With little more than about 350,000 electric vehicles on the world’s roads and spread across many markets, the impacts on electric grids are minimal. But with the number of EVs expected to grow significantly over the next decade as technologies improve, prices fall and demand grows, now is the time for policymakers, regulators, and corporate leaders to be proactive to ensure smooth scale-up and integration.
At a roundtable at the recent Fifth Clean Energy Ministerial in Seoul, South Korea, participants agreed that EV integration presents unique challenges and opportunities. If clustered and unmanaged, large-scale EV charging could increase stress on power distribution networks and raise the risk of grid failures. The inherent mobility of EVs can also make it difficult to accurately forecast grid loads and ensure proper assignment of charging costs.
Yet at the interface with power systems, widespread EV integration brings innovative possibilities, such as serving as distributed storage resources, assisting demand management and, when integrated with other distributed energy resources such as solar photovoltaics, comprising an integral part of microgrid systems.
Electric Vehicle adoption - the barriers
Although EVs present a range of opportunities, their wide-scale adoption still faces many obstacles. Furthermore, as EV adoption accelerates, additional obstacles emerge related to the intersection of two very different sectors: personal transport and power.
Adoption: The current deployment of EVs is relatively low in all countries. Thus, successful EV-power system integration first requires overcoming barriers to EV adoption, such as the high up-front acquisition costs for EVs, concerns about battery life, and consumer “range anxiety”.
Business case: In many markets, EV sales are the result of significant subsidies (for both vehicle and charging infrastructure) that may not be sustainable for long-term growth. With increased EV deployment comes the need for more charging infrastructure, particularly public charging options. In addition, EV discussions may be focused too much on four-wheel cars, ignoring the opportunities offered by two- and three-wheel EVs as well as public transportation options, such as buses.
Technical: EV batteries are a maturing technology but still face hurdles such as limited life cycles. In controlled charging and reverse flow (vehicle-to-grid) applications, battery warranty concerns may arise. Battery charging also presents technical challenges at larger scales with clustered charging in residential neighborhoods potentially able to result in localized electric system congestion or overload.
Policy: As the rate of EV deployment increases, a range of policy and regulatory challenges will be raised. Though EVs and electric grids are increasingly “smart,” the policy, regulatory, and tariff frameworks under which they operate are often entrenched in earlier technological paradigms. This slowness to adapt further reflects the lack of experience among grid regulators in addressing EVs at a time when appropriate incentives and mandates should be put in place to manage EV charging. Further, regulators must work with stakeholders to address management of data related to EV location and time clustering.
Recommendations to accelerate EV deployment and grid integration
● Integrate planning, technological innovation, and investment to ensure that EVs do not stress the grid and that full benefits to both EVs and power systems are achieved. A holistic approach can transform EV integration from “just another challenge” to a genuine source of opportunity.
● Support development of international standards, protocols, and interoperability for EVs and EV supply equipment. These are important enablers of EV-power system integration that can boost competition and trade, lower costs, and promote more consumer uptake of EVs.
● Encourage and enable greater interaction between the power and personal transport sectors – in particular between grid regulators and equipment manufacturers. The regulators should play a central role in the broader rollout and grid integration of EVs.
● Capture and share lessons learned as innovative technologies, business models, and regulatory frameworks are piloted or demonstrated. Leveraging experience and accomplishments can set the groundwork for replication of proven EV-power system integration ideas in multiple markets.