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Published: 12 May 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
EnergyRational energy use  |  Reliability of supply
Information societyInformation technology
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
TransportRoad
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Austria  |  Belgium  |  France  |  Germany  |  Ireland  |  Italy  |  Portugal  |  Spain  |  Switzerland
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Why electric cars need to start talking to the grid

EU-funded researchers have developed new planning techniques that will help ensure Europe's existing smart grid infrastructure can sustainably meet growing demand for plug-in electric vehicles - and they want to see these cars communicating with charging stations.

Photo of an electric car being recharged

© estations - fotolia.com

By harnessing digital technologies to achieve greater control and automation, smart grids can smooth the flow of electricity and help operators achieve optimal efficiency, guarantee capacity and offer new services. However, it has become clear that new planning tools are needed to seamlessly integrate growing demand for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) within a secure electricity infrastructure that increasingly relies on renewable sources.

“Electricity distribution requirements are expanding rapidly,” explains project coordinator Armin Gaul from Innogy, Germany. “This is being driven by two dominant factors: a dynamic market for electric mobility and the growing renewable energy sector. To put the latter in perspective, wind energy grew by 46 % in Germany last year compared to the previous year.”

Addressing energy supply and demand

The issue, says Gaul, is what happens when consumption from e-mobility and the feed-in from renewable energy sources increase, but not in harmony. “Photovoltaic energy usually comes online after lunchtime, while demand from PEVs spikes in the morning and evening,” he points out. “Is our existing network able to meet demand while conserving energy resources, remaining strong and secure and running efficiently?” he asks. “We need to achieve greater control of distribution and find new ways of leveraging demand.”

After three years of discussions, studies and in-field testing, the PLANGRIDEV project has pioneered new planning techniques designed to ensure that Europe’s smart grid infrastructure can meet this challenge, without the need for expensive investment. Some 16 key performance indicators were selected. A key benefit is that distribution system operators (DSOs) now have tools at hand to calculate demand, allowing them to reschedule.

“We were able to define and test solutions for DSOs that help them plan, build and operate energy grids to fit future requirements,” says Gaul. “These planning tools take into account the dynamic behaviour of distributed energy resources and electric vehicles, along with ways a grid can adapt to different load situations. We not only simulated different scenarios, but also tested these methods in different distribution grids over Europe.”

Driving better car communication

By bringing car manufacturers into the project, the team was also able to address the demand side. “All 12 partners from industry and research came together with their specific expertise and extensive market experience,” says Gaul. “Car manufacturers have probably never thought much about how fuel gets to the pumps, but with PEVs, we saw that it was vital to fully integrate them into the electric grid. It is no good for their customers if there is a ‘traffic jam’ on the grid; we need to show them how they can be part of the solution.”

The key, says Gaul, is communication and information sent from cars to electric distributors, which can help to manage demand. Tariff schemes were also investigated, to see if cheaper prices could help reduce peak load. “Moving forward, what we really want to see are control mechanisms put in EVs that are capable of communicating with the grid,” he says. “Providing information to the charge point will ensure that electricity is distributed when it is needed.”

Gaul notes that just as the project’s final report was coming out, the US state of California passed a regulation stating that there would no longer be any public funding for EV programmes where the car and the charging station were not ‘talking’.

“This is the direction we need to go,” says Gaul. “I’m certainly looking forward to intensifying our exchanges with car manufacturers in the future, and I think this will be crucial in the success of rolling out EVs.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: PLANGRIDEV
  • Participants: Germany (Coordinator), Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Belgium
  • Project N°: 608957
  • Total costs: € 7 603 473
  • EU contribution: € 4 875 289
  • Duration: June 2013 - February 2016

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