As retrofitting charging stations is more expensive than implementing the infrastructure during the construction stage of a development (on average, £2040 compared to £976 per space), it is positive to see the Government looking to introduce legislation to combat one of the significant barriers to drivers switching to electric.
However, while this would be a game-changer in the shift to net-zero transportation, the charge points pose enormous potential challenges to the electricity distribution networks, and new ways of thinking are needed to decrease the peak load demand created by multiple EVs charging at the same time.
While charge points on all homes with a parking space give the most utility to residents, it also places the greatest burden on the cables and wires distributing power to the estate.
Without control, there is the potential for huge spikes in demand, which could lead to brownouts or, potentially, the failure of distribution equipment that cannot handle the currents running through them.
Many distribution network operators (DNOs) currently discount the possibility that everyone will be charging their cars at a time of peak demand as too unlikely. This means that when calculating the additional reinforcement their networks will need for an EV estate, they sometimes do not provide any additional capacity at all. This allows the network operator to give a more competitive price for a connection but creates a ticking time bomb for developers and drivers alike in the long run.
Smart charging is one solution to this issue. This would connect EV charging into the wider energy system, which means that at times of peak demand, the supply to EV chargers could be reduced, which would help prevent them from becoming a burden on the power grid.
This is like the smart meter in your house being able to turn down the thermostat though, and will require commercial agreements to compensate people who will not get their vehicles charged as fast as they may have wanted.
We have started to see agreements put in place between high-profile house-builders and installers that will facilitate this. These early adopters are already showing how demand spikes can be smoothed, and the cost of network connections can be reduced by shutting down chargers when power is at a premium and turning them back on when demand is lessened.
To reach the UK’s target of becoming net zero by 2050, it is clear renewables must become an integral part of house-building efforts and domestic charging the norm. To support this ambition, there must be minimal impact on the grid; and smart charging, delivered by commercial agreements, should be a priority.