Category: Energy - sponsored by Mazak
Headline sponsor: Babcock International Group
Partners: Cenex, University of Nottingham, University of Warwick, CrowdCharge, Leeds City Council and Nottingham City Council
The potential upside of vehicle to grid (V2G) technology has long been known, touted by some as an almost mythical panacea to smooth the path to decarbonisation in both energy and transport. V2G enthusiasts envision the coming proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) – specifically their batteries - providing a decentralised network of energy storage to balance the grid, which in turn will help lower consumer costs and ultimately reduce emissions.
In theory, it’s a win-win. In practice, it’s a huge engineering challenge incorporating multiple sectors, various nascent technologies and no small element of unpredictable human behaviour. Bringing together expertise from across academia and industry, EV-elocity set out to deliver hard data on the benefits of V2G technology, using real-world trials to demonstrate its value.
“The concept of V2G has a rich history in academic thought and early R&D but as electric vehicles have become more widely available, the transport and energy industries have had to work increasingly closely together,” explained Chris Rimmer, deputy head of Department, Energy Systems & Infrastructure at Cenex, which spearheaded the collaboration.
“The EV-elocity project originated from a group of vehicle manufacturers, chargepoint operators, research organisations and facility owners who wanted to explore this in more detail, who were able to work in the nexus of energy, mobility, people and technology. Collaboration across disciplines and industries was key to enable the delivery of the innovation that is essential for the electric vehicle industry to maximise its carbon reduction impact.”
As part of the project, nine V2G sites with bidirectional chargers were deployed at various locations, alongside a new backend system architecture to connect, control and dispatch the infrastructure. Background data was collected over more than 12 months, covering everything from vehicle usage and building energy demand, to renewable energy generation and grid carbon intensity. These datasets were then combined to predict charging and discharging opportunities and enable the development of models to optimise battery longevity as well as cost and carbon savings.
“One of the unique aspects of the EV-elocity project was the way we were able to explore the different benefits of V2G in the real-world,” said Professor James Marco, battery systems specialist at Warwick Manufacturing group (WMG).
“Previous studies have focused on individual aspects, but we were able to deploy charging strategies that sought to minimise driving cost, reduce carbon emissions or potentially extend the life of the vehicle’s battery system. Cenex’s modelling revealed that by optimising charging to reduce carbon, cost is also saved. The modelling and analysis done by WMG highlighted how the battery could be conditioned before V2G operation commenced to extend its life, delivering further cost savings and greater environmental benefits.”
But no amount of modelling can account for the idiosyncrasies and quirks that inevitably arise when human behaviour collides with a new technology. Old habits die hard, so we’re told, and automotive habits seem to die hardest. Shifting drivers to EVs is essentially a prolonged social and behavioural experiment on a global scale. Incorporating an added element of complexity - such as V2G – must be done with as little burden as possible on the end user. Simplifying the use of EV-elocity for drivers was a key component in the project’s success, according to Professor Lucelia Rodrigues, head of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Architecture & Built Environment.
“Conducting the trial in the real-world, we were able to explore how users interacted with the technology in the context of operational requirements for security vans, pool cars, council services and other fleet types,” said Rodrigues, who is also chair of Sustainable and Resilient Cities at Nottingham.
“We used telemetry data to identify the best locations for V2G chargers and the likely presence of EVs near these sites to predict charging and discharging opportunities. We then brought together these aspects with the needs of the user and the availability of clean energy to enable our systems to make charging decisions on behalf of the user. We ensured the users’ needs were always met, whilst providing carbon and economic benefit, and therefore our interventions were welcomed – all the users had to do was to plug in and we managed the rest. Interestingly, even users of hard-to-electrify fleets, such as the ones that require 24hrs action, reported benefits and a reduction of the ‘anxiety’ around electrification.”
Like many of the C2I projects to grace these pages in recent years, Covid inevitably cast its shadow here too. In early 2020, some of the initial and unfunded partners withdrew from EV-elocity, leaving the remaining participants to revise the scope and delivery plan so that the main aims continued to be met. Rather than negatively impacting the project, this strengthened the relationship between the remaining consortium, according its members. Installation rollout was held up, but the dispersed team was able to continue the majority of its work unimpeded.
“As a consortium distributed across multiple sites, we already used Microsoft Teams for communication, sharing and meetings before the pandemic, so were able to move to a virtual model of working relatively easily,” said Cenex’s Chris Rimmer.
“Covid was a challenge for everyone in many ways and it delayed a number of our installations as sites were shut or installers were on furlough. As society opened up, we were able to complete installations and move into an operational phase, although the usage data we captured was probably not representative of ‘normal life’.”
In terms of brass tacks, the project demonstrated that V2G with smart tariffs could deliver savings of around £400 a year per chargepoint, with carbon savings of up to 450kg. Compared to a reference 'dumb charging' strategy, battery life could also be enhanced by 8.6 - 12.3 per cent using bespoke charging models developed by the project partners. EV-elocity’s success has seen the project recognised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Innovate UK, who are using at as an impact case study. What’s more, the infrastructure rolled out for the project is continuing to deliver value.
“All the trial sites have been moved across to commercial contracts with CrowdCharge,” said Mike Potter, CrowdCharge: CEO. “V2G is still a very specialist technology so the sites are not open to the public but continue to deliver cost, carbon and conditioning savings for the fleets.”