The government and Ofgem recently published their joint Electric Vehicle Smart Charging Action Plan, described as a “roadmap for unlocking the enormous potential of smart charging”.   

Smart charging is an intelligent and automated system which harnesses energy use data and other technology innovations to instruct electric vehicles (EVs) to charge and discharge at specific times in response to the levels of demand / generation in the electricity system. There are two levels of smart charging:

  • Demand side response, which delays the power demand of EVs plugged in to charge so that they draw power from the grid during off-peak periods or at times of abundant renewable power generation.
  • Vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, bidirectional smart charging capability which will enable EV batteries to act as additional storage capacity, helping to balance the system by charging while electricity is cheaper and selling electricity back to the grid to meet demand during periods of higher consumption.

Although demand side response technologies are reasonably well established – and in fact all new charge points sold for private use since July 2022 have been required to have a certain level of smart functionality – V2X technology is at an earlier stage of development and will require significant investment.

One of the key focuses of the Action Plan is ensuring that consumers see the benefits of smart charging – delaying EV charging to off-peak periods will allow EV drivers to pay less to charge their vehicles, and in future bidirectional charging would give drivers the option to return that cheaper electricity to their home or sell it back to the grid during peak times if not fully consumed by the EV. The Action Plan reports as a headline figure that “high mileage” EV drivers could save up to £1,000 a year through smart charging (although the saving is expected to be closer to just £200 for drivers with an average mileage).

Smart charging will also reduce electricity prices for the country as a whole. It is anticipated that by 2030, when sales of new petrol and diesel cars are to stop, there will be up to 10 million EVs in use, representing a very significant proportion of the UK’s total electricity demand. Ofgem recognises in the Action Plan that major investment and upgrade is required to ensure that our energy networks are prepared for the increased electricity demand: significant smart charging capacity would go some way towards reducing the need for additional generation and grid capacity, reducing network upgrade costs and consequently lowering prices for everyone.

There are challenges that the government will need to overcome to unlock the benefits, including:

  • Cyber security and grid stability risks inherent in integrating smart energy assets. The Action Plan anticipates new regulations and standards to ensure safety and security.
  • Tackling the challenge of consumer access for those without off-street parking.
  • Ensuring that consumers are educated and sufficiently incentivised by the financial rewards available so that they actively participate.

To accompany the Action Plan, the government announced a £16 million funding pot available from the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio for innovative technologies that seek to harness the potential of smart charging. This is expected to include projects like “smart” lampposts, enabling smart charging on the move, and technologies that will enable the integration of domestic appliances into the smart charging network.

For any queries on how these reforms and technologies are likely to impact projects you are working on, please do contact Charlotte Robinson or Brian Wong

The future of mobility infrastructure including these issues and more will be explored at the Interchange conference at The Vox, Birmingham on 18 and 19 April 2023 where Burges Salmon sponsors the Energy Hub.