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Smart charging

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For cars the future’s electric, which means electricity networks need to understand probable customer behaviours. Fortunately, help is at hand…



Since April 2016 we have been hosting Electric Nation, the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) trial. A significant part of the project is devoted to analysing customer behaviour. Electric Nation is due to report later this year but interim results have provided some helpful indicators about how customers choose to charge their EVs.

Overall, there are some significant parallels between EV ownership and petrol or diesel vehicle ownership. Customers tend to only charge once or twice a week and they tend not to run their vehicles down to empty, avoiding the need for a full charge. It also seems that the bigger the vehicle battery, the less likely it is to require a full charge when plugged in. Importantly, when given direct information about costs they’re choosing the cheaper option: owners with Economy 7 tariffs are timing their charging to coincide with cheaper rates.

“One of our major concerns was that everyone with an EV would drive home and plug their charger in straight away adding to peak period load,” said WPD Innovation and Low Carbon Networks Engineer Ricky Duke.  “That might have required a £2.2bn investment in upgrading LV networks across Britain by 2050, which would have created a hidden cost to EV ownership. But Electric Nation has revealed that participants are adapting existing behaviours." 

“Being cost conscious and setting timers to coincide with lower rates creates a spike but is well within network capacity, although it may prove an issue for generators." 

Another question the Electric Nation trial seeks to answer is whether smart charging will be acceptable to customers, particularly at peak times. “The answer seems to be ‘yes’ provided they all still get the amount of charge they require by the time they need it,” said Ricky. “So reducing a 7kW charge to 6.5kW shouldn’t be an issue.”

Electric Nation has also revealed another charging behaviour – customers don’t like to plug their cars in when it’s raining. Instead they wait until later in the day or charge another day.

Electric Nation will be revealing its full findings at a summer seminar. Details will be available here: Electric Nation Project.

Electric Nation in numbers:

  • 673 participants
  • 51% electric vehicles
  • 49% plug-in hybrid vehicles
  • 86% mostly home charge
  • 8% mostly work charge
  • 3% mostly service station charge
  • 38% live in an urban area
  • 35% live in a suburban area
  • 26% live in a rural area