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Road to Zero: A Big Investment

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Lost in the excitement of the World Cup, Trump’s visit and the latest twists and turns of the Brexit adventure, last week the Government published it’s plans to radically reduce emissions from road transport. The Government has committed £1.5 billion investment in ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020 in order to facilitate the transition, but despite this big sum of money there was little coverage in the popular press. Yet the plans published will touch all of us, not least as a key aim is to improve our health through reducing emissions, and because such measures have the potential to impact how we buy, use and interact with energy companies in the future.


The Government plans contained in the ‘Road to Zero’ strategy envisage profound changes,  ranging from how we interact with transport - potentially replacing vehicles as a commodity to be purchased with the concept of purchasing ‘journeys’ - to how and where we buy the energy to facilitate these journeys.  From a utility industry perspective, the plans, whilst not backing any specific zero emission technology, acknowledge that electric vehicles (EVs) are currently leading the way and a significant proportion of the proposed policy is aimed at ensuring that the UK develops the necessary supporting infrastructure and capacity to support a widespread adoption of electric vehicles. At the heart of this smart infrastructure is data, and the combination of costs, network performance and smart metering data combining to ensure a smart, stable and secure energy eco-system.  Data sharing and analytical applications such as Wheatley’s Anise platform will be a vital tool to facilitate this complex data analysis and to ensure end users can, if they wish, explore the data and ensure they are getting a good deal.

One of the core components of the Government’s plans states; “We will support the development of one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world…”

The plans contain no less than 17 specific commitments designed to support this ambition, including:

  • A £400 million vehicle charging infrastructure investment fund to help accelerate infrastructure deployment
  • Ensuring that charging points are ‘smart ready’ by establishing legal powers to set minimum requirements
  • Ensuring new homes are electric vehicle ready
  • Seeking to ensure that in areas with on street parking, all new street lighting columns include charging points

The plan acknowledges that as EVs go mainstream, charging at home overnight, or at workplaces, will continue to be the most attractive option, and this will increase demand for electricity generation capacity. The plan also recognises that the local distribution networks will, in some places, need to be reinforced to ensure enough capacity can be delivered to users.

The obvious takeaway from the plan is that a significant proportion of EV charging is envisaged to take place in dense hotspots, such as housing estates and at offices, factories and other places of high employment. The implications are that these areas will see an increase in peak demand and this is likely to be a challenge to existing infrastructure.  

The plan also points out that our electricity networks are changing and that more local generation is being connected, often on the low voltage network. This is leading to our networks transitioning from a traditionally unidirectional network to being dynamic, multi-directional active network, containing demand, supply, storage and balancing components.

To allow this transition to take place the networks are taking advantage of smart technology, including far more monitoring, automation and control technologies.  The plans highlight that benefits of up to £40bn are envisaged by 2050 in the move to a smart power network. The plan includes using smart vehicle charging (enabling the grid to control when a vehicle charges based on end user specified parameters) to ensure charging takes place off the traditional demand peaks and this means that EVs can be part of the smart solution, not part of the problem. In addition, it is envisaged that EVs can play a part in the balancing of the local grid by supplying stored power back into the network at critical times. Trials by Nissan have already proved this can be achieved without diminishing the end users experience, and indeed it can reduce the cost of EV ownership by providing the end user a revenue stream to offset energy usage costs.

To ensure that electric vehicles are fully integrated into the future network infrastructure and its development, the plans spell out that future EV chargers will need to be smart enabled and be able to respond to signals from third parties. These signals will almost certainly be combined with smart meters to not only control when EV can be physically enabled, but also to impact the pricing of energy via time-of-use tariffs and other tools and incentives to control the demand on the network and supply infrastructure.

Whilst the Government's plan does not spell out who these third parties might be, it is easy to see that several players could be vying to control the charging experience:

  • Energy suppliers may seek to offer EV specific tariffs and time-of-use contracts;
  • Electric vehicle manufacturers and operators may develop propositions that include the provision of energy as part of the ownership experience;
  • Demand Aggregators may seek to establish user groups to benefit from EV ownership by offering balancing services to the networks on a commercial basis and;
  • The Network Operators themselves may wish to establish control of the demand on their network to optimise utilisation and defer reinforcement costs.

The majority of these services will demand the development of new commercial arrangements between industry players and the home and vehicle owners seeking to use the networks. In addition, the availability of accurate data, both real-time and historical, will be vital to the management and optimisation of the services. A key element in the acceptance of such third-party control by householders and EV users will be the accessibility to data which will allow the end users to evaluate what is in it for them and ensure trust in such schemes is established and maintained. This is particularly relevant given the relatively low trust scores many of today’s energy suppliers have earned with end users.

A key element in the data needed will be individual consumption patterns and demand from individual households and this data will become increasingly available as smart meters are rolled out and adopted by the Data Communications Company (DCC), the centralised data management company for smart meters. To see the adoption of such a radical shift in how consumers consume, manage and pay for their energy usage it is essential that this individual consumption data is available not only to industry players, but also to the consumers themselves to allow the necessary levels of transparency needed to build trust in the solutions offered.  

Applications such as Wheatley’s Anise platform are being developed to support and facilitate these types of services, for use by all parties in the market and are being trialled and developed to enable a successful smart network and EV infrastructure play a part in our changing future. You will be able to see the first Anise product soon on Wheatley Insights.

Anise has been developed to allow the comparison of half hour consumption data for individual or collective groups of end users, against a range of various other external data sets to enable meaningful insights to be drawn. This could be the comparison with data demonstrating local network demand, local feeder demand, available time-of-use tariff pricing, weather patterns, etc. and the range of data sets included is set to increase over time. The application can be configured to operate in an analysis or forecast mode and can help a range of users, from individual customers, to network operators and aggregators to enable them to use complex data to make critical decisions.

To learn more about Wheatley’s Anise concept, drop us a message using the button at the bottom of this page (or the Contact Us page) or call 01449 781001.



Author: Craig Edge, Strategy Manager, Wheatley



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