Plugging in six electric cars may cause local power cuts
Emily Gosden, Energy Editor
April 20 2017, 12:01am,
More than 11,000 public charging points have been installed for 100,000 electric cars on the roads today
Electric cars could cause local power shortages if just six vehicles are plugged in to charge on the same street, a leading think tank has warned.
Britain’s energy networks are unprepared for the growing numbers of electric cars and solar panels and ministers must intervene to prevent a “disaster” of “rising bills, blackout risk and angry consumers”, the Green Alliance said.
Uncontrolled charging of electric vehicles could cause “brownouts” at evening peaks in half of the UK by 2023, where the voltage drops and some household appliances stop working. Even now “as few as six closely located vehicles charging together at peak time could lead to local brownouts”, the report warned.
By 2025, up to 700,000 people could be affected by blackouts unless ministers mandate the use of “smart” charging points that manage usage and prevent cars drawing more power than the grid is capable of providing, it said.
About 100,000 electric vehicles are on British roads and forecasts suggest this could rise to 4.6 million by 2025 as costs fall. There are more than 11,000 public charging points, but most drivers also install their own charging points at home.
Dustin Benton, the policy director of Green Alliance, said initial ownership of electric cars was likely to be clustered in wealthy areas, exacerbating the risk of localised shortages unless ministers acted to manage the way they were charged. The affluent Surrey town of Lightwater could suffer brownouts if a third of households charged electric cars at peak, for example, or if just 7 per cent of households did so in “clusters”.
Using “smart” car chargers could, however, turn electric vehicle batteries into a useful resource, providing power to the grid at peak times and charging at other times when power is plentiful.
Meanwhile, the continued installation of solar panels is threatening power grids with the opposite problem of too much power when demand is low, the Green Alliance warned. The cost of solar panels is falling so rapidly that the government will soon lose the ability to deter people from installing them by cutting subsidies.
A fifth of local networks are already so close to capacity that they will struggle to cope with new solar developments, leaving the authorities facing the “invidious choice” of either barring people from installing solar panels or undertaking costly network upgrades. A radical rethink could instead use batteries and smart household appliances to help tackle the problem, it said.
“Small-scale energy . . . has already led to blackouts and billion-pound losses for unprepared governments, and it won’t be any different for the UK,” the Green Alliance warned. However, “with the right policy, electric vehicles and solar could help keep the lights on and cut consumer bills”.
A government spokesman said: “Keeping the lights on is non-negotiable. The way we use energy is changing and government is already upgrading our infrastructure and investigating what more can be done to deliver a smarter, more flexible energy system.”