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Power plants, grid unable to accommodate British EV plan – Part 2

British EV plan

The ambitious British EV plan calls for the end of gasoline and diesel -powered cars and vans by 2014. Driving.co.uk photo.

British EV plan could cause capacity problems for residents

The British EV plan calls for the sale of gasoline and diesel powered cars and vans to end by 2040.  England announced this plan in July and says its goal is to reduce air pollution and help Britain cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050.

Across the North Sea in Norway, the country has the largest per capita EV fleet in the world.  In January, electric vehicles accounted for 37.5 per cent of new car sales.

But, Norway uses carbon free hydropower for almost all of its electricity supplies and the Scandinavian country with a healthy bank account thanks to oil money, is looking at replacing aging power plants with offshore wind, gas, biomass, nuclear and power links with Europe.

Back in England, there are concerns that Britain’s energy infrastructure will not be up to the task of powering the ambitious EV plan and experts say local grids and distribution networks could feel the pinch.

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In a recent trial by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, it was found that uncontrolled EV charging will double the usual domestic load to 2 kilowatts (kW) when using a 3.5 kW charger.

Owners using more powerful chargers could tax the load strain even further.

Stewart Reid told Reuters that up to 30 per cent of the company’s local networks could experience problems, including power loss, if 40-70 per cent of its customers have EVs, based on 3.5 kW chargers.

Part of the solution may encourage users to charge their EVs through the night, which could save about £2.2 billion pounds in expenditures required to replace or upgrade cables or transformers, according to Reid.

But, EV owners could see capacity problems in their homes.  National Grid says drivers charging their cars at home may mean they cannot use basic appliances, including kettles, ovens and immersion heaters without tripping the main fuse in their home.

In a background article, National Grid said “The house electricity supply is one ‘pinch point’.”

As well, 43 per cent of homes do not have off-street parking.  With no off-street parking, drivers cannot recharge their EVs overnight in their own driveway or garage overnight.

Alternatives such as more public charging stations at supermarkets and malls will allow shoppers to charge their EVs while they shop.  But it is likely few drivers will want to charge their vehicles while they buy groceries in the middle of the night, the best time to ease grid loads.

Along with grid capacity problems, if Britain decides to increase the number of charging stations from the current 13,000, it won’t be cheap.

“The UK by 2040 needs 1-2.5 million new charging points. An average public charging point costs 25-30,000 euros so it would need to invest 33-87 billion euros from now until 2040,” Johannes Wetzel, energy markets analyst at Wood Mackenzie told Reuters.

Powering EV evolution

In Britain, all but one of the country’s nine nuclear plants, which can account for about 9 GV, are set to close by 2030 unless their lives are extended.  As well, 12 GW of coal capacity is slated to shut down by 2025.

At the end of 2016, gas-fired capacity made up 32 GW and the government says more plants could help fill the void left after the coal-fired plants shut down.  But, weak wholesale power prices have stunted new development.

At a cost of over £700 million, the new Manchester 884 MW gas plant came online last year, but plans to build a 2-GW gas plant nearby stalled after the developer struggled to find investors for the £800 million project.

High costs are also blocking the construction of new nuclear plants.  EDF’s 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C plant, expected to be operational by 2025, is estimated to cost £19.6 billion.

The private sector will the builder of new power plants in Britain.  State agencies like energy market regulator Ofgem, must ensure that England has a reliable mix of power sources and builds infrastructure, including more interconnectors.  Interconnectors will link continental Europe with Britain and allow the import and export of power to match supply and demand.

“If we get an increase in renewables, interconnectors, some new gas and nuclear (plants), we can get the power required, but you need the government and Ofgem to help deliver that,” Simon Virley, UK head of power and utilities at KPMG told Reuters.

“And there is a question mark over localized pinch points and grid stability issues,” he added.

Even if investors step forward to build the power plants, some wonder if Britain could end up emitting more GHGs charging EVs than gasoline-powered vehicles do currently.

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