We discuss future EV charging needs and solutions with EV charging software company, ev.energy

During EV:NEXT 2023 [a UK trade show], one of the leading EV smart charging software specialists, ev.energy, highlighted a new EV charging solution. Their new solution has been designed for wide applications – apartments, fleets, and workplaces. It offers a range of benefits designed to enhance accessibility and streamline EV charging.

At the event, discussion focused on the role that EVs and smart charging have in providing energy flexibility to the UK’s national grid. The panel agreed that by 2040, through unlocking bi-directional charging in 25% of homes, EVs could be giving more energy to the grid than they remove – at peak times.

We spoke to William Goldsmith, Head of Grid and Data Services, ev.energy, to learn more about the companies solutions and what this means for the National Grid.

Just Auto (JA): Could you tell me a little bit about the company?

William Goldsmith (WG): ev.energy is an electric vehicle charging platform with the mission of making electric vehicle charging greener, cheaper and simpler for everyone. That’s been brought about by the fact that owning an electric vehicle generally is fantastic. It’s better for the environment, it means cleaner air, less pollution and they’re actually fun to drive.

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However, the biggest challenge with owning an EV is always around charging. At ev.energy through designing great software, we’re hoping to improve the charging experience to make charging less painful, and a better experience for everyone.

Myself and Nick Woolley, the CEO and one of the co-founders, have a strong background in the energy sector. We have previously both worked for national grid in the UK. What was obvious as a challenge, but also an opportunity, and I think it’s undisputed now – is that EVs are happening. Then there are government policies – by 2030 and beyond – which aim to phase out petrol and diesel cars, and vehicle manufacturers are now really on board.

What are some of the current issues the grid is facing with EV charging?

We’ve got over 100,000 EV drivers now connected to our platform around the world. One of the most common things we see is no matter where you are, EV drivers typically come home and plug in their car around 6pm. That happens to coincide with peak electricity demand on the grid and household demand.

The big problem and a big challenge is that EVs typically almost double the electricity consumption of a normal home. If everyone has EVs, you’re nearly doubling the amount of capacity needed on the grid to cope with that peak demand. That results in several things. Overall, it is just a lot more expensive, and there’s a requirement to build more electricity network capacity. That means more cables and wires; not only is that it’s expensive, but it’s also disruptive.

So, if everyone plugs in their EV and they all charge at the same time at peak, then it will overload the local grids. You’re talking about having to dig up roads everywhere to lay new cables in cities like London, which is incredibly disruptive.

Could you discuss the new shared EV charging solution and its benefits?

At ev.energy we integrate with vehicles, charger manufacturers and charge points. That then gives us access to the data and the ability to control charging, which we then connect with the energy grid.

Initially the focus with charge points was on the biggest mass market, private homes, and driveways. Where you’ve probably got one, you might have two EVs or you’ve got one EV parking on a private driveway and that vehicle just uses that charge point.

More and more as EV adoption is growing and increasing, people who live in shared accommodation or flats, maybe have shared parking, they have one charge point that can be used by many people.

There’s a broad range of applications here, one is apartment buildings. With charging, there’s also car parks. We’ve recently launched a series of shared chargers in a car park at Westfield Shopping Centre in London.

There are probably several other applications as well – such as workplaces. It could be a workplace where you want to offer charging to customers or to employees. There are several challenges around that: Who is connected and using the charger? How much energy is being used? If it is a shared building, you may want to split the cost of charging and then bill the right amounts to the right people, or even if you’re providing it for free, you just want to keep track of the usage and what’s going on.

There are also solutions where we can do load balancing. A big challenge is this: If you’ve got 20 charge points in a small car park, it’s great to have those 20 charge points, but you don’t necessarily want them all charging at full power at the same time, because that could give you loading issues. We work with charging manufacturers in the set-up and can schedule charging to mean that you can install more chargers on a smaller connection.

A key part of that solution is what we’ve expanded on from our private residential use case which is the great user experience. We focus on the experience. The EV driver has the app, and they can see all of the charging sessions that they do. It still feels like a very personal experience for the driver using that charge point. Then we’ve also got a back-end system called Pando. That allows a building manager or fleet manager to look at all the charging happening across that whole charge point system with all of the billing solutions.

How does this solution benefit the grid?

What it does is it takes smart charging, which typically would happen on a private off-street driveway setting and apply it to more areas. It puts the needs of the EV driver first, for the requirements of when you need your car ready by and how long you’re plugged in; that then determines what flexibility you can have within your schedule.

Not every use case will be suitable for smart charging; however, lots of them are. Residential shared apartments maybe have a typical pattern like a home where the preference is to be plugged in overnight. So, in the same way, we can delay charging and do smart charging using cheaper, greener energy and avoiding the peak times.

Not every use case will be suitable for smart charging; however, lots of them are.

If there is flexibility within the schedule as well, for all electric vehicles and charge points on our platform, we can aggregate and control that overall electricity load together in a virtual power plant which at scale is able to deliver a positive impact on the grid.

We’re currently delivering tens of megawatts of flexibility, which is the scale of grid scale battery storage, just from all these distributed assets. What that means to the end-user is that this can be pausing charging across 10,000 vehicles for 30 minutes, and then starting again.

So, from the user perspective, there’s flexibility in the schedule, it’s still charged when they need it. By doing that and helping the grid, we’re able to unlock value or energy networks and then we pass some of that value back to drivers in the form of rewards for smart charging. They can basically earn money for charging, reduce their cost of charging, or sometimes charge for free.

If in the future, most people are driving EVs would this solution allow the grid to cope?

The electricity system operator in Britain has published a report called The Future Energy Scenarios. Their job is to look out for and examine different scenarios and consider the impact that they will have on the grid, as well as costs, and then help plan the network to ensure that it is future proofed.

There was a slide which had a graph that showed if everyone does un-managed charging and plugged in when they get home, it will increase the peak load on the grid, and the winter peak by almost 30 gigawatts. So peak loads on the grid today is maybe around 60 gigawatts; that’s 50% additional demand total on the network, which is really a worst-case scenario. That would be incredibly expensive to deal with. It’s probably possible, but it would be extremely expensive to deliver. It would also hinder moving to net zero carbon because we would likely need to keep gas and coal on the grid for longer.

The good news is that there’s a huge amount of policy, effort, and investment in smart charging to make sure that worst case doesn’t happen. For example, every private charge point now sold in the UK, for the home and workplace, must be smart capable, and therefore must be capable of shifting when it’s loaded.

The consumer transformation scenario shows that if around 80% of people adopt smart charging and therefore shift their charge usage, you’re still using the same amount of energy but you’re just using it at a different time; you’re using it in a smarter way, so the total additional peak capacity that needs to be built is reduced by about half.

What is particularly interesting is when we start talking about bi-directional charging. So bi-directional charging is where your vehicle is able to push electricity back to your home or back to the grid during peak times. National Grid has said that if 26% of customers upgrade from smart charging to bi-directional – so we’re talking about a quarter of EVs – then the peak demand on the grid at winter from EVs would see the net demand actually being negative.