By Matt Brown, Vice-President of Energy for Western Europe, Middle-East and Americas at Pöyry
We examine some of the major uncertainties that exist around electric vehicles – when and where will people charge their cars? What behaviour will we see? And ultimately, what impact may EVs have on the generation and distribution of electricity?
2017 was a major year for announcements on electric vehicles. While there are still hurdles to be overcome, it seems that EVs have already won the battle for the future of transport.
Naturally at Pöyry we don’t rule out the possibility of natural gas, hydrogen and fuel cells playing their part, but in this point of view we consider only an ‘all electric’ future.
Imagine that by 2030 EVs have taken over as the vehicle of choice and rapid EV take-up has transformed our streets making them quieter and with much reduced local air pollution. Still a major uncertainty exists – when and where will people charge their EVs? What behaviour will we see?
Added to this uncertainty is the transformation of the electricity system that is ongoing – decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. We expect increasing amounts of non-dispatchable renewable generation in the form of wind and solar, and for new technology and innovation to allow for much greater levels of consumer participation in the electricity market.
So the key question we address here is ‘what impact may EVs have on the generation and distribution of electricity?’
In a future with 50 per cent of all cars, buses and motorcycles ‘all electric’ across the EU28, the demand for liquid transport fuels is 68 mtoe p.a. lower (or 24 per cent of the 2016 total) and annual electricity demand is 330TWh higher, which is 11 per cent of EU28 final demand in 2016.
To some this may not seem much, but it is equivalent to adding a country the size of Italy to the electricity demand of the EU28. One reason why the impact is not larger is that EVs are efficient in turning energy into km travelled when compared to reciprocating engines.
It is important though to consider how the electricity is generated and compare primary energy use per passenger km to ensure a like for-like comparison.
What does this 330 TWh mean in terms of additional capacity – how many gigawatts of new plant may be needed as a result of this increased electricity demand? If the 330 TWh was considered on a standalone basis, it would require 45 GW of baseload plant, which is equivalent to 14 Hinkley Point Cs, or 125 GW of onshore wind capacity, which is almost three times the current total onshore wind capacity of Germany.
But what does it mean for investment needs when considered in the existing electricity system? The answer to this question is not at all straightforward, as it depends on how, when and where EV owners choose to charge.
When will EVs charge?
Energy versus Capacity. Electricity demand varies across the day and across the year, and storing electricity is currently costly. As a result, traditionally electricity systems have plants that run baseload, mid-merit and peaking duty.
In addition, they hold reserve capacity to deal with unexpected peaks in demand. So, a peaking plant may only run for a small number of hours over the year. In addition, the wires that distribute electricity also have to cope with peaks in demand and be sized appropriately.
With spare capacity on the system, additional energy demand could in theory be accommodated without the need for new capacity.