Green electricity: It ain’t what you use, it’s the time that you use it. Spikes in energy consumption are bad for the planet and the wallet. From grid-powering electric cars to smart tumble dryers, our machines will soon be choosing for themselves the best time to turn on, charge up and manage demand. It’s half past three on a Thursday afternoon and from his office in central London, Conor Maher-McWilliams is monitoring how hundreds of households around the country are using the chargers for their electric vehicles. Right now, the map of Britain on his screen is peppered with dozens of blue dots, each representing a vehicle that is drawing power from the grid. But there are also 29 green dots, representing vehicles doing something more unusual. “They are discharging and exporting energy back to the grid,” explains Maher-McWilliams, head of flexibility at Kaluza, the technology arm of the energy group Ovo. Later this afternoon, millions of Britons will return from work and turn on their ovens and other appliances, increasing electricity usage nationally. This “teatime peak” in demand is when wholesale power prices are typically highest. As part of a trial, owners of electric vehicles (EVs) are allowing Ovo to sell the power from their car batteries back to the national grid so they can cash in on the price spike. “In an hour there’ll be probably 130 to 150 [EVs] exporting,” says Maher-McWilliams. Then tonight, once most of Britain has gone to bed, appliances have been switched off, and power demand and prices fall, smart charging devices will seize the opportunity to charge the car batteries back up again. “If you were to look overnight in the cheapest periods, you’re likely to have 500, 600, 700 EVs charging,” he adds. It is a glimpse of Britain’s future, when how we use electricity will become just as important as how we generate it. At the moment, sophisticated technology such as Ovo’s Kaluza platform is only deployed at a small scale, but in years to come millions of us could see not only our cars but our electric heating systems and domestic appliances become “smart” devices that can be managed intelligently to hit climate goals and help keep the lights on at the lowest cost. As Britain pursues its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, the electricity system has big challenges. The switch to EVs and heating means demand is forecast to double or treble. Meanwhile, power generation is changing, as we install more wind turbines and solar panels. This makes flexible usage essential. “Even if we weren’t moving to EVs and electrified heating, we are moving into a much windier system, and the wind does not blow all the time,” says Guy Newey, strategy director at the Energy Systems Catapult, an independent body set up to accelerate the transformation of the UK’s energy system. Unless we start shifting electricity usage to match availability, we are likely to end up wasting surplus renewable power at times when it’s windy, and needing lots more back-up power plants for times when it’s not.
Times 17th June 2021 read more »