Electricity Satnav - Electricity Smart Availability Topology of Network for Abundant electric Vehicles

Lead Research Organisation: Aston University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Applied Science


The infrastructure of our electricity transmission and distribution is undergoing a substantial transformation to facilitate the realisation of a low-carbon economy. One important aspect is that, in low-voltage distribution networks, growing numbers of micro/small-scale distributed energy resources such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are being installed and commissioned. There are also pressing demands for new approaches to intelligently control appliances as a consequence of demand-side management or electrified transportation e.g., electric vehicles (EVs).

Public EV charging points are being installed all over the UK. However, the resources are still very limited in terms of both the number installed and the perceived availability of charging amongst drivers. Meanwhile, distributed renewable sources generate fluctuating power which is not suited to expected patterns of EV charging. For instance, an EV owner may prefer to charge their car at night while the power generated from their rooftop PV panel only provides electricity during daytime. Energy storage is often viewed as the solution to this but it is difficult to justify its costs particularly in the context of domestic usage. Alternatively one can sell PV power to the grid and then purchase power when needed. For example, the feed-in-tariff encourages dispersed power being back-fed into the grid. These options can either cause waste of renewable resources (depending on the energy storage device on-site and efficiency), increase of physical stresses and losses (by increasing currents) in the distribution networks, and potentially be uneconomical for customers due to the price difference.

Speculatively if all houses/vehicles can be used as EV charging resources, apart from charging points owned by network companies, the power imbalance issue and the frustration of EV drivers struggling to find a working charging point could be resolved. This research will investigate the feasibility of such a system which will provide real-time electricity availability information to foster the development of a peer-to-peer decentralised electricity market between micro/small-scale distributed energy generators (e.g. households with PV systems) and EV owners. This opens up the possibility of using the mobility of EV as energy storage for end users and excess electricity generated by households as a source to service the energy demand of EV owners. The proposed system will provide an open price bidding environment based on real-time electricity availability information of surplus power from distributed resources. To realise this a background programme needs to be running in real-time to model low-voltage electricity distribution networks from the distribution network operators (DNO). In this project, detailed network modelling (in both space and time domains) will be generated via graphical auto-identification techniques based on the existing DNO geographic information systems (GIS) and network design manuals. The social feasibility will also be assessed through qualitative and quantitative work to assess potential acceptability and behavioural responses. This idea can provide more flexible EV charging/discharging practices by options of H2V (House-to-Vehicle), W2V (Wind-to-Vehicle), and V2V (Vehicle-to-Vehicle) scenarios. Such a system could lead to a more efficient and flexible way of utilising distributed renewable energy sources and improving EV charging practices. From the DNO's point of view, such a system would also make it easier to manage dispersed renewable generation, mitigate network stresses and reduce the need for network reinforcement.

Planned Impact

This project fits well with the government's plan for renewable energy growth/carbon emission reduction and the low carbon network operation initiative from Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets). In terms of economic benefits to the UK, the development of Smart Grid could lead to approximately £13bn of added gross value between now and 2050; export earnings of £5bn to 2050 if sufficient investment is made [1]. A Government report advocated "the use of power interconnection, energy storage, and demand flexibility", in order to create a greener and more flexible energy system, and includes a call for reduced regulation and a removal of barriers to innovation. Furthermore the proposed project opens up the possibility of using the mobility of electric vehicles in other areas, for example grid support and energy storage, for which the inspired expectations of a global market valued at $250bn or more by 2040 [2].

For the Industry, the resulting EV charging/discharging scheme and market will benefit in reducing reinforcement stresses to the UK distribution network operators, such as Electricity Northwest, Northern Ireland Electricity, Northern Powergrid, Scottish Power Energy Networks, Scottish and Southern Energy, Western Power Distribution, and UK Power Networks. It is estimated that by 2050, Smart Grid will reduce the cost of additional distribution reinforcement needed to accommodate the connection of low carbon technologies such as heat pumps, solar PV and electric vehicles by 20-30% between £2.5bn and £12bn [1]. Local EV manufacturers like Nissan, and BMW would benefit from the learning outcome of this project to better suit their products for future applications.

For individuals, the new open market (as proposed in this project) will enhance the flexibility, optimise renewable power utilisation and reduce the running costs of their low-carbon technologies, which eventually would lead to a reduction in commercial and domestic electricity bills. Potentiavings to consumers can be up to £8bn a year [3]. Moreover, by making the system more flexible it will be less prone to outages, which can be very expensive for sensitive customers. The research would also be beneficial to EV users by achieving a widespread well-visualised available electricity infrastructure with greener energy resources for convenient electrified transportation.

At a social and environmental level, this project is a key enabler towards the Smart Grid development, for which relevant jobs could be boosted by an average of 8,000 during the 2020s rising to 9,000 during the 2030s [1]. This will play a key role in current and future plans for the reduction of greenhouse emissions and improving the security of energy supply, not only in the UK, but internationally. For example, the maximum utilisation of distributed renewable energy with an abundance of either wind or solar can only happen with the development of an open market, which will be contingent on the type of technology proposed in this project. This would be a significant step towards bringing a secure, long-term, affordable supply of sustainable energy to the UK and wider afield. Other advantages include the removal of unsightly transmission lines from view as well as aiding the increase in the deployment of smart meters, which will improve the lives of those living in congested urban environments.

[1] Department of Energy & Climate Change, Smart Grid Vision and Routemap, Feb. 2014
[2] PV magazine - photovoltaic markets & technology, Jun. 2016
[3] Smart power: A National Infrastructure Commission report - GOV.UK, Nov. 2016