Car charger group adds power to off-peak ‘smart grid’ project

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A £54m project that helps change how we consume electricity by avoiding peak times is growing in strength after it was joined by the UK’s largest regional network of electric vehicle charging points.

At first glance, the Customer-Led Network Revolution sounds a little like a campaigning group. However, it is in part funded by Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund and run by the Northern Powergrid, the electricity distribution network operator for the area, involving 12,000 homes.

It’s driven by the need to ensure the UK is ready for the low carbon future by taking steps to prepare the electricity network for soaring demands likely to emerge from electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar PV panels.

Although solar PV panels on roof tops generate electricity, if there are too many concentrated in one area they can cause issues by lowering the network voltage.

Now the smart grid project has been joined by Charge Your Car – the UK’s largest regional network of EV charging points – to monitor the impact electric vehicles have on electricity networks. The two organisations are collaborating to monitor typical energy consumption of EVs and to gather crucial data about when and where owners charge their vehicles.

Dr Liz Sidebotham, of Northern Powergrid, said she was delighted with the partnership that gave them fantastic access to a whole community of electricity vehicle drivers. She said: “It will see an additional 150 EV charging points in homes, public locations and workplaces throughout Yorkshire and throughout the North East.

“Recently announced subsidies for EV charging points in homes and businesses will certainly encourage more electric transport, but it is important to remember that the average EV uses 8kw of electricity when its recharging.

“To put that into perspective, if in the future we have 10 million EV owners who all put their vehicles on charge at the same time, it would equate to 80GW of power, which is the entire generating output we have available in Britain today.”

Dr Colin Herron, the MD of Charge Your Car North Ltd, said: “We fully understand that the nationwide adoption of EVs will only be possible if these vehicles can be accommodated on the electricity network. Working with the CLNR project, we’re learning more about the typical energy consumption profiles of EV drivers and the data gathered will allow the project to begin laying the foundations of a smarter grid that can support the energy needs of millions of EV users.”

He said sales of electric vehicles were increasing year on year and it was important we work together to ensure an acceleration in the uptake of EVs.

Almost 1,000 residents and small and medium enterprises have been surveyed as part of the smart grid project and a further 172 have been involved in detailed interviews with social scientists from Durham University. The Carbon Trust is also involved and the project concludes at the end of next year. However, results have begun to emerge at the midway point.

Government targets to lower carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 will reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, but for the legislation to be a success low carbon technology needs to be embraced on a wide scale.

Dr Sidebotham has been involved since concept stage three years ago. She said the first stage has studied thousands of residential, commercial and industrial customers to better understand their electricity usage and determine if financial incentives can be brought in to encourage them to avoid peak times.

Peak times tend to be between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays. Dr Sidebotham said they had seen a “huge appetite from domestic customers” for the Time of Use tariffs and the programme was oversubscribed, which indicated that “customers are willing to make changes in return for lower bills”. Electricity is cheaper at off peak times.

Demand spikes during these times as businesses are still open and consumers arriving home from work and cooking, using washing machines or dishwashers. The tariff was a “win/win situation for consumers and the network providers alike”, she added. And there was no need to reinforce the network as a result of the customer flexibility.

She was convinced that once the pilot ended the results would be of national and international significance.

The providers, Dr Sidebotham explained, had a choice of doing nothing to pre-empt it, in which case demand would exceed supply or to explore alternatives such as “reinforcing cables, transformers and switch gear”.