Impact of Smart Charging EVs on the Energy Transition

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently issued its review analysis on the potential and impact of smart charging electric vehicles on the energy transition.

Impact of Smart Charging EVs on the Energy Transition

Today the average car runs on fossil fuels, but growing pressure for climate action, falling battery costs, and concerns about air pollution in cities, has given life to the once “over-priced” and neglected electric vehicle. Looking at real examples, a new report from IRENA, Innovation Outlook: smart charging for electric vehicles, guides countries on how to exploit the complementarity potential between renewable electricity and EVs. It provides a guideline for policymakers on implementing an energy transition strategy that makes the most out of EVs.

With many new electric vehicles (EV) now out-performing their fossil-powered counterparts’ capabilities on the road, energy planners are looking to bring innovation to the garage — 95% of a car’s time is spent parked. The result is that with careful planning and the right infrastructure in place, parked and plugged-in EVs could be the battery banks of the future, stabilising electric grids powered by wind and solar energy.

“EVs at scale can create vast electricity storage capacity, but if everyone simultaneously charges their cars in the morning or evening, electricity networks can become stressed. The timing of charging is therefore critical. ‘Smart charging’, which both charges vehicles and supports the grid, unlocks a virtuous circle in which renewable energy makes transport cleaner and EVs support larger shares of renewables,” said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre.

Smart charging means adapting the charging cycle of EVs to both the conditions of the power system and the needs of vehicle users. “Smart charging is one of the innovations IRENA is closely following that presents multiple benefits. By decreasing EV-charging-stress on the grid, smart charging can make electricity systems more flexible for renewable energy integration, and provides a low-carbon electricity option to address the transport sector, all while meeting mobility needs,” said Gielen. The rapid uptake of EVs around the world means smart charging could save billions of dollars in grid investments needed to meet EV loads in a controlled manner.

IRENA’s analysis indicates that if most of the passenger vehicles sold from 2040 onwards were electric, more than 1 billion EVs could be on the road by 2050 — up from around 6 million today —dwarfing stationary battery capacity. Projections suggest that in 2050, around 14 terra-watt hours (TWh) of EV batteries could be available to provide grid services, compared to just 9 TWh of stationary batteries.

The implementation of smart charging systems ranges from basic to advanced, said Francisco Boshell, an IRENA analyst monitoring the development and implementation of EV strategies around the world. “The simplest approaches encourage consumers to defer their charging from peak to off-peak periods. More advanced approaches using digital technology, such as ‘direct control mechanisms’ may in the near future serve the electricity system by delivering close-to real-time energy balancing and ancillary services,” explains Boshell.

Impact of Smart Charging EVs on the Energy Transition

Impact of charging according to type

It has also become clear that fast and ultra-fast charging is a priority for the mobility sector, however, slow charging is actually better suited for smart charging, as batteries are connected and available to the grid longer. For slow charging, locating charging infrastructure at home and at the workplace is critical, an aspect to be considered during infrastructure planning. Fast and ultra-fast charging may increase the peak demand stress on local grids. Solutions such as battery swapping, charging stations with buffer storage, and night EV fleet charging, might become necessary, in combination with fast and ultra-fast charging, to avoid high infrastructure investments.

Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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