WPD’s innovative Electric Nation project aims to revolutionise domestic EV charging

The Open Networks Project will lay the foundations of a smart energy grid in the UK, bringing together the leading minds in the UK energy industry to transform the way our networks work. The project aims to take a national whole systems thinking approach to meet the challenges faced in the industry to deliver safe and reliable energy in a smart way – responding to the changing needs of the customer, as rapidly developing technologies mean the way all of us use, and source, energy changes.

One of these changes is the rapid growth of the use of electric vehicles. ENA member and Distribution Network Operator Western Power Distribution (WPD) is investigating this through their Electric Nation project. Mark Dale from WPD explains more.

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK is rising rapidly. In September 2017 there were 122,000 EVs (both pure electric and plug-in hybrid) in the UK, equating to around 1.8% of new car sales.  National Grid scenarios show that nine million vehicles could be electric by 2030. This growth, coupled with the long-term UK Government targets for all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040, will lead to increased pressure on our electricity networks. To alleviate, or manage, this pressure from ‘clusters of EVs on our electricity networks at a home and street level, smart charging is destined to play an ever-increasing role.

Managed, or ‘smart’, electric vehicle charging can be described as a ‘system’ that can control the rate and/or time of charging of one or more EVs. We know from My Electric Avenue that when EV numbers reach between 40-70% penetration, one third of local electricity networks across GB will need some form of smart intervention – in order to avoid or defer costly and disruptive upgrade works on our driveways and local roads. This is where the Western Power Distribution Network Innovation Allowance project, Electric Nation, plays a key role. Delivered by collaboration partners EA Technology, DriveElectric, Lucy Electric GridKey and TRL, Electric Nation is revolutionising domestic EV charging.

Electric Nation is engaging 700 EV drivers – making it the largest home smart charging project in the world – and installing a free smart charger with each of those trial participants. The smart charger is made by one of two manufacturers; Alfen or Evolt. Each customer, or trial participant, is fully briefed on signing up to the trial, so that they understand that at some point over the two-year duration of having their smart charger, they will probably experience some degree of having their EV smart charger controlled, using two different systems provided by Greenflux and CrowdCharge; that is, the charge rate will be ramped up or down to mimic a situation where an EV cluster has evolved, and the demand needs to be managed to avoid stress on that particular Low Voltage feeder.

Customers lie at the heart of Electric Nation. It’s really important to the future of smart charging to understand how customers respond to managed charging. Therefore, a condition of joining the trial is that participants must agree to respond to a number of customer research surveys, delivered by Impact Research. Indications from My Electric Avenue were that customers accepted managed charging; the impact is likely to be negligible and they will be able to drive to where they need to go when they wake up the next day. Electric Nation is going one step further and working with a wide range of makes and models of EV (My Electric Avenue worked only with Nissan LEAF drivers), across a range of different battery sizes and charging capacities. Learning around customer acceptance of smart charging will start to come through in 2018.

We have been phenomenally successful with our recruitment into the Electric Nation trials, which is thanks to DriveElectric and its superb engagement with trial participants, managing expectations at every step of the way. Active recruitment has now been put on hold, with new applicants going on a reserve list. We anticipate that the 700th trial participant will be recruited in February 2018, almost six months ahead of schedule.

So, what to look out for from Electric Nation in 2018? Keep an eye out for news on our 700th trial participant, and of course early learning on customer acceptance of EV demand management. A perhaps less well known, but equally important, aspect to the project is the delivery of a Network Assessment Tool being developed by EA Technology. This tool will enable network planners to identify hot spots of EV clusters on potentially problematic networks, and recommend the best available form of smart (or indeed more traditional) form of intervention to help facilitate EV uptake.

To find out more about the Electric Nation project, please visit their website: http://www.electricnation.org.uk/

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