EV transition success hinges on electricity grid resiliency

Electric Vehicle EV

A new report from EY and European energy industry body Eurelectric – ‘Can utilities turn EVs into a grid asset?’ – has examined the anticipated surge in EV adoption, from around five million passenger cars, light commercial vehicles, and heavy-duty vehicles today, to 130 million vehicles by 2035, and its impact on the grid. It finds that distribution system operators (DSOs) play a critical role in the success of eMobility and the charging infrastructure required to support it.

Adoption of eMobility is not just an economic or environmental phenomenon, but a psychological one that hinges on widespread customer acceptance. The current pace of EV adoption is swift, with one-in-five vehicles sold in Europe during 2021 being electric. Acceleration, however, depends on delivering a seamless customer experience with a robust charging infrastructure that allows everyone to charge quickly and reliably. 

The report is informed by Eurelectric and its members and includes insights drawn from discussions with industry leaders across the eMobility ecosystem, including automotive, utilities, fleet management, city planning, and charging infrastructure.

Serge Colle, EY global energy and resources industry market leader, said: “Electrifying road transport is critical for Europe to meet its tough emissions targets, and regulators and automotive companies are already well invested in making this a reality. However, eMobility will only go faster if it works for the customer, which means a robust charging infrastructure that is available and convenient to use is needed. With significant investment needed in the grid and supporting critical digital solutions to combat this, DSOs are the lynchpins in making this evolution in transport happen.”

Europe’s power grids face an enormous challenge from the imminent rollout of 130 million EVs. The report calculates that the predicted surge in EVs will warrant at least 65 million charge points, of which nine million will be public, up from 374000 today. Electricity demand from charging is also expected to grow by 30 per cent per year, adding over 200TWh by the end of this decade. According to the report, however, any destabilising impact will not come from demand growth, but rather from thousands or even millions of EVs attempting to charge simultaneously.

EY analysis finds that grids, which are already heavily loaded in multiple areas, could become bottlenecks if peak EV charging periods coincide with peaks in general load. Analysis of the six most common charging use cases – residential rural, residential urban, workplace, fleet hubs, overnight, and highways – shows that peak load will increase by between 21 per cent and 90 per cent. For that reason, a ‘fit and forget’ approach to charger connections risks exacerbating congestion on already heavily loaded grids.

The report suggests that managed charging will be a game-changer, helping DSOs to transform the liability that comes from millions of EVs charging at will into an asset. Deploying smart grids will provide DSOs with real-time information about the grids they operate and the ability to analyse current and future needs. This data will help them to determine investment in grid reinforcement or flexibility solutions to cater to EVs. And incorporating digital solutions will enable DSOs to control the available capacity, time, and duration of charging and shift EV charging to times when grid energy is plentiful and cheap, thereby preventing the grid from buckling under the pressure.

Kristian Ruby, Eurelectric secretary-general, says: “Europe is undergoing a turbo-charged shift towards eMobility. With EV numbers set to grow exponentially by 2035, we must ensure that the roll-out of charging infrastructure happens at a similar speed, while we continue to reinforce and modernise our grids. The task ahead will require a massive effort from all players, but I remain convinced that we will create a successful shift to a cleaner, greener, and more exciting mobility paradigm in Europe.”

The critical need to massively accelerate the deployment of charging infrastructure in line with EV adoption will require widespread collaboration between municipalities, local authorities, city planners, charge point operators, eMobility service providers, automakers, and DSOs. Working together, the road transport system designed today should serve everyone long into the future.

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