James Johnston's blog: How a tidal wave of EVs will help with energy flexibility
29 September 2021
Piclo CEO and co-founder James Johnston explains the advantages of EV fleets for power network management.
The EV revolution is finally upon us. EVs are now a common sight on our roads and this is reflected in the sales figures, with around 15% of new cars now fully electric.
As transport is the most polluting sector in the UK, accounting for 27% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, this transition will be vital to meeting our net zero target.
With the government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 to help us reach that target, sceptics have long warned of the impact this could have on the electricity grid, as drivers plug in their cars to charge at home and on the road.
However, the significant increase in EVs will actually support the grid by providing the essential flexibility to match the peaks and troughs of renewable energy supply.
The role of flexibility
As our energy system becomes greener and we shift away from fossil generation towards more variable solar and wind generation, the role of energy flexibility becomes more significant.
According to some estimates, EVs have huge potential to offer the flexibility required to enable this transition - potentially able to provide over 11GW of flexible capacity to the UK's energy system by 2030.
We, therefore, need to shift perceptions and view EVs as an opportunity to ensure a cost-effective transition by providing the flexibility needed to alleviate the strains on our energy grids.
Enabling energy flexibility with EVs
Smart charging is crucial in enabling EVs to deliver flexibility, ensuring that EVs are only drawing from the grid at times when there is low demand or surplus generation. In turn, this means EVs aren't putting strain on the grid by charging during times of low generation or
Recent competitions on Piclo Flex, an independent marketplace for trading energy flexibility online, demonstrate the value of EVs, with 68% of successful bids in local markets going to flex providers that bid with EVs.
UK Power Networks' most recent tender awarded contracts for flexibility worth £30m to innovators in the energy sector, and more than two thirds of the new capacity - 248MW - will come from smart charging EVs.
The future of the flex market
The UK's flexibility market has shown incredible growth so far in 2021, as 1.6GW of flexibility has been contracted by distribution system operators (DSOs) to date.
Recent growth has been driven in part by the fact that some flexibility contracts are assigned in advance and subsequently once awarded, can last up to seven years. This has meant that planned EV fleets can incorporate revenues from flexibility into their long-term business models, particularly targeting areas where network constraints are present.
There is significant optimism in the UK that this growth can continue, following the government's recently released Smart Systems and Flexibility plan that indicated that 13GW of flexibility could be provided to the system by 2030.
To make this a reality, it is important to introduce greater standardisation for procuring flexibility. Given that the market is still fairly young, the industry should combine that standardisation with the 'learning by doing' approach that has contributed to the recent growth in flexibility markets.
For example, combining EV smart charging with flexibility markets can provide DSOs with more options for effective grid management, optimising the safe delivery of power to EVs without compromising on delivering electricity to offices and homes.
Jumpstart the flexibility revolution
EVs have the potential to play an important role in the future of our power systems: helping to balance the electricity network by absorbing energy during periods of oversupply and to reduce demand during periods of undersupply. So, the growth in smart-charging electric vehicles could be transformative for our grid.
Removing barriers for EV flexibility providers to participate in the industry is vital, and will play a major role in supporting the UK in its aim to reach net zero by 2050.
The impact of that will be a more flexible energy grid, able to support the continued growth in renewable energy and a cleaner car fleet to reduce air pollution in our cities. It truly is a win-win.