EV charging: 5 factors every business should consider

Tesla South Mimms Supercharger and PowerPack

As Electric Vehicle (EV) uptake accelerates and costs fall, more and more companies are exploring how to electrify their vehicle fleets and offer EV charging to employees and/or customers. Delivering sustainable transport solutions will cut carbon and improve air quality, but businesses need to think carefully about the impact on their electricity demand and how they manage EV charging as part of their wider energy strategy.

Dagoberto Cedillos, Strategy & Innovation Lead at Open Energi, explores five factors every business should consider, and how, with the right approach, EVs can be managed to deliver valuable savings and income.

1. Charging infrastructure

There are a large and growing number of EV models on the market with progressively faster charging speeds and bigger ranges. Charging set-ups differ across manufacturers, although two favoured options seem to be emerging; Type 1 and CHAdeMO or Type 2 and CCS (Zap Map offer a good overview of this).

In the UK Type 2 is by far the most commonly available chargepoint. Understanding fleet or workplace/customer charging requirements should inform what charging infrastructure is most appropriate, but of course fast or rapid connectors will have a larger impact in terms of electricity demand.

EV charging speeds

2. Connection size:

EVs can instantly draw a lot of power from the grid. Today’s rapid chargers typically charge at up to 50kW (although Tesla’s are faster), but newer models are expected to charge at 150kW and beyond.  If you are offering fast/rapid charging and expect to have many vehicles charging at once, you may need to expand your connection size. A larger connection will cost more but will enable you to meet higher demand without exceeding your import limits – assuming the local electricity network has the capacity. An alternative approach is to stagger the timing of vehicle charging so that you avoid creating a surge in power demand (‘smart queuing’), enabling a smaller, less expensive connection. Similarly, if you have on-site renewable generation or energy storage, these can be used alongside EV charging to manage demand and make the most of clean, cheap electricity when it is available.

3. Charging patterns

It’s really important to think about expected charging patterns. If it’s your own fleet will they all be charging overnight only, weekdays versus weekends, or on a rolling 24/7 basis? Similarly for employees or customer charging facilities, will charging be condensed into working or opening hours or could the facilities be used more widely? The more flexibility you have to manage and spread EV charging the better, but you have to start by focusing on the requirements and expectations of the driver. A supermarket customer might only connect for twenty minutes but won’t want their charging interrupted. Someone at work could plug their vehicle in for eight hours or more, so probably won’t mind if you delay or interrupt their charging as long as their vehicle is charged and ready to go when they finish work. Smart queuing, which automates optimal queuing and charge dispatch of EVs can manage this process to support local network needs and ensure vehicle charging is prioritised in the appropriate order.

EV value streams4. How many and where

If charging stations are dispersed in small numbers across multiple sites that will be much easier to manage and integrate with existing infrastructure than a large number all at one site. However, if your charging is concentrated in one place, this will make it easier to capture value from smart charging and EV flexibility. Local flexibility markets are emerging, and the ability to turn-down demand quickly and efficiently could provide a valuable service to local Distribution Network Operators. The business case for aggregating and delivering this kind of service from EVs becomes more compelling where there are economies of scale to be gained from connecting to many vehicles in one place.

5. Electricity bill

It’s important to assess the impact EVs will have on your electricity bill. Understanding this, and the nature of the tariff structure you have with your supplier, will help to identify where the opportunities for optimisation lie. Minimising charging during peak price periods and maximising charging when electricity is at its cheapest is an obvious first step, but the ability to manage the timing of EV charging also opens up potential revenue streams. For example, as renewable generation grows instances of negative pricing – when you get paid to consume electricity – are expected to occur more often. With the right technology in place, your EVs could respond to these price signals and get paid to charge your EV fleet. More generally, the ability to respond to fluctuations in electricity supply and demand and provide short-term balancing services – i.e. a few minutes – to the System Operator can be extremely valuable.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss your business’ EV charging strategy in more detail, please get in touch.

Utility Week: Open Energi launches AI-driven optimisation platform

Smart energy firm says launch marks “a significant step towards a self-balancing grid”

Open Energi has unveiled a new platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimise the use of distributed energy assets in real time.

The smart energy firm says the launch marks “a significant step towards a self-balancing grid that can integrate renewable generation efficiently at scale”.

The company claims its Dynamic Demand 2.0 platform will help businesses to “radically” reduce their energy bills by connecting, aggregating and optimising assets such as industrial equipment, battery storage systems, electric vehicles (EV) and on-site generation.

Read the full article here.

Using demand flexibility to reduce supplier imbalance risk

Bitumen tanks

At Open Energi, we are teaming up with energy suppliers and their customers to help make the most of the flexibility in their energy consumption. Using smart demand flexibility to sustainably balance the system, we can mitigate the risk of volatile prices and help reduce rising system charges.

The balancing act

Electricity can’t be stored efficiently or cheaply at scale, so electricity suppliers must balance the energy that they produce themselves or procure from third parties with the energy that their customers use. This means, ahead of time, forecasting how much electricity is going to be generated, forecasting customer demand, and taking any actions to balance them out: buying or selling additional electricity as required.

Any imbalance between generation and demand can result in suppliers facing costly charges from National Grid, who are forced to act in real time to balance the system. Some of the balancing actions that National Grid takes to ensure the lights stay on are expensive and polluting, and lead to gross inefficiencies in the system. During periods when the system is short (insufficient generation / high demand) it might call on a thermal power station to increase its output. Similarly, when the system is long (too much generation / low demand), a thermal power station could be asked to decrease output.

For the flexible energy generators of the UK – namely CCGTs – to be able to respond to these calls, they are run at < 100% of their maximum capacity. The inefficiencies here are twofold. The plants are not run optimally – they use more fuel and produce more carbon per MWh of electricity produced – and, more power stations are required to meet the nation’s electricity requirements. Balancing actions, by their nature, are also taken very close to real time, often outside of the market, which pushes prices up.

An alternative to balancing on the generation-side is to do it on the demand-side: instead of increasing or decreasing the output of a power station, decrease or increase the demand of electricity users. By enabling flexibility behind the meter, for example using battery storage alongside inherent process flexibility, demand-side response can provide an efficient and economical (roughly an order of magnitude cheaper than more traditional methods1) way to balance the system.

Rising system prices

National Grid recovers the cost of balancing from suppliers and generators through Balancing Services use of System (BSUoS) charges, which are passed onto the consumer. A large part of these charges are driven by the imbalance, or system price, which quantifies the cost of balancing energy of the system per half hour period by asking power stations to turn up or down. High prices usually occur when system margins are small; when there is a lack of surplus generation that can be called on. Similarly, low, or even negative prices can occur when there is a surplus of generation. This typically happens during periods of low demand, when solar power is at a maximum – for example on a sunny weekend day.

In the last 6 months or so we have seen the highest and most volatile system prices ever. They peaked at over £1500/MWh in November 2016, compared to an average cost of about £40/MWh over the last year. This peak was caused by a combination of factors. Much of the UK’s aged coal fleet was placed in Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR) to be called upon only as a last resort. Then, maintenance to the French nuclear fleet (causing the UK to export rather than import power through the French interconnector) coincided with maintenance to some UK gas peaking plants and low wind speeds, creating a situation where the system got very, very short. When one generator pushes prices up, and these high prices get accepted by National Grid, other generators are likely to follow suit to maximize their profits. For suppliers, this means that an imbalance of a few MW over a few half hours at the wrong time can suddenly become very, very expensive.

Figure 1 shows how system prices have risen since January 2016. With BSUoS similarly rising, suppliers can no longer afford to be complacent with their self-balancing.

 

Suppliers must manage their imbalance to mitigate the risk of volatile system prices
Figure 1: System price over the last 15 months, for periods when the system has been short (insufficient generation) and long (insufficient demand). Prices have increased compared to the mean over the period for both cases

Thus, suppliers are increasingly looking to protect themselves against the risk of coming up short. This is particularly true of renewable generators: you can’t make the wind blow harder at the same time as customer demand peaks (whereas you can burn more gas). Rather than buying in more conventional ‘brown’ (rather than ’green’) generation to make up any gaps at the last minute, or paying the imbalance price on any shortfall, an alternative is to use the inherent flexibility in connected customer loads to alter your demand, and better align with the power being generated by the wind. Instead of flexing the generation, flex the demand.

Flexing electricity consumption

Here at Open Energi, we are using our experience with Dynamic Frequency Response to flex the energy usage of large industrial & commercial consumers to balance the books of their renewable supplier. By intelligently talking to equipment which has energy stored in its processes we can shift electricity consumption without affecting the operation of a customer’s site. For example, the stored energy in a bitumen tank means we can delay heating it for an hour with very little impact on its temperature. Given notice by a supplier that they are short in the next hour and so require a reduction in demand, or, they think system prices will be high, we can delay turning on the tank’s heater until after the price spike.

Figure 2 shows a typical bitumen tank. The blue line shows the tank under ‘normal’ operation and the orange line shows the tank under Open Energi control. Following a request from the supplier (given approximately 30 minutes before hand) to reduce demand at 11am, we can delay switching the tank on, without affecting its operational parameters (the temperature always remains within set limits). We then allow the tank to switch on and heat up after the price spike, shifting its power consumption.

Demand flexibility can help suppliers to manage their imbalance risk
Figure 2: Flexing the power consumption of a single bitumen tank, such that it’s temperature always remains within predefined limits

Do this across a portfolio of tanks, and you make a sizeable reduction in the supplier’s demand during periods when they would otherwise be short: see Figure 3. The energy is recovered later, and, given the energy storage in any one asset, this definition of ‘later’ can be flexible.

Open Energi is working with businesses and their suppliers to manage imbalance risk using demand flexibility
Figure 3: Resulting shift in electricity consumption when flex energy across a portfolio of bitumen tanks

Suppliers save money by avoiding costly imbalance prices and mitigate the risk of price volatility, while managing renewable intermittency and reducing the need for brown generation. By partnering with innovative suppliers who create a market for such flexibility in an open and accessible manner, businesses can use technology to deliver smart demand side flexibility, in real time, with no impact on their operations, while saving money on their electricity bills. This kind of smart, digitized demand side flexibility is crucial to building the decentralized, decarbonized energy system of the future.

1Open Energi analysis

Robyn Lucas is a Data Scientist at Open Energi. She works on demand side flexibility in the UK electricity network; modelling, forecasting and optimizing the usage and performance of a variety electrical loads and enabling customers to intelligently control their electricity consumption. Prior to Open Energi she worked for a technology consultancy, helping clients make the best use of their data. Robyn graduated from Imperial College London in 2015 with a PhD in Physics, during which she worked on one of the experiments at the CERN LHC.

 

Can a sharing economy approach to energy deliver a more sustainable future?

Sunshine through tree tops - green energy

As global demand for electricity grows, are there alternatives to building more power stations which make smarter use of existing infrastructure? And in an industry renowned for high levels of consumer mistrust, could an Airbnb of energy finally deliver a consumer-centric energy market?

Technology is shaping our lives like never before, making our world smarter, more efficient and more connected. In the last decade, it has fuelled an explosion of sharing economy business models — adopted by the likes of Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar — who in just a few short years have revolutionised established industries. But can a sharing economy approach help to tackle one of man-kind’s greatest challenges and deliver clean, affordable and secure energy to all?

Sharing economies are a consumer-led phenomenon which work by exploiting excess capacity or inefficiencies in existing systems for mutual benefit. Take Airbnb for example. The wasted asset is your property and the excess capacity is the space you are not using. By creating a user-friendly platform and giving homeowners the security they need Airbnb have built the biggest hotel chain in the world, surpassing the Intercontinental Group in less than four years. They have achieved this because they haven’t needed to construct a single thing.

So how could this apply to the energy industry? As global demand for electricity grows, are there alternatives to building more power stations which make smarter use of existing infrastructure? And in an industry renowned for high levels of consumer mistrust, could an Airbnb of energy finally deliver a consumer-centric energy market?

Since the world’s first power station was built in 1882 the global energy system has worked on the basis that supply must follow demand. Consumers — businesses and households — have been passive users of power, paying to use what they want when they want, whilst electricity supply has adapted to ensure the lights stay on. This has created inefficient systems built for periods of peak demand — in the UK this is typically between 4–7pm on a cold winter evening — which most of the time are massively underused.

But this is no longer the case. Today, our ability to connect and control anything from anywhere means we can manage our demand for electricity in previously unimaginable ways, and consumers are emerging as a driving force for change.

By connecting everyday equipment to a smart platform (just as you might upload your property to Airbnb), it’s now possible for consumers to take advantage of small amounts of “flexible demand” in their existing assets and processes — be it a fridge, a water pump, or an office air con unit — and sell it to organisations tasked with keeping the lights on — like National Grid.

Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to govern when and for how long assets may respond gives consumers confidence their equipment’s performance will not be affected, and in return for sharing their “flexible demand”, they benefit from cost savings or direct payments.

This sharing economy approach relies on the power of tech and our ability to orchestrate many thousands of consumer devices at scale. Any one piece of equipment can only make small changes to the timing of its electricity consumption — e.g. delaying when a fridge motor comes on for a few minutes during a spike in electricity demand at the end of a football match — but collectively, the impact is transformational.

It means that when electricity demand is greater than supply, we don’t need to fire up fossil-fuelled power stations. Instead, we can reduce demand by asking non-time critical assets to power down for a short while.

If the wind is blowing and too much electricity is being supplied, we don’t need to let this clean, abundant power go to waste, but can ask equipment to shift its demand and make use of this power as it is available.

And we don’t need to keep building more power stations to meet occasional peaks in demand. Instead, we can distribute demand more intelligently throughout the day, reducing the size of these peaks and making better use of existing capacity.

In the UK, Open Energi’s analysis suggests there is 6 gigawatts of peak demand which can be shifted for up to an hour without impacting end users. Put into context, this is equivalent to roughly 10% of peak winter demand and larger than the expected output of the planned Hinkley Point C — the UK’s first new nuclear power station in generations.

This doesn’t make it easy. Unlike other sharing economy success stories, energy is a public good. The need for incredibly robust solutions means the barriers to entry are high. But, if we can get it right, the prize is enormous; a cleaner, cheaper, more secure energy system which gives consumers control of how, when, and from where they consume their energy.

Businesses have already recognised the power they hold and the benefits it can bring, with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tarmac, United Utilities and Aggregate Industries adopting the tech and demonstrating what’s possible. Households look set to follow, but wherever the flexibility comes from, it’s clear that consumers and the environment will benefit from a sharing economy approach to energy.

David Hill is strategy director of Open Energi. He is an expert on electricity markets and demand-side flexibility, including demand-side response and energy storage. He joined Open Energi in 2010 after completing an MSc Energy, Trade & Finance at Cass Business School.

Green Gown Awards recognise University of East Anglia’s innovative approach to energy management

University of East Anglia Logo

University of East Anglia and Open Energi were Highly Commended for their entry in the Technical Innovation for Sustainability category at the 2014 Green Gown Awards.

 

UEA was the first university to install Dynamic Demand across its campus, helping to keep the lights on and boosting its credentials as one of the most sustainable universities in the country.

Air handling units (AHUs) across its estate have been equipped with this unique form of Demand Response and the AHUs are now adjusting their energy consumption instantaneously to help National Grid balance electricity supply and demand in real-time.

What it means to win… “UEA has a top-rated School of Environmental Sciences and we are committed to replicating this success in the sustainability of our campus. Adopting more intelligent ways of managing our electricity demand supports this goal and we are thrilled to win a Green Gown award for our work with Open Energi.“

Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor

 

What the judges said: An interesting application of technology into the HE sector, where the complexity of power demands across a campus can be used to balance the power system. Clear applicability to other areas, and replicable elsewhere. The “invisibility” of the technological fix is also attractive.

Click here to view the winners’ brochure.