Energy companies have started to respond to the government’s recent announcement of its plans to move the UK to a smarter energy system, with the development of vehicle-to-grid systems. Balancing national energy stores is no easy task; ensuring a steady supply to avoid outages from insufficient power, or surges from surplus electricity being sent into homes. With the UK’s gradual move to renewables, a new challenge is intermittency. At the moment, we don’t have the capacity in battery storage plants to store power for use at peak times. While these are still in production, and even afterwards, the answer could be found in the UK’s growing fleet of electric cars. ‘Vehicle-to-grid’, or V2G charging, means using electric car batteries to help balance supply and demand. As well as saving money for consumers, schemes like this could also potentially help on a national level.
What is V2G?
While cars are parked and not needed overnight, they can be put to a good use as part of a ‘vehicle-to-grid’ system. This is a form of peak load levelling, whereby car batteries are charged at night in order for the National Grid to use the stored electricity at times of higher demand the next day. New technology will allow EV owners to communicate with energy companies through an add-on to their home charging point, and a special app. Participants simply program in the dates and times they need their car to be fully charged, and days when they would like to opt out altogether. When they don’t need to use all the energy stored in your battery themselves, their car battery will contribute to an intelligent charging programme. There’s no real downside for electric car owners, as chargers are getting more and more powerful, and some can recharge in just a couple of hours.
There are mutual benefits to the arrangement; EV owners will earn rewards (dependent on the individual scheme), and eventually the UK could no longer require backup power stations, which we currently rely on at times when demand outstrips supply. This is normally dirty energy at a high price – as power from renewable sources is intermittent and (unless stored in batteries) can only be used as it is created. There is another benefit too; some experts are worried about the impact of an increasing number of EV owners draining power from an already strained National Grid. By encouraging them to charge overnight, when electricity is not in high demand, this problem is countered.
Are there any current V2G schemes in the UK?
From next year, Ovo Energy will offer a new deal to Nissan Leaf owners; those who agree to sign up with them and fit a specially-designed new ‘smart’ home charger will earn cheaper electricity rates by allowing the supplier to control their car batteries overnight. Ovo will take remote control of these car batteries and use them to buy and store electricity while it’s cheap, then sell it back to the Grid later when demand is high. While the details regarding the new tariff’s rates are still to be released, Ovo’s chairman has promised there will be ‘some form of rewards’ for these customers. We could speculate about some examples of what this might mean: a share in the profits via discounted electricity, or free membership to a public charging network, for instance.
We can expect huge changes in the UK’s energy system over the next few years. This is the first tariff of its type, but it won’t be the last! Nissan and Renault are already making similar plans, encouraged by a new 20m government fund for battery storage products. This new give-and-take relationship between energy companies and their customers could really help demand-side management in the UK, as well as hopefully encouraging competition between providers to offer better services (and prices) to consumers. Are electric cars the key to national energy management?
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