For drivers of electric vehicles, the expectation around charging their vehicles is much like that of the homeowner when switching on a light or turning on an appliance – that the necessary power is automatically there.
|Frank Muehlon President of E-mobility, ABB |
But with the rapid evolution of the e-mobility sector that has put more than 10 million such cars and trucks on our roads over the last decade, are consumers wrong to presume?
Put simply, no. But within the sector, while innovations in charging technology remain, key intelligent solutions that ensure that the electricity grid, in many cases built over 100 years ago, can cope with the evolving demands of e-mobility, are arguably even more critical.
If we look back to 2010, the only concern was about whether you could charge your vehicle – the grid did not even come into people’s minds. But, as the number of vehicles and their battery capacity quickly grew, it was soon evident that the grid had the potential to become a bottleneck if proactive steps in energy and load management were not taken.
Local load management was the first step, with connected charging solutions enabling facility managers or operators to locally manage how much energy each one pulled from the grid, ensuring the overall power requirement was always within the total grid capacity.
Next came the ability to not only manage how much energy we take from the grid but how and when to utilise that energy most effectively. Battery energy storage solutions were the enabler here, allowing charging operators to draw and store energy at times of the day when it was cheaper and less in demand, and to then use that energy for charging when demand peaked. This peak shaving approach meant more cost-effective and better charger utilisation, without the need to upgrade grid capacity or – in some regions – avoid utility fees for high peaks.
More recently, cloud-based AI technology, rising renewable energy integration, and the launch of vehicle-to-grid charging solutions that enable drivers to sell surplus power back to the grid means we have now entered an era of virtual energy optimisation and grid stabilisation.
One can think of it as a virtual power plant, with chargers across multiple locations aggregated into one network. Data sits at the heart of the solution – from charger usage to weather forecasts, to renewable energy inputs and the cost of energy. With data comes knowledge, giving charging operators the ability to predict energy needs versus availability, and to therefore optimise energy usage. The benefits are that users are able to use the cheapest and more sustainable forms of energy first, and effectively manage charging requirements, even with fluctuating renewable supplies.
The advent of megawatt charging, with the global CharIN megawatt charging standard expected later this year, will only accelerate the need for such software solutions. A small fleet of 10 electric trucks, capable of a charging speed of up to 3MW, can then be plugged in at the same time, with the grid delivering an extra 30MW of power. That is the same amount of power needed for 6 million 5W LED light bulbs. Further scaled up, with nationwide heavy-duty fleet networks, the importance of investing in long-term intelligent solutions to manage the grid cannot be underestimated.
Reports suggest approximately 130 million new electric vehicles are expected by 2030. While the robustness of those estimates is still to be seen, what is clear is that the tide towards electric mobility solutions has turned.
Passenger cars, public transport, and heavy-duty vehicles – all mobility paths are converting to electric means. Instead of viewing our energy infrastructure as a limiter, we should embrace its potential as an enabler and come together to realise the benefits which intelligent energy and load management have to offer, both for our sector and broader society, as we all pursue a more sustainable future.
By Frank Muehlon