Electric vehicles should be seen as part of the energy storage solution and not as a problem.
Earlier this year, the Commons Transport Select Committee released a report calling on the government to put in place a clear framework for charging infrastructure for UK electric vehicles to meet the net zero targets. It also spread unnecessary fear and alarm by highlighting the committee's concerns that the increasing number of electric vehicles could lead to blackouts during peak charging times.
What the report doesn't highlight is the opportunity that electric vehicles offer. They should be part of the energy storage solution, not the problem. EV batteries are a positive energy storage that needs to be widely recognized as such and shouldn't become the power outage heap of waste that some expect.
The Climate Protection Committee predicts that around 18 million battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be on the roads by 2030 if a sales ban on new internal combustion engines is introduced. Thanks to an intelligent charging infrastructure, vehicle batteries connected to the grid nationwide will offer a certain degree of flexibility. When the grid experiences a peak load, they can stop charging or discharge electricity to regulate demand and recharge later when needed. This “thin film” of energy storage means that the power grid can pull in large amounts of EV batteries when needed. For example, if five vehicles are loaded and one goes into unload mode, the net reduction is effectively two vehicles.
The ability to do this effectively depends on the UK adopting a smart energy infrastructure that includes charging points and meters. When the first chargers were installed a decade ago, the infrastructure was neither interoperable nor intelligent due to a lack of technical knowledge. At the same time, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles – now the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles – failed to monitor the facilities to ensure that the required level of intelligent interoperability was achieved.
This first wave of infrastructure was necessary to support the introduction of electric vehicles. In the future, the charging infrastructure will be smart as it is driven by both political and commercial incentives.
The commercial incentive is already being realized by fleet managers who have to manage the energy consumption behind the meter. At many business locations, it will not be possible to charge a large fleet at the same time due to the network restrictions of the location. However, an intelligent system makes it possible to charge vehicles sequentially and manage both energy consumption and costs.
Smart charging will also help reduce the risk of power outages. Controlling the way electric vehicles are charged, whether unidirectional or bidirectional, and the ability to supply or withdraw electricity from the grid will add flexibility to the grid.
Smart charging and infrastructure have another significant advantage. While bidirectional charging has an impact on deterioration, smart charging can protect a battery. By using charge cycles and ranges that best preserve lifespan, lifespan can be extended beyond that on board a vehicle.
EV batteries currently offer a service life of around 10 years on board before their charging capacity decreases, which reduces the range of the vehicle. By 2030, one million tons of EV batteries will be available for reuse and by 2035 the global demand for stationary energy storage devices could be met by second-life batteries.
If batteries are simply recycled at the point where they no longer serve as an adequate source of power for electric vehicles, up to 40 percent of their value is lost. The financial and ecological expense of disposal is also high.
I would argue that the Transport Select Committee's report is a bit short-sighted in that it does not recognize the continuum of values of the battery over its life. Second-life use in storage recognizes the inherent value of an EV battery beyond its lifetime, beyond its use as a vehicle power source, and in other applications.
The simplicity and circularity of EV batteries used to balance the power grid is easy to understand. It is disappointing that the committee's report did not focus on that rather than spreading fears of a power failure.
In Kirchheim, Germany, my company Connected Energy installed a battery energy storage system (BESS) that uses used Renault Fluence batteries and controls the mains supply for the fast charging infrastructure of a motorway service station. This conveys a simple, positive message: electric car batteries will be part of the solution, not the problem.
We have also installed a system in Dundee that stores energy from solar panels and controls the supply of a number of EV chargers that are provided by the community. The engineering behind these solutions is complex, but for the consumer the solution and communication is clear and simple.
We have developed a technology that uses the EV batteries exactly as they are in the car, but in a storage system so that as far as the batteries are concerned, they are in the car. We use a controller that is able to communicate with several batteries at the same time and in the same language as in the car, which is also connected to a bidirectional battery charger that converts the electricity from direct current to alternating current and vice versa.
The public needs to be made aware that EV car batteries are key to change and that change is doable, safe and profitable. We have to stop thinking of the future as a mountain of problems! It's not just consumers and car owners who need to experience the positive. In our experience, companies don't hear the right message either. Businesses with a minimum turnover of £ 40m or at least 250 employees will be aware of the need to participate in the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), a mandatory energy assessment of energy use, but many are less aware of tax breaks when they move into green Invest in energy solutions.
The super tax deductions announced in March of this year mean that companies that invest in qualified new systems and machines will receive an annual tax allowance for eligible special assets in the two years from April 1, 2021 to the 31st annual tax allowance. The range of qualified equipment includes solar panels, charging stations for electric vehicles and battery storage.
Businesses of all sizes can benefit from the deductions, which makes this incentive a great opportunity to support the move to green energy across the UK, although it seems to have been completely lost as a message.
Of course, I am aware that smaller systems – and ours typically have a capacity of 360 kWh and deliver 300 kW from 24 Renault Kangoo batteries – will not meet the UK’s total needs in the future. However, they have the ability to transform the energy landscape and mitigate the challenges of grid constraints when used in the right applications. They will certainly help to reduce CO2 emissions and, together with a smart charging infrastructure, will show that electric vehicles are part of the solution, not the problem.
There is probably no country in the world that is better placed to lead the way in local decentralized energy systems than the UK. We have a vast coastline, a temperate climate largely unaffected by the extreme continental weather systems, a great love for cars and, in the case of energy, a relatively advantageous planning system.
Other countries like Japan come here to learn from us, and yet we do not communicate internally via the sophisticated, networked and gentle solutions and options that we already have.
Matthew Lumsden is the CEO of Connected Energy.
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