By Nathalie Thomas, Energy Correspondent, Financial Times www.ft.com
Electric vehicles could create as much as 18 gigawatts of extra demand for electricity — the equivalent of the capacity of nearly six Hinkley Point nuclear power stations — at peak times by 2050, according to National Grid.
The operator of Britain’s electricity system has analysed the potential impact on demand at busy times of the day, such as after working hours, if forecasts for rapid growth in electric vehicles by 2050 are realised. Its analysis follows several developments that suggest the growth in electric vehicles might accelerate dramatically over the coming decades, with Volvo Cars announcing last week that every model it makes from 2019 onwards would have an electric motor. France has also set an example to other governments by saying it would ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. National Grid is assuming electric vehicle sales could account for more than 90 per cent of all cars in the UK by 2050, with 1m on Britain’s roads by the early 2020s and as many as 9m by 2030.
However, the company stressed that 18GW of additional demand at peak times would be the most extreme scenario and the burden on Britain’s electricity system could be reduced significantly through technology such as “smart charging”. Smart chargers power up car batteries at times when electricity networks can cope.
Industry experts and operators of local electricity networks, to which the majority of vehicle chargers will be connected, have warned that to avoid costly upgrades to grid infrastructure, drivers will have to become used to the idea they may not always be able to power up their cars immediately.
Dustin Benton, acting policy director at the Green Alliance, a think-tank, said to keep costs down consumers may have to “accept some control over when and how they charge their cars”.
“The government should require smart chargers to be installed which support the grid by default, while ensuring people are able to drive their cars whenever they need them. The alternative is a dumb charging system where everyone charges their car at 6pm, putting huge pressure on the grid. This would be much more expensive and have a higher carbon footprint,” he said.
According to National Grid’s “future energy scenarios” report published on Thursday, 13 July 2017 smart charging could substantially decrease the pressure on the system at peak times, reducing additional demand from electric vehicles to 3.5GW by 2030 from a potential scenario of 8GW of additional demand without the technology.
Marcus Stewart, head of energy insights at National Grid, insisted the report should not cause alarm over potential electricity shortages, however.
“The scenarios are not predictions, but they aim to be a catalyst for debate, decision making and change, and provide transparency to the wider industry,” he said. “This new era of network operation is exciting and manageable, but it’s important there is investment in smart technologies and electricity infrastructure, and a co-ordinated approach across the whole electricity system.”
Electric Nation is trialling a smart charging solution for local electricity networks. Find out more at www.electricnation.org.uk