It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs).
Not only are we seeing record sales and the launch of exciting new models but there’s also a lot happening behind the scenes to make sure the energy system is ready for the expected surge in EV ownership.
As you might expect, that’s something that Energy UK spends a lot of time thinking about. And with good reason - EVs are going to be a significant new load on the energy system. If that extra power demand isn’t managed properly, it could pose a serious problem. Fortunately, there is already a lot in train to mitigate any issues.
Beyond the frequently technical conversations on addressing energy system requirements, there is another even more important part to this story – the need to ensure that, at the same time as we we deal with the challenges of extra demand, we deliver a good experience to the customer.
EV charging and the home
For most people, the majority of EV charging will be done at home or near to the home. There’s a lot to be said for home charging: it’s convenient - simply a case of plugging in when you arrive home rather than having to visit a petrol station; it’s good value – with tariffs that offer overnight charging for a few pence per kWh; it’s user friendly – with providers offering easy to use apps that offer drivers complete control of their charging; and it’s smart – allowing us to smooth out any peaks in demand thus reducing costs for all consumers.
This makes home EV charging very attractive. At the moment there are around a dozen energy tariffs specifically tailored to EV owners. They offer a range of great perks, from free miles to free or discounted chargepoints, as well as lower overnight energy prices and free public charging subscriptions.
As more products and providers come to the market, we’ll see even greater innovation and competition, which will benefit the customer most of all.
But there are still a lot of complex technical issues to resolve in order to unleash all these potential benefits.
From next year Government will require that all new home chargepoints are smart, which is something that Energy UK has been calling for. As part of that, all chargepoints will have to meet a technical standard that is currently being developed by the British Standards Institution (BSI): PAS 1878.
Although not headline grabbing, getting the technical details right is vitally important. It will determine how easy it is to innovate, whether different devices and systems can “speak” to each other, how secure and robust the system is and whether new products and services can be introduced.
The task that industry faces, working with Government and the regulator, is to join all the dots and enable providers to present a seamless experience for the owner.
The connected home
EVs get a lot of attention because they are becoming the first big, new demand in the home - and because, let’s be honest, people are interested in shiny new cars. But decarbonised heat, including new heating technologies and new business models, are on the way too, adding to the existing markets for battery storage and home generation tech like solar PV.
Each of these technologies offers a great opportunity to reduce emissions, cut energy bills and improve peoples’ day to day lives. Combined they all work together through the connected home.
The connected home only used to exist at technology conferences and in show homes. But all the pieces of the puzzle are slotting into place with the different components now readily available on the market. What’s missing is the demand.
By now it should be clear that there’s plenty going on across policy and regulation to keep us all busy. But what should we be doing next? Or conversely what should we avoid doing right now?
First off, Government’s intention to require all new home chargepoints are smart-enabled is absolutely the right way forward. Making sure that the wider smart device standards coming from BSI are fit for purpose will be key to the success of that. Both are essential to getting smart charging right, which in turn is fundamental to ensuring EVs deliver the best user experience possible and support the smooth operation of the energy system.
Secondly, as we look beyond device-level requirements, we need to be cautious about introducing overly restrictive regulation. Cyber security, interoperability, grid protection and innovation are Government’s key priorities for smart charging, and we believe they’re the right ones. But as with all new technologies, there needs to be room for innovation. We need to carefully consider when the right time for standardisation is and what that will mean for innovation.
At the moment, Government is minded to require that all smart charging communication signals go through the smart metering system. While this has merits it may be premature and could cut off some great opportunities to develop innovative products and services, which will ultimately benefit the customer the most.
Regardless of the approach taken to how smart devices interact with the energy system, we need to get the message across to consumers that smart meters are critical additions to homes and businesses across the country. While smart metering infrastructure might not be the best route for EV smart charging controls, they are an essential part of creating a smarter, digitalised energy system fit for the future and the net-zero target.
Going beyond the convenience of them preventing the need for manual meter readings, we need to get across to consumers that smart meters are part of a much bigger prize and an integral part of decarbonisation - both in the home and across the energy system.
If we are to continue decarbonising at pace while making life better and easier for customers, linking emissions reduction and the need to tackle climate change with smart technology will be the critical next piece of the puzzle.
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