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Implications on the energy system of the transition to ultra-low emission vehicles – LCV2013

lcv-2013-energy-sse-crop.jpg LCV2013 featured a large number of seminars – far too many to summarise – but one seminar that was particularly relevant to the UK’s desired transition to plug-in vehicles was entitled ‘Energy for Transport: Implications on the wider energy system of the transition to ultra-low emission vehicles’.

The cars on show at LCV2013 and the initiatives summarised in our event review show that progress is being made to bring low and ultra-low carbon vehicles to market. However the following is regularly asked about plug-in cars: “What about the energy that is used to charge electric cars? Unless the electricity generation is low carbon, the cars themselves are not genuinely low carbon. And can the UK electricity grid cope with millions of electric cars?” This seminar was designed to discuss the issue of energy for plug-in vehicles.

In terms of the carbon intensity of the grid, many initiatives are underway to make the UK electricity grid lower carbon, such as the increasing amount of renewable energy generated from sources such as wind farms. However large-scale power generation is still required because renewable energy such as wind is intermittent; this means there are significant opportunities for energy storage systems, an area where batteries and hydrogen could have an important role to play.

David Densley, Head of Sustainable Transport at SSE, stressed that there is plenty of generating capacity overall in the UK to power electric cars. The problem is that some local electricity networks may not have the capacity to deal with increased demand on the grid at peak times – such as the charging of a cluster of electric cars if everyone plugged in their cars around 6pm. More work is needed to encourage people to charge their EVs using off-peak electricity.

Smart grids will offer a solution to network reinforcement, and the potential problem with the charging of a cluster of electric cars is being researched through the Ofgem-funded project ‘ My Electric Avenue ’. Dave Roberts, Future Networks Director, EA Technology Europe, and director of the My Electric Avenue project, sat on the seminar’s expert panel and explained that My Electric Avenue is recruiting ten ‘clusters’, each of around ten neighbours, who will drive electric cars for 18 months. Technology will be installed to monitor and control the charging of the electric vehicles and the lessons learnt will be shared as widely as possible. The project is likely to result in a number of interesting learning outcomes, such as people’s views about having the charging of their EVs controlled by a third party in the event of demand on the local network reaching full capacity.