By Steve Baynes
With the continuously increasing price of gasoline, growing concerns over dependence on foreign oil and national security and the mandated commitments to progress towards the EU’s 20-20-20 Energy & Climate strategy targets of emissions, renewable resources and energy efficiency by 2020, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming an increasingly attractive opportunity to address these issues. Grid-connected EVs are defined as vehicles powered fully or partially by an electric motor, which is in turn powered by a battery charged by connecting to the electrical grid (M.J. Bradley & Associates, 2013). The EV market in Europe currently comprises a minute percentage of the estimated 250 million passenger vehicles, although industry analysts expect this to change dramatically in the coming years as sales of EVs are projected to jump from around 37,000 and 0.7% market share in 2012 to nearly 827,000 and 4% market share by 2020 (Pike Research, 2012). According to individual Member States’ plans, around 9 million total EVs are expected to be driving EU’s roads by 2020 as progress is made on the three main large scale roll-out barriers of high vehicle costs, low consumer acceptance levels due to range limitations, and lack of charging stations (Europa, 2013). Obviously, with any emerging technology, there are various opportunities and challenges present and these will differ between Member States according to consumer attitudes, national policies, and local power supply mixes, although the growing questions of electrical grid generation and capacity, smart grids, and demand response are now coming to the forefront of the EV debate.
Diagram 1: Total EVs, % of global EVs, and non-residential charging stations (EVSE) in selected EU countries (Source: OECD/IEA, 2013).
Batteries, Range & Charging
Two of the most common consumer acceptance challenges inhibiting the widespread roll-out of EVs in the EU, and globally, has been “range anxiety” due to battery limitations and the associated lack of charging stations. Range anxiety, generally understood as the fear of being stranded by the side of the road with a dead battery, is an understandable yet increasingly unnecessary consumer fear. While the Nissan LEAF’s driving range is about 1/5th that of comparable internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles at around 100 km, the validity of these range concerns are increasingly scrutinized where recent research claims the average daily driving distance in 6 of the most populous Member States does not exceed 60 km (OECD/IEA, 2013; EC JRC, 2012). Whether perceived or real, significant progress has been made towards these issues of battery costs (price per kWh has halved in the past 4 years) and driving ranges through intense public and private R&D investments.
Directly corresponding to range anxiety the other major limitation to public support of EVs is the lack of public vehicle charging infrastructure, perhaps the most urgent need in all EV markets, which is being addressed at the EU- and Member State-levels. The European Commission is hoping to facilitate the expected rapid market growth and end the ongoing EV-infrastructure, chicken vs. egg debate by their recent proposal of guaranteeing a minimum of 800,000 publically available charging stations across the EU by 2020 as part of the new €8 billion Clean Power for Transport package (EC, 2013). Additionally, the Netherlands is leading the way by promising to construct the world’s largest national network of EV fast-charging stations, with over 200 stations capable of charging EVs in 15-30 minutes by 2015 (ABB, 2013). Other present charging-related questions in the EU are the benefits of residential/workplace charging vs. public charging stations, financial costs and electrical demand of fast-charging vs. slow-charging, and standardisation and interoperability of fast-charging infrastructure to ensure compatibility and increased consumer confidence in EV technology. It is becoming apparent that both the Commission and national governments are starting to show support for the mass deployment of EVs through publically financed infrastructure investments, supportive policies and financial incentives, but further research is needed to realize potential synergies between the development of smart grid infrastructure and EV charging.
Diagram 2: Vehicle sales by electrified drivetrain, European Markets: 2012-2020 (Source: Pike Research, 2013).
Emissions Reductions resulting from Electricity Supply Mix
At the end of the day, EVs are only as “green” as the sources of electricity supplying their power. This has been one of the strongest criticisms against the mass-production and deployment of EVs because potential GHG emission reductions are almost entirely dependent on local electricity generation sources, whether they’re charged from distributed solar generation on nearby rooftops or coal power plants hundreds of kilometres. Nonetheless, by 2015 it is projected that the Nissan LEAF, the EU’s best-selling EV to date, would emit only 20 g CO2/km in nuclear-rich France, 114 g CO2/km in fossil-rich UK and 86 g CO2/km on average in the EU (Pike, 2012). Comparatively, for ICE passenger vehicles the EU has legislated significant future emissions reductions, with manufacturer’s fleet averages required to emit 130 g CO2/km by 2015 and 95 g CO2/km by 2020 (EC, 2012). When comparing these numbers with the LEAF’s, it is easy to argue that a mix of low GHG-emitting electricity generation sources, such as renewable energy sources (RES) and nuclear, coupled with a high uptake of EVs would significantly lower CO2 emissions in the EU transport sector. Conversely, the emissions reductions benefits of EVs are immediately lost when high GHG-emitting electricity generation sources, such as coal and other fossil power plants, are used for vehicle charging. Therefore, the large scale roll-out and planned market growth of EVs in the EU needs to be developed in coordination with a progressive expansion of sources with low GHG emissions per kWh to the electricity generation profile and concentrate on improving the energy efficiency and emissions controls on currently operating fossil power plants. Responsible governmental policies will be required to ensure pollution is not simply moved from tailpipes to power plants. Lastly, further research is needed into the compatibility between large scale nuclear dependence for base and peak load demand and high RES penetration providing intermittent supply.
Smart Charging through the Smart Grid
“Smart Charging” can be defined as a controlled charging process that optimises the use of the grid and the available electrical energy to minimise additional investments in the grid and facilitate the integration of RES (Eurelectric, 2011). Smart charging is the intersection of the mass deployment of EVs and the coordinated modernization to smart electricity grids across the EU; it will be necessary to ensure these two growth markets develop in a mutually beneficial and synergistic manner. Two essential components of a smart charging network include demand response (including dynamic pricing and feedback) and information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, such as smart meters, that maximize RES usage, grid efficiency and economic savings for customers and utilities. The European electricity industry states smart charging through coordinating and managing loads is indispensable and will: Facilitate the integration of RES in the electricity generation mix, especially distributed generation; enable grid management that introduces system flexibility; optimize the efficient use of electricity generation capacity; ensure a cost-effective solution through avoiding unnecessary grid investments; and, maximise consumer convenience through the use of available infrastructure (Eurelectric, 2011). Considering the long list of benefits through implementing smart charging techniques possible due to smart meters, the installation of private charging points should be coordinated with smart meter roll-out plans to maximize synergies and benefits.
Interestingly, evidence shows that EVs charged only during off-peak periods reduce GHG emissions and the average cost of power for utilities, because energy sales increase while the use of untapped off-peak capacity fixed costs remain largely the same, giving credibility to the concept of smart, time-of-day charging strategies (M.J. Bradley & Associates, 2013). EVs have the potential to further reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions through load balancing/shifting generator impact and providing ancillary vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services during smart charging, where (ideally inexpensive) batteries can be utilized for spinning reserves, frequency regulation and energy storage to address peak load (M.J. Bradley & Associates, 2013). While these strategies are in their infancy, they will undoubtedly play a more influential role in smart grid management and lowering GHG emissions as EVs approach mass market penetration. Before these mass market conditions occur, it is anticipated that the feasible market share of electric vehicles is projected to not exceed 5-10% before 2020 and demand management techniques have the potential to facilitate a large deployment of PEVs without the need for upgrading generation capacity and network distribution (Eurelectric, 2011; Sisternes, 2010).
Finally, joint deployment of EVs with Smart Grid systems can optimize EV charging through combining real-time customer information (battery level and driving needs) with real-time grid information (current load, RES supply, dynamic prices), avoiding potentially negative grid impacts. To research this joint deployment and harmonisation strategies, The U.S. DOE and European Commission recently opened the Electric Vehicle - Smart Grid Interoperability Centre at the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago focusing on the emerging EV and Smart Grid technologies, complemented by the launch of European Interoperability Centres in Italy and Netherlands by 2014 (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013). It seems governments are also beginning to realize that the future of EVs and Smart Grids are deeply interconnected in the EU.
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