How Smart Charging Connections Can Accelerate Chargepoint Deployment

03/06/2021

By Geoff Murphy

One of the main objectives of the Charge Project is to develop and trial Smart Charging Connections on a range of networks to better understand their deployment and performance. But what exactly are Smart Charging Connections and how can they help to accelerate the roll-out of a comprehensive public charging infrastructure?

A key part of the UK’s Net Zero planning is to radically increase the number of EVs on our roads, and that requires an exponential leap on the amount of chargepoints available in our towns and cities, and on our roads. As we look to the future, it is essential then that customers who want to install chargepoints have the right type of network connection options available to them.

At present, the standard option is a reinforcement-led connection. Traditionally, when looking to connect chargepoints to the network, the customer receives a connection offer that details the necessary reinforcement work needed to do this, such as the installation of new conductors, substations etc. While reinforcement-led connections provide the customer with unrestricted access to the requested capacity, they can be expensive and time-consuming to deliver. This has often created a barrier to the deployment of chargepoints, with customers put off by the extra cost, time and disruption involved.

However, an alternative option is to adopt a flexible connection. Under this type of connection, the customer agrees to curtail their import and/or export in line with the available network capacity to prevent it from becoming constrained (stressed). These solutions minimise the need for network reinforcement work, making them relatively cheap and quick to deploy.

Smart Charging Connections is the name given to the type of flexible connections being explored by the Charge Project specifically relating to the deployment of public chargepoints. The connections utilise the inherent intelligence of modern ‘smart chargers’. This enables clustered chargepoints to communicate with each other and manage their collective demand within a static or dynamic limit. When capacity is available on the customer or DNO network, the chargepoints are unrestricted – however, as the network approaches its operating limit, the chargepoints autonomously lower their collective demand.

The timeline for the UK’s transition to EV adoption is very aggressive, with the expectation that all new cars and vans will be EVs or hybrids by 2030, and purely electric by 2035. It is essential that the deployment of public charging infrastructure is equally aggressive in order to ensure drivers without access to home-charging can confidently buy an EV in the knowledge that public chargepoints are widely available throughout the country.

The scale of deployment needed has been recently estimated at ~400,000 new publicly available chargepoints by 2030, over a ten-fold increase on the present level. This presents a massive challenge to the UK’s electricity distribution networks. There is a real risk that network reinforcement will not be able to keep pace with the deployment of charging infrastructure and becomes a major barrier to the UK’s transition to EVs.

We believe that Smart Charging Connections have an essential role to play in accelerating chargepoint deployment. Compared to standard reinforcement-led connections, they present a more compelling business case, be it as an enduring solution or a temporary one ahead of reinforcement being delivered.

As Flexibility Service Markets in GB mature, this could release network capacity that could support further connections. If the Flexibility Service Market allows for sufficient capacity on the system; that additional capacity could facilitate the connection of the additional chargepoint load.

The Charge Project has explored the development and delivery of four different types of Smart Charging Connections that enable demand to be flexibly controlled across a variety of chargepoint deployments, from small-scale residential developments to larger, city-wide environments. The four types are:

  • Timed capacity connections
  • Customer load management schemes
  • Locally managed constraint schemes
  • Centrally managed constraint schemes

We think that the best way to explain them is to show how they work in a series of four short videos. You can find these on our webpage from Friday 4 June here:

The inherent Requiring little or no reinforcement work, flexible connections are quick and inexpensive to deploy.

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