly renewal.”

What smart charging effectively means is managing some EV charging in the peak demand period and moving it to later in the evening or overnight, to allow network operators to control customer demand better. “Put simply, smart charging is a ‘system’ that can control the time and/or rate of charging of an EV and is of particular use for home charging or charging away from home where the EV is parked for longer periods, including at work,” Machin says.

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James O’Neill, UK director at smart charger manufacturer Ensto, is a useful voice in explaining some of the legislation surrounding charging. “Smart charging has become a sales term sadly,” he says, “and doesn’t always indicate whether an EV charge point is ‘smart’. ISO 15118 or vehicle-2-grid (V2G) communication protocol will be in the charger ready for the new cars coming to the market. For fleets, it will mean more usable and accurate data, and they will be able to charge more efficiently, analyse mileage, usage and savings. They will even be able to identify the vehicle by its VIN number – so no more RFIDs (radio frequency identifications)? We hope so. Better yet, fleets will be able to fully utilise the battery and create the optimal charging plan for the car.” 

Ultimately, smart charging is where the hardware, car and operating system can fully communicate to enable elements such as V2G, active load management, fleet and user diagnostics, self-diagnostics and be integrated to work together as an ecosystem. “Ensto has designed its products based on experience from the birth of EVs in Norway and has learned over time that the products must be capable of evolving with the software. Take ISO 15118, the cars may not be able to be fully utilised yet; however, we have it in the product ready for the changes it will bring, with 2019 seeing the start of that evolution. If your fleet efficiency is important, it is worth the investment, and when it truly comes into play, fleet managers will be relieved they have it,” O’Neill adds.

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Effectively, smart chargers are being developed to smooth the peaks of electricity demand. For instance, if an EV is plugged in at work for nine hours, and needs only two full-power hours to charge, there is great flexibility in when the charger is used and what rate it charges at. Shifting the charging time to align with a period of surplus electricity will help address shorter-term variations. Machin says, “Without smoothing electricity demand, it’s likely that the UK electricity network would require significant high-cost upgrades, potentially taking years to complete.”

The smart charger

Smart chargers are internet-enabled and receive information about electricity usage in their local area. As part of the set-up, they are programmed with the user’s electricity tariffs. “Through this connection, when electricity capacity is low, the smart charger can receive signals to either delay charging or reduce the power level of the charge until electricity capacity increases. Via an app, the user is able to override these signals should they need to charge their EV urgently either by entering a desired departure time, or by overriding the system completely and demanding an instant charge,”
says Machin.

Smart charging offers benefits to EV drivers and fleet operators, including:

?  increased visibility of energy use 

?  useful for expense claims or income tax

?  the ability to automatically access ‘Economy 7’-style tariffs

?  full transparency and insights into vehicle energy demand

?  the ability to observe charging history

?  monitoring charging costs and savings

?  the ability to link to solar panels and energy storage systems

?  managing charging alongside other electricity-hungry appliances in
the household

?  helping to avoid the need to upgrade existing electricity networks at home and at the office

?  minimising the need to build additional power generation sites for peak electricity demand.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 2017-19

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is currently making its way through parliament and has two main aims:

?  to specify who is liable for damages following accidents caused by automated vehicles

?  to improve the network of charging points for electric vehicles.

As part of the bill, EV charging points will be mandatory at all large petrol stations and motorway services. This will lead to the installation of multiple charge points at each of the UK’s motorway service stations, as well as at many of the 8,500 UK filling stations. 

Currently, there are more than 11,500 public EV charging points in the UK. This move will nearly double the country’s charging infrastructure, a major barrier to the uptake of EVs in the UK. As part of this bill, it is likely that the government will mandate the future use of smart chargers.

“The push for smart charging is finally gathering pace with the government and rightly so,” says O’Neill. “In many ways, the current grants should only be applicable to smart charging. With the demand for energy, and the constant mention of blackouts and grid failure, it’s no wonder it has captured the public’s attention. However, the reality is that having smart chargers will be like having a smart meter with energy management capabilities. Over time, and dependent on regulatory changes, this could see the end-users gaining revenue from their vehicle’s battery by allowing fair usage through giving energy, pausing usage
and more.”

It’s quite an exciting concept to think you could actually receive an income or benefit from supporting the grid when required. “However, as exciting as this is, we aren’t there yet,” adds O’Neill. “Many trials are ongoing, and successfully so, but change will come in stages.”

Where to charge 

Roadside or public charging networks in the UK offer either national or regional coverage. Chargemaster Polar, Ecotricity, Pod Point and Charge Your Car are the largest networks. Charging an EV at home is often the most appropriate solution to charging. Homeowners can minimise costs by opting for lower overnight electricity tariffs, such as Economy 7. By using timers on their vehicles or charger, they can initiate the charge when electricity is at the lowest price. Charging speeds available are typically slow-to-fast.

Many firms fit charge points in workplace car parks. This strategy allows companies to offer EV charging to employees and visitors. Like home charging, this is a convenient time to charge, as the vehicle is stationary for the majority of the day.

What’s next

The future of smart charging contains several key elements:

?  V2G: this technology turns parked EVs – at home and at work – into power service providers. Using this system, the vehicle can deliver flexibility to the electricity network by either charging or discharging based on the local demand and supply of energy. These systems will further smooth the peak demand curve. 

? Inductive smart charging: no mess, no hassle and no plugs. As BMW recently started promoting, wireless charging will be easier than refuelling.

?  Fuelling time: dramatic drops in fuelling time with improvements to lithium ion batteries and the development of solid state batteries.

?  A mainstream choice: EVs may become mainstream, with every large automotive company having an EV offering for
LCVs and passenger cars.

So what’s next for smart EV charging, wireless perhaps? “Possibly,” says O’Neill. “BMW announced contactless charging’s arrival, however, the performance isn’t there yet for wide use. The charge rates are low and suited more to long dwell times. But there is no doubt it has a strong future.” 


O’Neill says 2023 will see the real take-off as more cars come on to the market with the right capabilities, adding: “Initially, this will see a lot of retrofit opportunities utilising the EV infrastructure already being put in. I suppose, in closing, the question many may have is ‘Should I buy charge points now or wait?’ Fleet decision-makers need to make informed decisions and not feel pressed to just go EV. 

“Make sure it fits your fleet, change in a phased and logical way. If you have low-to-mid-mileage vehicles, then make the change. The cost savings make the business case very easy and attractive. You will have seen lots of fleets already successfully launching EVs and use great ideas such as ‘last leg’ charging and location partners to enable the success of their EV fleets,”. 

O’Neill suggests fleets look at EV charging as a service that includes smart charging points with a fully-evolved back office, and clear indications on its evolution, factoring in operation, service and maintenance.

“Companies such as The Phoenix Works are now making this possible,” O’Neill enthuses in conclusion. “There are no upfront costs, you pay per bay and the products are maintained throughout with fleet and site feasibility taken into account. The beauty of this is that the very best service is paramount to the contract and, after the term, whether three, five or more years, the fleet can upgrade to the next generation as part of the renewal. Perhaps innovation like this will be what enables fleet to get the right products and alleviate their fears.”