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EVs: grid assets in the making

EV charging points at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

EV charging points at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 9, 2023


By Dwibin Thomas

Electric vehicles (EVs) have become somewhat commonplace in numerous countries. With its own, bona fide racing events such as Formula E and Extreme E, it’s safe to say the green technology has cemented its role in the automotive industry.

In South Africa, the EV market is enjoying some encouraging awareness, however, lack of supporting infrastructure such as charging stations and ongoing power outages remain deal-breakers for some.

Interestingly, EVs have the potential to address some of our country’s power supply problems. The vehicles have the ability to store a significant amount of power in their batteries, typically ranging from 40 to 100 kilowatt-hours, depending on the car’s size and make.

This is significant, particularly when you consider that cars are parked for our hours on end, with their batteries fully charged and standing still. It is during this time when the batteries can give back to the grid. Just imagine thousands of parked cars providing much-needed power to the grid.

Furthermore, many of the vehicles are parked close to buildings and homes, where a significant portion of power is needed. The proximity reduces energy losses during transmission, which is often the case when power is transported over long distances.

EV power in action

How would this work? For one, your EV would have to be connected to smart charger – the units are not standalone but integrated into buildings and homes and connected to the power outlet to assist with charging.

The smart chargers can communicate with a utility which then allows for remote monitoring of the devices. Through this remote monitoring, a utility can then draw additional power from these parked vehicles and feed it back into the grid.

Smart charging stations also provide layers of intelligence such distributed energy resource management systems (DERs) which provide grid with the ability to monitor various energy resources such as EVs.

EVs and other sources of DERs can then be processed by Virtual Power Plants (VVPs) which will then aggregate and dispatch energy as well as support demand response requirements. A VPP platform can treat multiple EVs as a single energy source, dynamically managing their discharging and power supply into the grid.

With the right technology and infrastructure, EVs could become an intelligent part of the grid, dynamically adjusting and balancing the energy supply. Importantly, it could feed excess power back into the grid when needed. This level of integration and intelligence can significantly contribute to the stability and efficiency of an energy system.

There’s no doubt that EVs have the potential to be much more than just standalone vehicles; they could become smart grid assets, actively participating in demand management while helping address energy supply challenges.

Dwibin Thomas, Cluster Automation Leader at Schneider Electric.