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Vehicle-to-grid: Oxfordshire study could mean power from electric vehicles is used to balance supply 

 6 mins | By Karen David
 | Automotive | Sustainability | Dec 6th 2019

Parked commercial electric vehicles (EV’s) could be used to help balance electricity supply on the UK’s energy network. Oxfordshire County Council is taking part in a national scheme to test the feasibility of vehicle-to-grid power management. This would involve EV’s delivering power from their batteries back into the national grid when they are plugged in for charging, helping to prevent the network from becoming stressed at peak times.

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The V2GO (Vehicle-to-Grid Oxford) project has been set up to evaluate the business case for the use of commercial EV’s, the potential benefits of smart-charging technologies, and the commercial viability of vehicle-to-grid as a means of balancing electricity supply.

It is hoped vehicle-to-grid could become an important part of balancing electricity supply and demand, as power from vehicles would help provide a stable source of energy in an increasingly varied and unpredictable environment (see panel).

Oxfordshire County Council, as one of the scheme’s partners, is working with fleet owners with depots in Oxfordshire to gather data on driving patterns.

Paul Gambrell, team leader, EV integration at Oxfordshire County Council says: “We’re trying to show that there is a future for vehicle-to-grid. So far, it has been proven as a means of providing back-up power in emergency situations in Japan and in projects in other parts of the world.

“If we can prove the concept works, we would like to see it rolled out more widely as part of our push to lower carbon emissions.”

Dr Toon Meelen, researcher at Oxford University Transport Studies Unit, which is carrying out the study as one of the partners, explains the study wanted to include “companies and fleets that were as diverse as possible and with different operational needs, to see how their vehicles might respond to vehicle-to-grid.”

Around 300 vehicles are involved in the data-gathering phase, many of them 3.5 tonne vans. Tracking devices, supplied by CleanCar, are fitted to vehicles which return to their depots each night and they log metrics such as mileage and dwell times. The fleet owners taking part include regional SME’s, supermarkets and bus companies.

CleanCar tracking device. Pic: Karen David

Although the V2GO project is just half way through the data gathering phase, the trackers are already revealing patterns of behaviour and usage which the fleet owners are finding useful.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about vehicle-to-grid and how it can be applied,” says Meelen. “The main reason companies want to take part is to know more about their vehicles and how they use them.

“This is particularly the case for smaller companies who might not have so much information about how their vehicles are running, so it’s harder for them to assess the technology. For example, we are targeting vehicles which are returning to their depot every night, so we are discovering what percentage of the fleets do that and at what times.”

When the data-gathering phase completes in 2020, bi-directional charge points supplied by EO Charging will be installed at selected fleet owners’ premises, and electric vans will be trialled. Up to 100 vans will be tracked for power use and tested for their ability to return power to the energy network when stationed on charge overnight.

Arrival e-van. Pic: Arrival

Oxfordshire County Council will use the data to build a geospatial model to run scenarios testing the scheme in various environmental and economic conditions. It will also be used to demonstrate the benefits of V2G adoption.

One of the first fleet owners to sign up for V2GO is Oxford Office Furniture. The furniture supplies firm already has five EV’s and a sixth on order. Four of these are 40kW Nissan e-NV200 Evalia electric vans for local deliveries. These are travelling around 140 to 150 miles a day, the equivalent of three or four journeys daily between Bicester and Oxford, on one charge. All are now fitted with CleanCar trackers.

Nissan e-NV200 Evalia vans. Pic: Oxford Office Furniture

The firm’s co-founder and managing director Dave Beesley explains the fleet are returned to the depot by around 4pm each day, peak time for the National Grid. They are programmed to start charging  when the night-time tariff kicks in, to be ready for 7am the following morning. With vehicle-to-grid, they could discharge their remaining power to the grid at 4pm and recharge as normal by morning.

Beesley sees the scheme as an important step towards helping to lower carbon emissions and is dismissive about the potential risk of increased costs due to battery degradation:

“We are working with Oxfordshire County Council on how to get the charge back into the network, then bring it back to our vehicles overnight,” he says.

“When people warn I might lose money, I say it’s not about money. If we can do something that can help the future for our children and their children, we have to embrace it. If we can do our bit towards making it better, it’s got to be right.”

Oxford Office Furniture is seeing an uptick in interest in its use of EV’s for deliveries. Oxford University college Lady Margaret Hall will only take delivery by EV. The firm is also working in partnership with Saïd Business School, which has its name on the vehicles.

Beyond the V2GO study, Oxford Office Furniture will be the first to test V2G in Oxfordshire, and is planning to install three chargers by Nuvve in February 2020 that will return power to the grid.

V2GO is one of 21 projects under way around the UK as part of a £30m vehicle-to-grid scheme funded by Innovate UK. In Oxford the V2GO consortium includes EDF Energy R&D UK, Oxford University, Oxfordshire County Council, Arrival, EO Charging, Upside Energy and Fleet Innovation. For more information, see v2go.org.

Vehicle-to-grid – helping power supply to meet demand

How the demand and supply of power is to be managed as EV’s take off is high on the national agenda for policymakers and energy suppliers. From 2018 to 2019, registrations of EV’s jumped 158 per cent, according to figures from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. As petrol and diesel vehicle registrations are on the decline, alternative fuel vehicles, which includes hybrids, now make up 13.4 per cent of the total.

 

Vehicle registrations by fuel type, October 2019 and year to date. Supplied by Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

Fast forward five or ten years and, if every EV owner switched on at the same time of the day, the distress on the energy network could be colossal. Load balancing strategies will be needed to optimise the grid’s capacity to deliver, requiring cooperation between all market players – fossil fuel and renewables energy providers, the electricity companies that operate the grid, and retailers who supply consumers.

Vehicle-to-grid could be an important part of balancing electricity supply and demand, as power from vehicles would help provide a stable source of energy in an increasingly varied and unpredictable environment.

In today’s market, electricity demand tends to drop off in the middle of the night and low night-time tariffs encourage consumers to store electricity at night-time. But, as more power is supplied from renewable sources, the optimum time for charging may coincide with bright sunny mornings or windy afternoons. Software that matches supply and demand can help provide the load balancing to make efficient use of generators and distribution systems. Drawing power from parked vehicles could provide sources of power at predictable levels and times of day.

 

About the Author

Karen David

An Economics graduate, Karen has a long career in media relations across the technology, finance and creative sectors.

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