How a concept teaches us the ways in which we can use electricity in a future-proof way
The National Agenda for Charging Infrastructure (NAL) was set up by the Dutch government. NAL is a workgroup representing the most important stakeholders within the charging infrastructure – the generators of electricity, grid operators, charge point operators and e-mobility service providers – who meet every two weeks and discuss the rights and obligations of all parties involved, and their priorities. One of the subjects at the top of the agenda is smart charging.
Smart charging has several meanings. In order to be able to work in a goal-oriented way, the workgroup has formulated the following definition:
The ultimate goal of smart charging is the realization of a smart, future-proof charging infrastructure for all users of electric transport, preferably with green energy, in which the interests of all stakeholders in the chain are facilitated, expressed in user-friendly and cost-efficient services.
Spreading the peak load
Why smart charging? The electricity grid in the Netherlands is especially heavily loaded in the morning. During this part of the day lights and computers in offices turn on, the washing machine starts to run at home and industries start up. In the evening we see a similar situation, when people come home, start cooking, switch on the TV and plug electric cars into the charging stations. This peak load only takes place during 5% of the day, but the grid has to be designed to deal with that maximum load.
The increase in electric vehicles (EV’s) on the road means an increase in the demand for power. The largest cities in the Netherlands have a power grid that is 100 years old, which will not be able to bear that demand. But replacing it is a huge job. Streets have to be broken up, cables have to be replaced and the flow in the city would be disrupted for a long time.
To avoid this, we have to look for alternatives. What could we do to spread that peak load over time, so that all stakeholders in the energy chain can be facilitated? This is where smart charging comes into play. Today we already control everything with IT, so why not the load on our power grid?
Not a downside, but an upside The downside of cars is that 90% of the time they are just standing still in the streets. Electric cars have the potential to turn that downside into an upside. Like phones, they are often plugged in to the charger for much longer than is necessary for a full battery. This provides an opportunity.
As mentioned, we now see a huge peak when people come home from work and plug in their car. That peak lasts about two hours, but what if we could postpone it to the nighttime? At 4:00 am the total load on the network is at only 10% of the peak. People go to sleep and leave the car at the charging station – a great time to charge the car.
Smart charging & renewable energy
Saving and returning energy So far, this has been purely about the capacity of the power network. Another way of smart charging is to use renewable energy. There is an abundance of wind and solar energy, and we want to optimize its use. The downside of solar energy is that it is often generated when we do not need it. This contrasts with the traditional power plant, that we can use to generate electricity whenever we want it.
When we can start storing wind and solar energy and later return it to the grid, we will also use it in a smart way.
Making cars part of the ecosystem All cars that are charging at night combined form an enormous battery storage capacity. It would be a shame to only use it for driving. That is why in the near future we will see the car becoming part of the ecosystem. In other words, when the car’s battery is full, it can return energy to the grid. In addition, part of the battery’s capacity can store wind and solar energy, so that it can be used when those sources are not available.
This way of using energy is essential in the current global transition to wind and solar energy. Today solar energy is cheaper than any other form of energy, so that’s not the problem. The problem lies in the fact that we cannot determine when that energy is available. If we can store it, we decide when to use it. Smart charging makes that possible. On the one hand by controlling the speed of use, on the other by retrieving the stored energy when it is needed most.
Smart charging is really a collective term for power management and the use of renewable energy.
Not a problem, but a solution It is already possible to regulate the speed of charging cars. There are also automated control centers that can very quickly absorb a peak in power usage. Should a peak occur in a city, the charging speed of all cars would be cut in half for a moment, so that the demand and supply of energy would remain in balance. If a thousand charging cars drop slightly in their energy consumption, even for just a few minutes, that may be enough not to overload the grid. That too is smart charging.
Due to the limited load capacity of the power grid, the electrification of transport is often seen as a problem, but when we consider the car as a battery that can return energy, it is the solution. Because cars have access to the power grid much longer than necessary, we can do much more with it.
One customized package The future is a car that is connected to the grid, but bi-directional, and therefore also returns power. Energy companies will respond to this by offering their customers packages for both mobility and energy. A person will have an energy contract for the electricity in the house, a number of solar panels on the roof and an electric car with a charging station in front of the house. In exchange, the energy company is allowed to reuse some of that energy in places where it is needed at specific moments. This creates tailor-made forms of subscriptions for all users – people who drive a lot or spend a lot of time at home.
There will be an exchange of services between producer and consumer. Services will converge and it is up to energy companies to find their place in that changing landscape.
The price of electricity also plays a role in this development. A kWh electricity now costs €0.18,- but that price will drop to almost €0,- in the future. The services around it will then determine the price.
Concerns and opportunities Car manufacturers will also want a piece of the pie. Volkswagen will soon be releasing the ID3, the electric version of the Golf, and has founded Electric Life, which will facilitate mobility and electricity for the home. This is an example of a car manufacturer starting to behave like an energy company and that is a development that worries the latter.
But there are also concerns among carmakers. An electric car rarely has to go to the garage. The only things that need to be replaced every now and then are the tires and washer fluid. The manufacturers realize that they are going to lose a share of the market and have to start making money in other ways. They will need to move to offering other types of services, as Volkswagen has already shown.
New business-concepts We will see a power play shaping up in which, for example, an energy company will emerge, or a car manufacturer, or a still unknown disruptive party. But it can also be a mobility party that links all the pieces in the chain together and offers it as one service. In all scenarios a platform is needed, such as that of Last Mile Solutions, that connects all parties.
In short, many new business concepts will emerge. The future will tell who is successful.