At a packed seminar session at Ecobuild professionals working across the built environment learned how well executed charging infrastructure investments can bring benefits to local communities.

Simply installing more chargers, though necessary, oversimplifies the challenge, as electricity demand from EVs will exceed capacities of low voltage networks unless carefully managed. The session, Integrating Electric Vehicles into the Built Environment, covered policy developments, funding opportunities, as well as EV charging pilots.

The first presenter, Barnaby Powell, an infrastructure policy advisor from the UK government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), ran through the current state of EV charging infrastructure, grants and funding available to stimulate investment in low carbon transportation.

Low carbon transport funding in the UK (Slide courtesy of Office for Low Emission Vehicles)

The biggest commitment by the government to date has been Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s announcement, in the November 2017 budget, of a £400 million (€450 million) Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund available to private investment to deliver public EV chargers across the UK.

Reflecting the early stage of the market, most EV owners plug into slow chargers, usually installed at home.

However, not everyone has off-street parking allowing for a home charger. With over 40% of Britons living in terraced houses or flats, street chargers may be impractical for all residential roads. Investment in a variety of public charging infrastructure will be required to accommodate EVs, which could account for nearly a third of light vehicles on Britain’s roads by 2030.

Slow chargers can take up to 12 hours to fully charge an electric car, making them impractical for many public charging situations. The other options are fast chargers (7-22kW AC), which can take 1-5 hours to charge a car or rapid chargers (50kW DC and rising), which take around 20 minutes to charge a car to 80% capacity.


Policy changes

Retrofitting buildings with chargers is extremely costly, so it is better to design building projects to be charger ready. In light of this potential changes to Building Regulations are being discussed that could obligate developers to include cabling that will enable charge points to be installed in new homes.

According to Powell the government is in the process of understanding possible impacts, particularly financial ones, vocalised by housing developers.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill also includes powers to make it compulsory for all charge points to be sold in the UK to have smart charging capability to help mitigate the effects of EV charging on the grid during peak demand, which tend to occur early evening in winter.

Keith Budden, head of business development at Cenex, a not-for-profit centre of expertise in all things related to low carbon transport and EVs, gave an example of how some local authorities have already introduced measures to ensure provision for EV charging.

Dudley Council, which has been declared as an Air Quality Management Area, has implemented policies to reduce exposure to poor air quality. In the council’s supplementary planning document the onus is on developers, both for residential as well as non-residential developments, to include vehicle charging points.

Cenex is working on a number of projects and pilots. In one Nottingham City Council is seeing how it can reduce EV energy

Presenters, from left to right, Matthew Rhodes (Energy Capital), Mark Dale (WPD), Keith Budden (Cenex), Barnaby Powell (OLEV)

costs, using a mix of local generation, energy storage and vehicle-to-grid technology. In another project being proposed, residents on a Scottish island could potentially reduce fuel costs by switching to EVs powered by abundant renewable energy resources.


The right type of charging infrastructure

EV charging infrastructure is not a one size fits all approach. It may not be practical for some areas of streets for example to have a fast charger installed, which could lead to more traffic as cars queue to use it. In the UK £40 million of R&D funding is available to develop on-street and next generation wireless charging technologies.

Owners and operators of car parks, such as retailers, are presented with opportunities and challenges when it comes to investing in charging points.

Positives include increase footfall, improved community relations and enhanced customer loyalty. Challenges include increased energy costs, as well as cost of upgrading power supply, especially if higher power rapid chargers are being considered.

Rapid chargers are likely to require planning permission and will most certainly incur grid connection costs, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds, so from an investment payback perspective may not be the best investment if the site is leased, rather than owned.


Assessing the impact of EV charging on low voltage networks

Mark Dale, an engineer from the UK’s biggest distribution network operator (DNO), Western Power Distribution (WPD), discussed the progress of the Electric Nation project, which is gathering data on the impact of EV charging on the local network. The maximum number of participants – 700 EV owners – have been reached and around 560 of these have now got 7kW chargers installed in their homes.

The smart chargers collect lots of information, not only when participants charge and how long for, but also key demographic data. The majority of participants in the study are between 36-56 years old. The spread between network type by location, in terms of urban, rural and semi-rural is fairly even. Most charging is done at home, while around 8% charge up at work, 4% at service stations and 1% while out shopping.

Peaks to avoid: In the Electric Nation project, WPD shows how clusters of EVs charging at the same time can exceed capacity on local networks

One of the slides in Dale’s presentation depicted the issue of clustered EV charging, typically during some week days in winter. While normal diversified demand over a typical weekday in winter can be covered by available network capacity, diversified EV charging can breach capacity that currently exists to meet peak demand.

While most participants in the project tend to plug their cars in from when they get home in the early evening, through the night and early morning, the tendency is to only use 2-3 hours of that time to top their car up. For DNOs, this suggests there is a lot of opportunity to move these charging periods around over a 10-14 hour period, using smart charging technology.


WPD’s technology partner EA Technology has a test rig set up, carrying out smart charging using multiple EVs in action. Data shows how available network capacity can be shared among EV owners, so that over a certain time period cars can all be charged the same, but during different periods within the time window.

Early results suggest that charging takes place every other day, rather than every single day. The data gathering is important as it will help DNOs to plan for network upgrades to accommodate EVs in future. Historically investment in expanding grid capacity accounts for the low demand periods, as well as highest, so networks are not sized for peak capacity all of the time.

Next, the project will explore charge management. When participants charging exceed available network capacity then charge management kicks in. Demand management is expected only in early evening in winter and then only every several days, such as 16:00-17:00 one day in every 20 days or 17:00-19:00 one day in every four days.

In the coming months the Electric Nation project will trial managed EV charging with participants

When surveyed the participants in Electric Nation were largely unconcerned by managed charging.

Electric Nation will also link with other work and research WPD is undertaking, such as the Open LV project, which is opening up data from substations to enable lots of bidirectional power flowing occurring on the low voltage network. In future more homes will have solar PV, energy storage for optimising solar self-consumption, plus new loads in the form of EVs and heat pumps. There may also be a surplus for exporting or peer-to-peer trading. Open LV will help to show how much capacity is being used across the network at any one time.


West Midlands articulates regional energy and EV ambition

Finally Matthew Rhodes, chair of Energy Capital, a public-private partnership set up to deliver the West Midlands’ Mayor’s agenda related to devolved energy policy, discussed how the region is seeking to position itself as an exporter of clean energy and transportation technologies.

Building on the existing energy sector in the West Midlands, encompassing thousands of firms, as well as its automotive manufacturing base, four energy innovation zones have been identified across the region, each with distinct needs.

In one of the zones, which covers south Coventry, technologies such as energy storage and smart controls will be required to help minimise the impact of EV charging on the grid, In contrast in the Tyseley area, to the east of Birmingham city, ultra-efficient waste-to-energy technologies are being developed and networked together so that sustainable energy can be used to provide heating as well as energy for EVs and fuel cell vehicles.

In a latest development the EV momentum in the UK has been given a boost from the conclusions of a cross-part joint committee enquiry castigating the car industry for doing far too little to address air pollution, which vehicle emissions contribute to significantly.

A joint inquiry carried out by 49 cross party MPs across four audit committees, including health, transport and environmental, concludes that the UK government needs to bring forward a decade the 2040 date by which sales of diesel and petrol engine cars are to be banned.

The joint committee report on improving air quality, published on 15 March 2018, concludes that the government cannot continue to put public health at risk. “It needs to require the automobile industry to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the ‘polluter pays’ principle, on a scale that adequately compensates for the health costs of diesel pollution.”