Electric Vehicle innovation rewarded

Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution’s pioneering project, My Electric Avenue, has scooped a prestigious industry award.

The Innovation Award from the Northern Automotive Alliance was in recognition of the three-year research project, which simulated a not-too-distant future where everybody drives electric vehicles, in order to find out how it would impact on the electricity network.

The project, which was led by EA Technology, created ‘streets of the future’ by offering clusters of households an electric car to drive for 18 months. It then monitored the impact high concentrations of charging activity would have on local electricity circuits, and identified the measures electricity network operators may need to introduce if consumer demand for electric vehicles continues to soar.

During the project, a new technology on trial, known as ‘Esprit,’ successfully monitored and controlled the electricity used when the cars were on charge. It either shifted some of the charging to an off-peak period or staggered the charging during peak demand to avoid any potential cable overloading issues.

The project’s final event to share the findings took place in London. The key lesson learnt was that electricity networks can typically manage between 30% and 50% of customers charging their electric vehicles at the same time before any issues arise. Without the Espirit technology, this would require network strengthening through the installation of new underground cables. However, this project has shown that it may be possible to avoid this drastic measure by using Espirit to stagger or shift charging times. Crucially, My Electric Avenue has shown that the customers involved in the trial were happy to have their charging managed in this way as they found it didn’t impede their use of the cars.

The project was part funded through Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund, and involved partners such as Nissan, Fleetdrive Electric and Zero Carbon Futures, with support from Northern Powergrid, Manchester University and De Montfort University. It is the first time a private company, EA Technology, rather than a Distribution Network Operator (DNO) like Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution has led and managed a trial like this, and so the commercial innovation has created a blueprint for how DNOs and third parties could work together in the future.  It is also the first project to bring the automotive and energy sectors together. There are now plans to launch a UK automotive-energy working group to continue to tackle the challenges posed by electric vehicles.