Electric vehicle energy storage provides ‘perfect opportunity’ for UK

EXCLUSIVE: The UK's expanding low-carbon vehicle market offers the "perfect opportunity" for businesses to export surplus energy to the grid, according to the new head of electric vehicles (EVs) at the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Matthew Trevaskis has joined the REA to enhance the group’s focus on a range of low-carbon vehicle issues such as the integration of EVs into the hybrid, the development of new infrastructure and the potential for EVs to act as a form of distributed energy storage.

Trevaskis, who is also the founder of independent transport consultancy Ecodrive, told edie he is excited about the future of technologies such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concepts – which provide demand-response services to the power grid. Such developments will allow the UK to unlock renewable generation capacity with an energy store that is available for a high proportion of the time, Trevaskis believes.

“If we are going to truly reduce the carbon impact of the vehicles from well-to-wheel, we need to look at how we source the energy,” Trevaskis said. “A solar panel on a domestic-scale house with an EV – especially when the car is at home during the day or on the weekend – provides the perfect opportunity to create your own fuel.

“On a community and grid level, it is about being able to exert some degree of control when we charge these vehicles to make better use of renewables and increase the renewable capacity on the grid.

“There are some challenges to make all of that work. The sexiest element at the moment is the V2G concept. I say ‘concept’, but it is something that is real – it is being done today in a few small-scale demonstration projects.”

Good opportunities

Trevaskis highlighted Nissan’s V2G project, which will see the Japanese carmaker develop 100 new energy storage units that bring together vehicles, roads and energy networks in “complete synchronicity”. Nissan recently fitted its research and development facilities in Cranfield with its V2G concept, which could generate 180MW of capacity if all 18,000 Nissan EVs in the UK were connected to the network.

While energy experts have suggested the V2G units can “stabilise the grid with green energy” by “transforming” the way that consumers use energy, Trevaskis recognises that technological and price issues currently prevent distributed energy within the vehicle sector from achieving mainstream viability. Nevertheless, he sees opportunities in the convergence of renewable generation with the move towards greater numbers of plug-in vehicles, especially the longer-range yet affordable EVs now coming to market.

“To commercialise [V2G technology] there are some cost barriers,” he added. “It is going to be a while before you drive home and plug your car in and are able to export energy from it. But the market conditions are there to make this work.

“There is even a step before this – we’ve got vehicles coming to the market now like the Renault Zoe, which is the first affordable car, the first non-Tesla, that has a range of 250 miles on a single charge. Most people aren’t going to use that kind of range every day, so you have got the ability to influence a vehicle’s carbon impact just by exerting control over when it charges, whether that’s from local buildings and integrated renewables or community or grid energy. The European statistic is that our vehicles spend 23 hours a day parked on average, so unless you are a taxi there is a good opportunity there.”

The upcoming months will see a surge of integration of EVs into the energy market. German carmarker BMW, for instance, will shortly open up a digital charging service to its Dutch and German markets, which will integrate EVs with national grids and on-site renewable generators. BMW describes its new system as a “holistic product” designed to offer “intelligent charging services” to owners of its BMWi fleet of EVs. Customers can connect their vehicles to charging stations and then manage how and when the vehicle is charged via an online portal or mobile app.

“We’ll see a lot of value-add coming to the market,” Trevaskis said. “The BMW project will exert some control over the charging in response to the consumer being able to say how green they want their vehicle charged. The vehicle Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and other stakeholders will need to come into this space, and more than ever before we are seeing that the vehicle industry and its supply chain isn’t siloed along the fuel supply or energy supply chain.”

Industrial Strategy

Britain’s low-carbon vehicle sector is rapidly evolving; EVs continue to secure a record share of the UK’s car market which faces an uphill battle to reach its 2020 renewable targets. Latest figures show that sales of EVs have almost doubled compared with the first three months of last year, representing more than 1.5% of new vehicle registrations in the UK.

Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in the Spring Budget that EVs would benefit from a new £270m fund aimed at keeping the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies. This followed the 2016 Autumn Statement which outlined £390m of new funding for low-carbon transport, including testing infrastructure for driverless cars and charging points for Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs).

Trevaskis will now be leading the REA’s response to the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee’s new inquiry into policy and infrastructure barriers to EV growth. Trevaskis believes there is a key opportunity provided by the UK’s forthcoming Indiustrial Strategy to bring the automotive, energy and ICT industries together to develop a fully-synchronous, low-carbon vehicle, energy and infrastructure system.

“The UK was an early mover with the launch of the Office for Low-Emission Vehicles… and they are continuing to support the uptake of EVs by offering the purchase grant towards the vehicles and bringing the price down to be on par with conventional equivalents,” Trevaskis said. “That’s a massive opportunity and a massive driver for retail buyers. The passenger car market is now pretty healthy in the UK. There is now also massive opportunities in the light-commercial vehicle sector which hasn’t really been exploited to its full potential yet.

“I would like to see continued investment in the classic EV industry, so the production of vehicles in the UK and the supply chain for tier one and two suppliers. This creates and generate knowledge and expertise, not just for UK-produced vehicles but also for the supply chain for EU vehicles and beyond. It’s going to be about de-siloing these industries.

“There’s lots to be gained from starting to pioneer this cross-sector working. The energy sector working across with the automotive sector. We’re going to see new business models coming out of that. It will change the energy industry. It will move us more rapidly towards a decentralised industry, and a large part of that is going to be down to the IT platforms, Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity.”

Low-Carbon Vehicle Zone at edie Live 2017

The adoption of low-carbon vehicles for company cars and distribution fleets is gaining momentum which the edie Live 2017 exhibition is going to be housing a brand new Low-Carbon Vehicle Zone.

The Low-Carbon Vehicle Zone will showcase some of the latest technologies and solutions from an array of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers throughout the two days of edie Live 2017 at the NEC Birmingham on 23-24 May. 

Find out more about edie Live 2017 and get your free two-day pass here.

George Ogleby

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