What is smart charging and what does it mean for the energy system?

Contrary to popular belief, electric vehicles are not a threat to the electricity grid  vice versa. Thanks to smart charging, EVs are basically big batteries on wheels. But what does that mean in practice? 

 

What is smart charging?

An EU directive on energy efficiency defines smart metering systems as electronic systems with measurement and data transformation functionalities. In plain English, this means that smart charging connects an electric vehicle to a charging device through a data connection, and the charging device to a charging operator through another data connection.

Finland was the first country in Europe to include a definition of smart charging into legislation considering EV charging. Smart charging should enable power measuring in real time and adjusting the power without stopping the charging event.

 

Why should I care about smart charging? 

The energy sector is currently undergoing a transformation. Firstly, renewable energy resources are being exploited increasingly. Renewables are volatile, since wind and sun power are highly dependent on weather. Thus, the energy grid based on renewables cannot answer to spikes in demand very rapidly.

Secondly, the number of electric cars is continuously growing all around the world. At a first glance, EV's may seem like a new form of mass demand for electricity. A concern about the electricity grid sustaining the growth of demand is relevant only if hundreds of thousands of cars are being charged at the same time. Electricity prices would thus rise and the grid should be able to answer to much higher consumption spikes than currently. 

In fact, according to EEA’s calculations, energy demand of electric vehicles will not have a significant impact on the electricity system at least until 2030. Yet, when the number of EV’s rises, especially local grids are affected. All cars cannot be charged simultaneously with high power or the capacity of local grids can overload. However, this is not the only scenario.

We’re moving towards a market where the price of electricity varies hourly. Electric vehicles are a key component in providing stability to the grid, not destabilizing it. This is where smart charging comes in.

 

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How does smart charging work?

As we have already established, electric vehicles are big batteries on wheels. 

Vehicles are often plugged in for a longer time than they actually need to take power in. This leaves room for smart charging: cars can be plugged in, but charged when it is the most efficient, both cost-wise and grid-wise. Charging during low demand periods is much more grid-friendly.

The two figures below demonstrate the advantages of smart charging. Figure A presents electricity consumption when charging is uncontrolled. Figure B introduces the benefits of optimized and smart charging.

A:

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B:

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Source: IEA Electricity well below 2 degrees: from challenges to opportunities 2017

Renewables and electric vehicles are not a threat to practical energy system. These two together create a more flexible energy system than previously and support each other. 

 

Learn more about the future of smart energy systems by downloading our free guide: The EV Disruption.

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