Smart charging for electric vehicles

From the end of June 2022, the UK Government’s ‘Electric Vehicles Smart Charge Point Regulations’ come into force – meaning that all EV charge points sold and installed in the UK must have smart functionality. But what does this mean in practice and what are the benefits of this new advanced feature?  Anthony Hinde, Mer UK Managing Director, gives his view.

Smart EV charging (also known as ‘intelligent charging’) essentially refers to a system where an EV, a charging device – or multiple chargers – and the grid, all share a data connection.  

In contrast to conventional chargers that aren’t connected to the cloud, smart chargers can send and receive information – and then respond by increasing or decreasing the rate of electricity flowing through the charge point. 

This enables vehicle owners, businesses and network operators to control how much energy to give any particular plugged-in EV – and also when – thereby optimising usage for timing, supply, and cost.

Smart-charging not only serves to future-proof the charging network by allowing for continual updates and features as technology advances, it is also crucial to prevent overloading the grid as EV numbers are predicted to soar to 4.5 million by 2030.

Additionally, smart-charging facilitates dynamic load management – meaning the charging platform can intelligently distribute power between a building and multiple EVs being charged simultaneously. This protects the local grid from peak loads and saves businesses from having to upgrade a site’s energy infrastructure.

Smart charging can even send unused charge from a plugged-in EV’s battery BACK to the grid, helping energy operators balance sudden spikes in demand. This will be of particular importance when the grid decarbonises.

What is Dynamic EV Load Management and how does it differ from Static Load Balancing?

Installing and using a couple of EV charge points won’t typically have a huge impact on the electricity infrastructure of a building. However, larger installations bring with them a greater burden – and risk – of exceeding the maximum electrical capacity of a site.

Load Management – sometimes called ‘load balancing – refers to techniques used to control and distribute energy across multiple charge points. The aim is to ensure the electrical capacity of a site is not exceeded, to balance energy demand during the day and to prioritise building energy usage. 

There are two main load management approaches – Static Load Balancing and the more advanced ‘smart-charging enabled’ Dynamic Load Management.

Static Load Balancing works using a rigid method of allocating charging supply.  Since there is a fixed maximum energy capacity – and building usage is prioritised – remaining charge is distributed equally across plugged-in vehicles.

Yet because the maximum energy capacity is fixed, more demand means some organisations have needed to invest heavily in grid upgrades to bring additional power to their premises.

Which brings us to the second approach – Dynamic Load Management (DLM) – which is such a critical concept in EV charging that it is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘smart charging’.

DLM refers to a smart charger’s data-driven ability to automatically distribute available power as fast as possible to any EVs being charged simultaneously – without causing strain to site buildings.

By calculating a building’s current energy capacity in real time, the smart charging platform then dynamically delivers an optimal load for each charging EV.

As well as enabling strategic charging strategies – ie, giving precedence to ‘high priority vehicles’ – DLM makes more efficient use of available energy, cuts costs and eliminates overload risk, even when multiple chargers are being used simultaneously.

What are the main benefits of Smart Charging?

  1. It empowers businesses to be fully in control of their site

Features like DLM allow business owners to monitor and control charging events remotely using a cloud-controlled management system. 

They can view usage statistics and report issues, limit charging power of a particular station group, and take control of energy consumption – while not worrying about exceeding local grid capacity.

As well as convenience and cost benefits, possible future revenue streams may also materialise by using smart charging stations for energy storage.

  1. It protects the grid

According to the National Grid, there is plenty of capacity to meet future EV energy demands – as long as not everyone charges at the same time.

With smart charging, drivers can plug-in their vehicles during peak times (5pm-8:30pm) and the charger will automatically adjust the charging time for the lowest demand and cost.

Without this functionality, expensive network upgrades would likely be necessary – with costs passed onto consumers.

  1. It helps to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment

In future, charging can be automatically scheduled for times when low-carbon emitting renewable energy is in abundant supply – helping to cut waste during off-peak times when cleaner energy sources are under-used or wasted. 

One year of smart charging has been demonstrated to help drivers cut their carbon footprint by 20%.

  1. It’s more convenient

Smart functionality means drivers can just plug in and leave their vehicle, knowing it will be charged at the most efficient time possible.

It’s easy for drivers to set their preferences too – such as minimal battery level, a ‘charge-by’ time and desired charge level.

  1. It saves money

Optimising charging to take place during low energy consumption hours is cheaper – and EV drivers can take advantage of these lower-tariff rates during off-peak times. 

Despite recent fluctuations in energy markets, new energy tariffs designed specifically for EV drivers will emerge and be more cost-efficient in the long-run.

Image courtesy of Mer.

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