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Green Alliance report: rise of EVs and revolution in energy system presents big challenges

Thu 20 April 2017 | Back to news list

Anticipated uptake of electric cars, the growth in small scale renewable energy supply and other disruptive factors in the energy system will pose big challenges for the power grid, but a bigger challenge in governing the change in who owns the energy system says a new report from environment NGO Green Alliance.

Green Alliance's report says that the UK’s future energy market will not only consist of passive customers buying power from big, distant power stations. Instead, it will be increasingly owned and operated by the consumers who install distributed energy technologies.

It anticipates that within three years, the UK will reach a 'tipping point' when government will lose the ability to control the speed of small scale energy deployment. It points out that other countries’ experiences show that matching new technologies with old energy markets can be problematic but also that actively governing the transition can lead to good outcomes, with new sources of system flexibility, affordable costs and satisfied customers.

The report, supported by E-ON, National Grid, Siemens and Statoil, proposes four government interventions that are necessary to smooth the way to the new energy future:

  • An independent system designer should provide robust technical analysis and option testing of the best ways to integrate small energy into the overall system. Its remit needs to go beyond that of the current system operator, to cover transport and heat, as both of these sectors will increasingly affect the electricity system. The government will need to continue to provide strategic direction, especially for large scale energy, with the system designer advising and implementing.
  • Distribution network operators should become distribution system operators capable of monitoring and managing new, distributed technologies. They will need to work closely with the system designer to strategically plan the overall system.
  • The capacity market should value small scale energy technologies, so underutilised, distributed, flexible sources can help to balance the grid, rather than undermining it.
  • Aggregators and automation should be introduced, ahead of ‘time of use’ tariffs. Current tariffs encourage grid defection and hamper flexibility, but the alternative, to use dynamic ‘time of use’ tariffs, is unpopular because consumers resent having to change their habits in response to changing grid requirements. The solution is to provide incentives for aggregators and the automation of demand response first, leading to lower bills and less bother for consumers.

Green Alliance noted that electric car sales were up 56% in 2016 compared with 2015 figures, and suggested that falling costs could drive a rapid uptake. It also predicts a similar growth in the next few years in the installation of solar panels, which are already disrupting the energy system due to falling solar power prices.

The combination of solar and household storage batteries (such as Tesla’s Powerwall) could result in houses being able to supply their own electricity independently for months at a time by 2025, it added.

A National Grid spokesman, reported in The Guardian said: “Growing use of solar power and electric cars will change the way the energy system is managed, but National Grid has been consistently dealing with evolution in the energy sector for decades, and these latest changes also present great opportunities.

“For example, electric vehicles can be used to help feed energy back into the system at key times, while solar power will play a crucial role in providing clean energy as coal-generated power stops being used.”

Note: The LowCVP's recently formed EV Network Group is working to  facilitate dialogue between the low carbon automotive and utilities sectors, acting as the conduit for information to be shared between the sectors and the UK Government. The Group aims to drive forward solutions that will allow electric vehicles to work in harmony with the UK's electricity distribution network. It will act as a focal point to address both technological and infrastructural needs, to share research and to recommend measures to increase the number of electric miles driven on UK roads by 2030. 



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