Energy peaks no trough for EVs, says Nissan

One of the biggest challenges facing the prospect of an all-electric transport future is the problem of consumer habits. Because, just as we see electricity grids all over the world having to cope with spikes in demand at certain times of day, we could see this being turned into a critical situation with millions more cars asking for charge power all at the same time.

Yet, Nissan Europe’s electric vehicle director, Gareth Dunsmore, believes the threat of this potential disastrous outcome is being blown out of proportion. Speaking to TU-Automotive at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, Dunsmore said consumers are not all the ‘lemmings’ that some would have us believe. He said: “We should not look at this as a challenge but as an opportunity that other countries in Europe are doing such as the likes of Holland. What we are doing here is really laying out the facts of charging. Some of the numbers that are being put out are based upon everyone charging their vehicle at the same time. However, not everyone fills up the fuel tank on their combustion engine at the same time or, otherwise, our petrol station network would collapse. We have seen this collapse happen so quickly when there have been petrol shortages and haulage strikes – it collapses overnight.”

Dunsmore said the sharing culture that early adopters of EVs are happy to embrace could hold the key to resolving any issues with energy spikes in an all-electric future. He explained: “We have more than 300,000 customers and a lot of them sign up to share their charging data with us and this shows us that 80% of our customers charge their vehicle at home or in the office and are using around 3Kwh of power to do that. This is equivalent to adding a refrigerator – not even an oven. The maximum speed to charge at home is about 6-7Kwh in the UK with a wall box which you can either buy from us or other suppliers. That would be like adding another oven to the home so if everyone charged at the same time to that extent you would be adding about 30% to the grid’s energy requirement.”

However, governments and energy suppliers have a real role to play in persuading consumers to think about how and when they use energy. He said: “If you go back a couple of years, the UK government focused very hard on introducing smart meters in people’s homes and it hasn’t worked and not had the right take up. It is vital that they refocus on this because it would incentives to people to use power in times when the energy cost is lower and the demand on the grid is less.

“So, if you could get most charging happening overnight and you use something like the Nissan app where you can time your charging, you can lessen the load on the grid. Also the government and energy providers can offer further incentives for when they want you to charge. Individuals can say ‘you know what, I don’t need to charge right now’ where others will have to and they will be asked to pay a bit more.”

Dunsmore said carmakers have already developed V2G technology that will help in protecting the national grids from overloads. “If the cars are ‘smart’ like the latest Leaf or NVQ200, they can be used as a balancing service because the real issue is not the overall load on the grid but the peaks and troughs. We now have agreements in the UK for more than 2,000 electric vehicles to be plugged into the grid to offer themselves as balancing solutions both as private and business customers.

“All we have to do is find what value we can offer to the private and business customers to be part of this. We have one customer with a small fleet of 10 NVQ200 vans which are parked overnight with more than enough time to charge. So, when they are first plugged in, the grid uses what energy they haven’t used to help balance itself and then charges the vehicles in time for work in the morning. That customer earns €40 (£35) per van per week just from doing this.”

Of course, to make the grids of the future not only efficient by sustainable, renewable energies must be employed in a much smarter way than they are at present. Dunsmore explained: “There are other problems that need to be fixed – at the moment one of the things about renewable energy is that it’s produced when the wind blows or the sun shines and when they don’t, it’s not. If you had low cost storage, and that storage could be within your wheels i.e. the battery in the car connected to the grid, or a battery pack in you home or batteries at the point of production, which could be in a big solar farm or on top of your roof.

“At the moment we are not capturing all that value in the energy network because, say, our wind farms aren’t always on. Germany is a classic example of this – you have an energy surplus in northern Germany that could be captured with batteries. So, rather than looking at electric cars as a drain on the network, it is the biggest opportunity we have to move towards a zero emissions position of smart energy status in the future.”

Dunsmore admits that not all of the electricity energy solutions have to be centred around battery technology and that it’s essential all energy sources integrate seamlessly with each other. He said: “It’s just about being part of a system. If you look at Portugal for example, they’re pumping water up a hill for hydro-electricity. It might be one of the oldest technologies we have but it works and generates the energy they need. So, hydrogen will have a place here although not necessarily as a solution for someone’s home. It’s not about the specific technology as much as about making it integrate in a smart way so that it all works together.”


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