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Can The National Grid Meet the Demand of the UK's Electric Vehicle Market

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 2986 words Published: 7th Jun 2021

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Global warming is an increasing problem and will continue to be one of the biggest issues faced by society. We can already see the impact of global warming through climate change, resulting in the global average surface temperature increasing, rising sea levels, and extreme weather conditions to name a few.  With big plans for the UK to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the next 30 years will see drastic changes to target carbon dioxide, as it contributes to 81% of overall greenhouse gas emissions in the UK (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2019). New technologies will be introduced to prevent and remove carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere, counterbalancing the equivalent amount that is emitted by human activity. ( Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and The Rt Hon Chris Skidmore, 2019). With transport accounting for nearly ¼ of CO2 emissions in the UK, the market for electric vehicles is also expanding (Schwanen, 2019). Analysis from IRENA suggests that with the majority of vehicles sold from 2040 being electric, its estimated that more than 1 billion electric vehicles would be deployed by 2050 (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). Although in hindsight electric vehicles seem a profitable alternative to diesel and petrol run vehicles, there are factors to consider when encouraging growth in this industry. At the moment it is favourable for many to stick to fuel cars due to electric cars being more expensive to buy and insure, as well as the inconvenience of the lack of charging points and time taken to charge the cars. Moreover, it is very important for the National Grid to plan for the increased electricity consumption as this may cause significant challenges for the distribution network. A shift from fuel to electric vehicles is critical in order to reach the UK’s net zero target, therefore there are many steps that need to be implemented to make them a feasible alternative (Schwanen, 2019).

Generation Capacity and Infrastructure

Electric cars are a cleaner alternative to petrol and diesel cars as they emit no carbon dioxide emissions, helping to reduce air pollution. However, the integrity of electric vehicles being a zero-carbon solution to the problem we face against CO2 emissions in the transport industry is still questionable. This falls into the hands of the distribution network and its composition, as we can only define an electric car to be zero-carbon if its battery is charged from a renewable energy source. (Muneer, et al., 2017). With this being said, even if all charging points for electric vehicles used electricity produced by renewable sources, there is still a considerable amount of CO2 being produced during the industrial process. Manufacturing the vehicle in general and the shipment to the customer all contribute to its carbon footprint, meaning it cannot be labelled as a method of zero-carbon transport (Schwanen, 2019).

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It is important to plan for the shift in composition of electricity generation in the UK as the market for electric vehicles expands. As it stands, the UK is still heavily dependent on using unrenewable sources for electricity generation, whereas renewables account for less of the national grid. Although the UK has managed to reach a record of renewables providing 40% of electricity in the latter part of this year, it means the grid still mostly comprises of electricity from finite resources like fossil fuels and coal (Ambrose, 2019). Therefore, a rise in the use of electric cars means the distribution network will see an increasing demand for renewable energy sources, as a higher quantity will need to be readily available at charging points across the nation (Muneer, et al., 2017). In contrast, it can be said that the national grid has enough electricity from renewable sources to deal with the increase in electric cars, however it cannot deal with them charging simultaneously. Most people are likely to charge their cars during the evening, so this could prove to be very problematic. There are ways that the distribution of electricity can be managed to deter this from being an issue (Priday, 2018). Smart charging is a new initiative that works by adjusting the charging cycle of electric vehicles to the conditions of the national grid and the consumer’s needs. One concept of smart charging is V1G (unidirectional controlled charging), which works by varying the charging rate of the vehicles in relation to the overall demand ( International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). V2G (Bidirectional Vehicle to Grid) is another method to control electricity distribution at peak consumption. It enables plug in vehicles to discharge energy back into the grid to help supply at times of peak demand. For example, energy in a parked car can be considered as useless. Therefore, by feeding this energy back into the grid, it can be distributed accordingly to fit the demand (Hussain & Lee, 2016). Proposed incentives to urge people to charge their electric vehicles during off-peak hours would also make an impact. Representatives of the National Grid believe that with flexible charging, only half of the estimated quantity of additional generation would be required to meet the demand (Coyne, 2018).

Distribution grids are not built to cope with the frequent fluctuations in load that electric vehicles will cause if they become more widely used. Issues would begin to arise such as power loss, voltage deviation, and the quality of power will become progressively worse. Factoring in the increased demand for generation from renewable sources that comes with this expected growth, the network would face significant challenges (Yang, et al., 2015). However, the national grid adopts a smart energy system that enables the integration of electric vehicles into the distribution network, aiming to relieve the foreseen problems (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). Smart grids are advanced distribution networks that use modern technology to transfer information between utility and the consumer. Devices called smart meters have been introduced into UK homes to gather real time measurements for domestic electricity and gas usage. This data is displayed on a digital screen so the consumer can control household energy consumption, and the information is also transferred to the supplier through a wireless network (National Grid, 2019). It favours the grid in two ways; it gives the ability to measure and monitor electricity consumption to ensure generation capacity is sufficient, as well as the purpose of managing demand side response programmes (Kabalci & Kabalci, 2019).

Vehicle to grid is a demand side response initiative to allow bidirectional movement of electricity between the grid and the vehicle (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). It essentially creates more available distributed energy storage devices by enabling plug in vehicles to sell unutilized electricity back to the national grid. This adds to improve the efficiency and reliability of the distribution network, ultimately increasing the performance of the national grid (Habib, et al., 2014). By discharging at peak times of consumption and charging at times of low demand, V2G systems aim to level the peak load and produce a smaller difference between peak and off-peak demand (IEEE Std, 2003). For uncoordinated charging, an electric vehicle penetration rate of 50% or above would cause network voltages to go beyond the deviation limit of 7%. Whereas with the use of V2G, network voltages fall within the acceptable voltage tolerances (Li, et al., 2012). In contrast, some studies disagree with the need for V2G as they claim electric vehicle charging doesn’t impose a remarkable impact on the network voltage. Experimental results indicate that network voltage drops due to charging of electric vehicles falls within the limits given in the standards, and voltage deviations are less than 1%. Instead, overloading was the predominant observation found in the experiment. However, it should be recognised that the simulation performs better and can be used more easily for further ancillary services in comparison to electric vehicle charging stations (Farkas, et al., 2013). Unidirectional controlled charging is another core initiative for smart charging. It works by adapting the rate of charging to fit with the current network distribution demand (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). V1G technology can be accomplished by adding a communication component to existing charging points (Sortomme & El-Sharkawi, 2011). It manages the vehicles charging process by regulating the charging rate with regards to energy scheduling. Energy scheduling encourages electric vehicle owners to charge during off-peak hours and to restrict from charging during peak time periods by introducing incentives for the consumer (Fasugba & Krein, 2011).

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As an incentive to encourage consumption of electric vehicles within the UK, the government has proposed a plan to ensure all future new-build homes with a car parking space are built with a charging point too. This makes it more convenient for the driver to charge their electric vehicle, furthermore adding to the appeal ( Department for Transport, Office for Low Emission Vehicles, and The Rt Hon Chris Grayling, 2019). Another government run incentive is the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, which offers a grant equal to 75% (capped at £500) towards the cost and installation of one charge point for eligible vehicles (Office for Low Emission Vehicles, 2019). The provision of home charge points facilitates another form of bidirectional controlled charging called V2H (Vehicle to Home). The purpose of V2H is to utilise electric vehicles as a back-up residential power supply during an outage ( International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019). When combined with photovoltaic electricity generation, plug in vehicles form a small microgrid that is capable of providing a substantial quantity of power when necessary (Shin & Baldick, 2017). Additionally, homes with photovoltaic panels can essentially become self-sufficient when charging their vehicle, taking the stress off of the national grid and saving the consumer money in the long run. Furthermore, photovoltaic panels cannot store the electricity produced so electric vehicles can act as an energy store by holding surplus electricity in its battery. This can potentially be discharged back to the grid when required (Golshannavaz, 2018). However, a possible issue with this is that electric vehicles are likely to be charged overnight when there is no sun to generate electricity. Therefore, this is problematic unless the homeowner installs a home battery system to store solar energy that is produced during daylight hours (Driving Electric, 2019).


As discussed, there are conflicting arguments for whether the UK’s national grid has the generation capacity sourced from renewables big enough to cope with the predicted growth in the electric vehicle market, and if not, the best method to manage this. Some sources suggest that the construction of more renewable energy sites is the only way to manage the increasing demand. However, other sources state that the grid would be able to handle this uptake with the implementation of flexible charging incentives. Furthermore, it can be said that the most efficient management method is the execution of demand side response schemes. They control the problem with generation capacity, as well as the load fluctuation that an uptake in electric vehicles would cause. The smart technology of the national grid enables unidirectional and bidirectional controlled charging systems such as V1G, V2G and V2H to work successfully in benefitting the consumer and the distribution network. However, in difference of opinion, some researchers say that network voltage remains unaffected by electric vehicle charging. Although, the accuracy of these experiments can be questioned with regards to realness compared to a real-life scenario. The introduction of government incentives to encourage home charging gives rise to the concept of V2H, which together with photovoltaic panels means charging becomes self-sustaining, and electric vehicles can act as a storage of free electricity. This becomes a problem when considering the majority of electric cars will be charged during hours of little sunlight. In conclusion, the capacity of electricity from renewable sources in the UK has been, and will continue to, increase with provision of renewable energy infrastructures to target global warming. Therefore, this increase in generation capacity alongside demand side response systems should be sufficient to accommodate the growth in the market for electric vehicles.


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