We welcome the Government’s ten point plan, announced yesterday, to reach Net Zero by 2050, particularly the significant investment in renewable generation and electric vehicles (EVs). The target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2030 provides a focal point to push EVs and the development of their supporting technology and infrastructure forward. But how can the energy system adapt to support the changes ahead? The answer lies in digital technology that can optimise the use of energy in real-time.
Origami has recently contracted to enable two Vehicle-to-Grid projects in the UK, including SSE Enterprise Bus2Grid project, the UK’s largest Vehicle-to-Grid site. As an energy technology company, these projects are a wonderful opportunity for us to learn more about the practicalities of EV charging and to demonstrate that smart control of EVs and vehicle-to-grid have a critical part to play in achieving Net Zero. At Origami we believe it will be the optimisation of renewables, grid scale storage and EVs together, in real-time, that will enable a successful energy market transition.
Full speed ahead? The need for technology There is widespread consensus that electrification of transport is a necessary enabler to decarbonisation and improved air quality. And while electric vehicles still make up the minority of new car sales (5% in 2020), growth is accelerating.
While the Government’s 2030 target is undoubtedly motivating, Origami believes that continued acceleration will hinge on the ability of energy suppliers and network operators to embrace more and more electric vehicles, motivated by the potential value of their flexibility as an energy storage source. EV-friendly tariffs and electricity network access are vital to underpin the improving cost-effectiveness, carbon intensity and range of EVs, but energy companies need the tools and experience to back this up – as recognised by the increasing number of innovation projects and commercial initiatives in this space.
The challenges and opportunities of “batteries on wheels”
Within the energy industry, EVs are often referred to as “batteries on wheels”. While it is true that EVs and stationary batteries share many characteristics (including the underlying chemistry), there are some important differences:
Where they are. Home charging is critical to widespread growth but connecting EVs to the Low Voltage network will become more and more challenging. We simply don’t have the money or time to dig up every residential street in the UK to lay more cables. On the flip side, it is precisely this geographical distribution that means smart control of EVs can support parts of the network that big stationary batteries can’t. Ultimately the long-term value of managing EVs may be as much about managing local network utilisation as providing national balancing services
Their scale. It is likely that by 2030 there will be millions of EV charge points across the UK. By contrast, if all the grid-scale batteries in planning were built, we would have 250 in total. Managing EVs at scale will require low-cost connectivity, interface standardisation and tools to intelligently present and automate control decisions
People drive them (at least for now). Vehicles have a human element that can be complicated. We don’t use our vehicles identically or entirely predictably. Drivers are unlikely to accept any reduction in convenience, at least without significant incentive.
How can we address these challenges and harness the potential contributions EVs present for decarbonising our energy systems? The answer lies in AIoT and specifically in real-time energy optimisation technology.
Intelligent distributed networks of EVs… and everything else
While innovation projects understandably focus on managing EV charging and discharging, Origami believes that their full potential will only be unleashed when integrated into wider operational and commercial decision-making. As wind and solar have grown in importance, traders who once managed large power plants within predictable markets are increasingly managing a more diverse and volatile portfolio close to real-time. For both commercial and environmental reasons, it is critical that EV management does not become another stove pipe of the electricity system and that data and decisions can be joined up across technologies. To run an efficient system, the behaviour of an individual charge point should be informed not just by market signals and the charge point user, but by an understanding of local and national context, including renewable generation forecasts, availability of other charge points and the requirements of network operators.
This joining up of decision-making is simpler to propose than achieve. It requires integrating systems from different vendors, having accurate forecasts of generation and demand, tools to help prioritise and simplify decision-making and an ability to handle a huge diversity of physical end-points, each with their own interfaces, user constraints and network position. Markets will not wait, so ultimately these decisions and their underlying data need to be processed in real-time.
Projects such as Bus2Grid allow us to learn by doing. They complement the experience that technology providers such as Origami have acquired through building software for commercial operation of grid-scale batteries. Breakthroughs in machine learning and optimisation – both localised and centralised – need to be brought to bear.
Ultimately the challenges facing the energy and mobility sectors are too large and changeable for a single one-size fits all solution. We believe that the answers lie in modular, interoperable software solutions which enable real-time optimisation across energy portfolios and unlock opportunities for innovation across the industry. This is the contribution to Net Zero targets that Origami are setting out to make. We’re all on this journey together, and we’re just getting started. Find out more about Origami’s real-time energy optimisation software here.  Battery EVs from SMMT (Jan-Sep 2020): https://www.smmt.co.uk/vehicle-data/evs-and-afvs-registrations/