Category: Blogs

Renewable, unstoppable: What we learned at #SPIcon 2019

Ok, my colleagues and family are bored of hearing how great Solar Power International / Energy Storage International was in Utah last week and indeed, of how welcoming Salt Lake City was to the 12,000+ renewable energy industry professionals and interested parties that attended. Below are the leading themes from the show in order of narrative, if not in order of importance: 

1. The capacity factory – how and why tomorrow’s solar-plus-storage can be an equal on the grid to today’s fossil fuels 

2. LFP vs NMC – reaction to safety fears provokes new turn in the discussion 

3. Energy storage-as-infrastructure – creating an asset class for the ‘workhorse’ of the grid 

4. #StorageITC – a market accelerator, not a market saviour 

5. Is software actually the single most important ‘component’?

6. Renewable, unstoppable: Why solar’s journey to the core of the US energy system matters

7. Bifacial – The strengths and shortcomings of the emerging technology after its import tariff exemption

You can read the takeaways for each theme here, as originally published on

SolarEdge tying together the ‘related revolutions’ in energy and transport with M&A activity

Solar inverter specialist SolarEdge has sought to tie together the “related revolutions” in energy and transport with its recent M&A activity, the company’s VP of marketing and product strategy Lior Handelsman has said.

“There will not be an electrification revolution within mobility without some adaptation of how we generate, consume and transform energy because all of these cars will have to be charged somehow,” he adds.

We are talking to discuss the company’s recently-announced acquisition of SMRE, an Italian integrated EV technology firm. SMRE has since 1999 been producing e-mobility solutions including powertrains and battery management systems (BMS), software and a range of other critical components.

SolarEdge agreed to purchase 51% of SMRE for an investment of around US$77 million, valuing the Italian company at US$150 million. Handelsman said that while there are no immediate plans to integrate the EV company’s technologies with SolarEdge’s own offerings, or indeed with the supply chain of Kokam – the battery and storage system manufacturer SolarEdge bought into in 2018 – there are obvious synergies.

The acquisition feeds into the inverter and smart energy company’s overall ‘masterplan’ to involve itself in the full gamut of distributed and clean energy market segments, according to the SolarEdge co-founder, who is also VP of product strategy and marketing.

“We are at an interesting time when the world of energy and the world of mobility are changing and are changing together and that change is also related,” Handelsman says.

“These are related revolutions. We are already covering a big part of the energy revolution with PV, which we’ve spoken about in the past, pro-suming and the smart grid of the future. That is actually tied to mobility. It’s tied in with the supply chain, for the lithium cells involved, it’s tied in the consumption side, the demand side, so this is something that was done by design. It has a masterplan behind it.”

In our recent look ahead to 2019’s energy storage market dynamics, several commentators highlighted that lithium-ion cells for energy storage projects were often hard to come by due to supply constraints and demand being quickly absorbed by rapid adopters like South Korea. Having acquired a 75% stake in Kokam, itself headquartered in South Korea, for around US$88 million, Handelsman says SolarEdge will have immediate supply chain access that could be leveraged to support SMRE.

That said, at present, SMRE does not buy its batteries from Kokam and there are no immediate plans for it to do so. Handelsman points out that the EV market can be slow moving to change at times and changes in equipment suppliers or production line methodologies can take much longer to implement than in the solar or energy storage spaces. He also says that, such a short time since the acquisitions, it is still to be decided which areas of synergy SolarEdge will be able to capitalise on.

Nonetheless, we often still hear arguments pushing back against electric vehicles along the lines that if the generation fuelling those cars is not clean, the benefits are limited. For SolarEdge to acquire players in both EV and battery spaces makes that link fairly explicit. EVs are in some ways just “mobile storage” on wheels says Handelsman, and for example, charging their batteries at night from off-peak energy, even if not renewable, is still cleaner than charging during the peaks in most parts of the world.

It sounds an exciting investment for SolarEdge, which apparently is not looking to alter SMRE’s business activities in any way, at least in the near future. After all, the EV market is worth billions more than the inverter market or the energy storage market and it makes sense for each of SolarEdge, Kokam and SMRE to continue with business as usual, albeit that Handelsman points out in theory Kokam could supply batteries suitable to applications in all areas, long-term.

“I’m not sure there is an immediate link between what we can do in delivering e-mobility and our solar customers tomorrow,” Handelsman says.

“But over time, it opens the potential for V2G (vehicle-to-grid), for leveraging the car battery and value-stacking it for more than just moving the car around, it opens more potential for having the car and the EV charger participate in grid services and or home automation platforms. Again, because of the speed of how the e-mobility market moves, it won’t happen tomorrow but that’s definitely the direction.”

Breaking the mould: Pivot Power’s new approach to batteries and rapid EV chargers

Last week newcomer Pivot Power grabbed headlines by revealing it was moving ahead with a plan to deploy 45 50MW batteries with up to 100 rapid electric vehicle chargers, a move seemingly ripped from National Grid’s playbook.

While the system operator has told Current± that it is not the same as what had previously been proposed by its electric vehicle lead Graeme Cooper, which could see such chargers deployed at motorway services, it is still involved as Pivot is proposing to connect its batteries directly onto the national transmission network.

Until now, most battery developers have connected to the distribution system and therefore deal with the network operators working on this regional basis. With developers jostling for grid connections and overcrowding the ancillary services market, Pivot Power made the decision to take a new approach with a new business model.

The phased roll-out is expected to take place over five to six years depending on the speed of fundraising achieved. However the directors behind the new company are confident their approach will take off, as they recently explained to Current±.

‘Competitive and commercially viable’

“It is a unique business model that we are seeing as competitive and commercially viable and therefore will definitely expect [competition] and we of course welcome that,” said chief executive Matt Allen.

Joined by chief technical officer Michael Clark and chief operating officer Matthew Boulton, the trio have brought their experience from developer Become Energy to the new proposition.

Clark said: “We are using the knowledge we’ve got from Become Energy in terms of the battery technology and the built environment, very much using that at Pivot Power to build much larger infrastructure and aligning that with EV charging. It is the same team, and using the same knowledge we’ve built up over time.

“From the battery side there’s quite a lot of overlap – same vendors, quite often slightly different technology just due to the magnitude we’re looking at and dealing with much different voltage levels on the transmission system.”

Despite taking on a new approach with EV charging that, until now, has proved difficult to grow revenue with owing to the low penetration of EVs on UK roads, investors are likely to look favourably on the proposition thanks to the decision to stick with the short (one hour) duration lithium ion batteries they have become comfortable with.

Clark continued: “I think the nature of the last few years has meant investors have got much more comfortable with battery revenues and the costs they have to bear to get them up and running.

“The beauty of the battery plus model where we are on the transmission system and we can add future electric vehicle revenues mean they’ve already got comfortable with the big ticket item which is the battery and all of these add to the business model rather than take it away.

“We are talking to investors who do see EV charging as quite a major piece of the energy system and they are interested in being first movers in that.

“What we’re doing is providing the infrastructure to enable that to happen in the future at the right price. Pivot Power has a desire to be part of the revolution and a facilitator and get rid of those barriers that are consistently talked about by potential EV customers, which is range anxiety and lack of infrastructure. We really want to be part of that and want to be part of the solution.”

Working at scale

In order to achieve this goal, the company will seek to utilise its batteries in the grid services and balancing markets

But where other competitors operate on the distribution network level, Pivot Power’s approach on the transmission system will offer greater scale in accessing these revenue streams while also allowing the company to make a big energy trading play.

This, combined with the potential revenue streams from electric vehicle charging – which Colin Corbally, partner and head of investment strategy at investor Downing said could become the main revenue stream of the network – offers some protection from uncertainty surrounding the market.

Under the shadow of National Grid’s System Needs and Product Strategy (SNAPS) review, Clark explained that the company is hoping to ensure that it is not locked out of providing any services or accessing any revenues.

However, Pivot remains in open conversation with National Grid as its customer working on the transmission system. This dialogue is set to continue over the months and years to come as the company sets out to deploy its batteries, which Allen says is a key solution for ensuring cooperation across the industry.

“We will be working with the industry to provide the services required. At the same time we are building up that capability and know how in house as well to play a more active role in the operational side of all this and making sure this is all optimised across the lifetime of the assets.

“This is an industry that needs to work together and not against one another so we absolutely welcome the advancement of battery storage as a solution,” he concluded.

Time will of course tell as to how cooperative industry will be with the first mover in Pivot Power and its march onto the transmission system, but if successful the company may well not be the last to adopt a new approach in the changing energy infrastructure landscape.

UK’s drivers-first approach to vehicle-to-grid

It’s no secret that EV ownership is reaching a tipping point in Britain. New registrations have surged from 3,500 in 2013 to more than 137,000 by March 2018, and analysis by Element Energy suggests that EVs could account for 30% of all new cars sales by 2030.

While the surge in EVs will play a key role in decarbonising road transport, it will also add new demands to the power network, particularly during times of peak demand. Making sure these peak demands can be managed to match with available generation will be vital to keeping the lights on and minimising costs for energy users and EV drivers.

Multiple studies have shown V2G technology has the capacity to tackle this challenge. If electric vehicles are left plugged into smart, two-way charging points when not in use, their batteries can feed power into the network at times of peak demand. Just 10 new Nissan LEAFs can store as much energy as a thousand homes typically consume in an hour.

Smart chargers can also control when cars recharge to avoid stressing the network and to store surplus power when demand is low. This will allow the grid to operate more efficiently, support higher levels of renewables, and should mean less reliance on fossil fuel power stations.

Machine learning can be utilised to profile drivers’ patterns of behaviour, meaning cars always have sufficient power for their needs. This is key, as it’s likely that drivers will be increasingly happy to earn extra money supporting the grid so long as they can use their car normally whenever they want.

So, while EVs present significant challenges, smart charging and V2G technology could help integrate them into the electricity network with minimum disruption.

The mission

A first of its kind, the V2GB consortium is investigating the kinds of incentives that could encourage EV drivers to engage with V2G technology. The study – one of 21 projects backed by £30 million (US$40.59 million) of government funds to make the UK a world leader in low-carbon vehicles – will develop driver-centred business models to support rapid growth of V2G technology.

The project will draw on the extensive industry knowledge, expertise and data of each partner to formulate pioneering business models. The goal is to explore ways to reward drivers who engage with V2G technology.

Electricity system partners, including the UK’s transmission system operator (TSO) National Grid and Western Power Distribution, a regional distribution network operator (DNO) will advise on the range of ways EVs can support the energy system and the revenues this could generate. Meanwhile, major transport partners such as Nissan will provide real-life data on driver behaviour drawn from their experience of delivering more than 500,000 EVs worldwide.

Moixa, alongside industry partners like consultancy Cenex, will contribute expertise from the UK’s first domestic V2G trial.

Moixa has developed technology that can manage flows of energy to and from electric car batteries and aggregate them to function as a virtual power plant supporting the energy network. Its GridShare platform uses machine learning to understand drivers’ behaviour so EVs always have enough power for their needs, with drivers having the option to control the level of charge manually.

The results

This study is just one part of what is the largest and most diverse group of V2G research activities anywhere in the world. There are a range of studies working to develop the business proposition and core technology around V2G, and demonstrating the real life impact with large-scale trials.

This study is just getting going, but the outcomes have the potential to open the door to an era of V2G schemes that benefit EV drivers, utilities and business alike.

Research conducted prior to this project by Element Energy, one of the consortium partners, found that without V2G, EVs could account for 30% of new car sales by 2030, with 4.7 million on the road. However, potential V2G revenues could reduce the total cost of ownership of an EV by £1000. According to Elemnet Energy, this could result in EVs accounting for 40% of new car sales by 2030, with 6.5 million on the road. This would mean an extra 250,000 electric car and van sales worth £5 billion each year.

The V2GB study will stress test these estimates by testing the real world factors that will affect V2G participation, the revenue that could really be generated, as well as any necessary changes required of the market and policy environment.

On the topic of Britain’s adaptation to e-mobility, visit this exclusive ‘Long read’ feature: “Driving Change – How the UK is ready and waiting for the electric future of transport”

No time like the present for public sector EV fleets

The Green Alliance has just published a new report – ‘How the UK can lead the electric vehicle revolution.’ In another excellent publication it is interestingly the public sector fleet that gains the focus. Hopefully this will reinforce the message that this is the way for local authorities to go.

This new report makes recommendations to the government to amend public policy to help the EV market grow more quickly. This is, after all, an area where the government wants the UK to be a world leader (something it is not with conventional vehicles). Instead, the country is falling behind radical areas such as Norway and China, with emissions from the transport sector now rising again.

There are, of course, many reasons to support the deployment of EVs in any event. These include reducing air and noise pollution, offering better value to the motorist and helping the electricity grid. But are these enough to persuade more people to go electric?

45% of all car sales are to private motorists, but it is the public sector fleet that the Green Alliance focusses on for its early recommendations.  It estimates that there are 25,000 government fleet vehicles and a further 50,000 fleet vehicles under local government control. These figures do not even include the ‘grey fleet’ (ie cars privately owned but used for business), where huge savings on costs for local authorities are achievable.

I have already made the point that if the government and local authorities were to join together to procure electric vehicles they could achieve stunning discounts, purely by the sheer volume of the order (see – insert reference).

Bearing in mind the need to move ahead quickly, placing targets on the public sector fleet, such as 100% of the central government fleet to be EV by 2022 would have a big impact on accelerating the UK market. It would mean more cars made in the UK, with attendant economic benefits. The Green Alliance also focusses on private sector fleets and proposes car tax cuts and maintaining zero rated vehicle excise duty as key factors, together with the continuation of government grants towards the purchase of the EVs themselves.

I’ve previously raised the point about the new ‘vehicle to grid’ (V2G) chargers and how they can add a further element of income to local authorities intent on introducing public sector EV fleets.  The report notes that EVs can help locally to assist the grid at times of spikes in demand or supply and that EV owners can sell excess battery capacity to the grid or be paid for charging at a certain time to reduce demand. Nissan has invested heavily in this market and is already selling a system of PV plus battery for home owners, to which the V2G charger will be added when they are commercially available.

But for local authorities, there is no excuse for waiting. Developing an EV fleet makes economic sense now on a ‘whole life costing’ basis and provides community leadership as well as numerous other benefits. If the V2G element can be added subsequently, this offers the potential to make an extra strand of income, during difficult financial times.

If the progress sought by the Green Alliance report is to be achieved, the public sector has to provide leadership in this area and now is the time for action. The market in EVs and chargers has developed to such an extent that the risks have been substantially reduced and the benefits are clear.

Only time will tell whether this will happen but the Green Alliance report is to be welcomed as another contribution to the material available to help local authorities along that path.

Clean Energy News’ publisher Solar Media is hosting the EV Infrastructure Summit between 3 – 4 July 2018 at London’s America Square Conference Centre. Local authorities and public sector representatives can benefit from a special early bird rate of £299 until 7 May 2018, and a limited number of complimentary tickets remain available for commercial car park owners. Further ticket information can be found here, or by contacting Rachel Morrissey.

In defence of National Grid and EVs: Debunking GMB’s sensationalism

Spare a thought for those working in National Grid’s media team, specifically those tasked with managing its electric vehicle messaging. Last year, following the publication of the 2017 Future Energy Scenarios (FES) document, they probably thought everything was just about under control.

The range of four scenarios laid out in detail the system operator’s thinking on the impact on peak demand of various take-up rates, ranging from around 6GW added to peak up to 18GW in the most extreme case.

It went on to later add that post 2045, this could – and it is important to stress that word – reach 30GW a year depending on uptake; peak demand in July 2017 when the forecast was published sat at 61GW.

Despite the very clearly stated hypothetical nature of these forecasts, it was of course the 30GW figure that was picked up by mainstream press and used to whip up fears over the impact of electric vehicles.

“Ten new nuke plants” would be needed as “Brits forced to go green” read one article just to give a sense of the coverage, although certainly an improvement from the Daily Mail’s “20 more nuclear stations” story from February 2017.

This led to National Grid cancelling media interviews on the subject (including those with Clean Energy News (not that we’re bitter – Ed)) until a new communications strategy could be worked up to counteract what had seemed to be a genuine surprise to the organisation.

The following myth-buster document set out to put right the perception of National Grid’s estimates which it said had been “cited incorrectly and sometimes out of context” by national media outlets. To be clear, it added that the “best fit” scenario for added peak demand from EVs landed at around 5GW, not 30GW.

Unsettled arguments

Fast forward eight months to an insightful evidence session hosted by the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee who were speaking to National Grid’s EV lead Graeme Cooper, alongside representatives from Ofgem and the UK’s energy networks.

In the wide-ranging session, the key story picked up this time by many was that Cooper said that National Grid would “actively support” bringing forward the UK’s planned ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 to 2030.

While it could be argued that this stretched the boundaries of what the system operator could or should be commenting on, the point stands and was rightly and widely reported on.

What was not as readily reported to news readers was the brief discussion on peak demand which will seemingly resurface in this conversation every time it is raised – a fact that energy union GMB may have wished to point out in its response to the evidence session.

The mythical “Trojan horse”

The chat between Cooper and MPs led to a discussion around provision of charging points at motorway services, which the National Grid man said will need “specific intervention to unlock the perception of range anxiety and the uptake of cars”.

He added that National Grid had enough capacity on the transmission system and could deliver it to these locations, but that someone else would need to provide this intervention; National Grid would simply be able to make sure it was successful.

GMB, the trade union for workers mainly in industrial sectors, has taken this to mean that National Grid is in fact deploying “a Trojan horse” for “extra taxpayer cash to pay for the new infrastructure as part of its support for a 2030 ban”.

“What National Grid fails to make clear is that as Ofgem guidelines stand, it could be household energy bill payers who are hit with the huge costs of installing sufficient electric vehicle (EV) charging points into all the country’s motorway service stations,” said GMB national secretary Justin Bowden.

Unfortunately for Bowden – or perhaps this was just conveniently overlooked? – Cooper did just that, explaining that such an intervention does not fit within Ofgem’s price controls as it would be “a market disruptor and doesn’t fit within the normal framework”. This is not him asking for the cash from anyone, just merely pointing out that deployment of this would be difficult under current circumstances.

Rather off the point, GMB also dredged up the 30GW figure by 2050 – even rehashing that this would represent “the equivalent of 10 Hinkley Point power stations” – as the reason for National Grid’s sly attempt at claiming our hard earned cash.

However in a very sure sign of selective engagement with Cooper’s points, GMB did not mention that the National Grid EV lead had once again discredited this figure when asked by committee chair Rachel Reeves MP to explain why National Grid had put out the figure in last year’s FES document.

“The reason for the statement was to try to articulate the importance of smart charging. But, in any infrastructure, if you plan for and model for the worst, that allows you to set the right objectives… One of the things that we were trying to articulate in that piece was that, if everybody in the whole country had an electric car, everybody took them home at exactly the same time and everybody charged them at exactly the same time, which is completely unrealistic, that is the worst, worst case.

“Therefore, it was trying to articulate the reason for understanding usage patterns, but also understanding smart charging, in order to mitigate those. Would we ever see that demand? I am not a betting man, but the probability is close on zero,” he said emphatically.

He also explained that a possible peak addition of 8GW in 2030 as a result of 9 million EVs would, in fact, really just require 4GW of new generation in 12 years’ time due to the use of smart charging. Considering the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill seeks to ensure that only these chargers will be sold in the UK, it’s fair to say this is a likely forecast.

Considering new generation is meant to increase naturally by far more than this in the same period, and Cooper even added that existing transformers and infrastructure could be used to accommodate even the most expensive charge point locations, it is difficult to see what GMB is afraid of.

The union told CEN for this blog that by its own admission, National Grid has said the 30GW could occur, although again failing to acknowledge Cooper’s comments that this is extremely unlikely. It did concede that it could only be 4GW but that this would still amount to “another Hinkley and a bit”.

Its good then that by the time Hinkley arrives it could just be in time for our 2050 peak demand concerns, with alternative (and renewable) sources mixed with falls in demand across the board elsewhere filling the gap. But of course, as GMB also told CEN, “Nobody can predict the future.”

What is the alternative?

“When National Grid wraps up a warm welcome to the end of sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 with vital upgrades to motorway service station electricity infrastructure, it is not being upfront,” Bowden said.

Is Cooper not being upfront by saying capacity and infrastructure is ready to accommodate these locations now? He says money will be needed for sure, but is not laying down the law in where this should come from. Well, at least not during this session. But Cooper has previously suggested that a charge on drivers of £0.60 a year could raise the cash needed for grid and DNOs to deliver the connections needed for rapid motorway charging. Where was GMB’s pearl-clutching response then?

Bowden went on to add: “When Grid says the more rapid roll out of EV’s ‘could be facilitated by the close alignment of the transmission and motorway networks’, what they really mean is with some extra cash.”

Do they though? Or are they just pointing to an infrastructure need in the future that will ultimately have to be paid for by someone? The government announced in the 2017 Budget that a £400 million fund would be raised to invest in charging infrastructure; GMB may be worried about bill payers, but what about tax payers?

GMB told CEN that National Grid is not being upfront about the fact that who pays for the infrastructure is a decision for government and could include general taxation; but is it really for the system operator to point this out? Surely the trade union should be calling on Whitehall to open the issue up for discussion.

It’s response went on to say that Grid was arguing that the cost of the necessary infrastructure for EVs – again referencing “many, many billions of pounds” without pointing to what figure they were referring to – must be found from somewhere other than its own profits.

Ultimately, we all pay for everything either through taxes or bills. That is the state of how energy infrastructure investments are made, with National Grid managing the system and calculating how much the impact of additional connections or technologies will cost to incorporate. It may be too late to point a finger at them and say it’s not fair.

But okay, if GMB and any others are concerned about where this necessary investment will come from I would ask; what is the alternative? With various estimates putting 1 million EVs on UK roads by 2022, 5 million by 2027 and 9 million by 2030, let’s hope GMB or someone else can offer one.

Inside Faraday Grid, the firm hoping to enable the Internet of Energy

“Utilities have previously been resistant to change and didn’t want to mess with our energy system at all if they didn’t have to. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But now it’s completely broke,” Andrew Scobie, chief executive at Faraday Grid, says, offering a damning verdict perhaps of both the legacy utilities’ attitude to emerging trends and where that attitude has got us.

“The underlying nature of the grid is unable to meet the challenges of the future. We’ve got these demands which are insoluble within the current grid architecture.”

Faraday Grid professes to have just the solution.

Spun out of Australian power services firm Exigen, Faraday Grid was founded by a team of five and led by Scobie. Its proprietary technology – the Faraday Exchanger – is what the firm is so excited about and what’s essentially led to a major strategic investment in it by energy tech firm Amp Energy last year.

The Exchanger is essentially a piece of hardware that controls voltage, frequency and power flow within transmission and distribution grids but, crucially, allows bi-directional power flow. Installed where you might otherwise see transformers, Exchangers profess to replace the likes of inverters with a scalable, cost-effective solution more fit for the 21st century.

It harks to what Scobie has billed as a fundamental issue facing the power sector in the coming years. If energy generation is changing – and it is, at breakneck speed – then how do the distribution and transmission grids change alongside it? “People have been thinking about more distributed demand, but they haven’t been thinking about what the grid ontology, the basic nature of its being, is if you’re going to support that,” he says.

And Scobie is particularly strong in his views over what will require the biggest change of thinking in the near future.

Driving change

Decarbonisation remains the key driver behind the energy transition, but decentralisation is arguably what requires the most careful thought. Scobie argues that this will require a fundamental discussion about the very nature of supply and demand, with an “ever increasing” amount of digital demand being placed on largely analogue grids.

“The biggest of all those issues, by number and by value, is obviously going to be electric vehicles. On the supply side we’ve got this ever increasing amount of randomness in both the short- and long-term, and on the demand side we’ve got an ever increasing amount of volatility also,” he says.

The discussions are nothing new. National Grid has grown so tired of talking about the changing demand electric vehicles may pose, or perhaps more specifically the way in which its viewpoints have been twisted or skewed by national media, that it’s far more careful in what it says publicly now.

Scobie insists that some of the utilities and energy companies it has spoken to have spoken of a “hard limit” to EV penetration without not insignificant upgrades to the grid, and that number is “way, way, way below” estimates from policy makers and the EV market itself. “That’s not an issue of charge points, it’s the fundamental nature of the grid that underpins it and the complete inability of it to deal with the change in demand,” he says.

It’s a view that may not ring true with at least some within the EV and grid sectors. National Grid has been at great pains to alleviate any fears surrounding EV’s impact on the grid and smart chargers will, by government decree, be the minimum standard under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill that’s currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords.

Scobie, though, remains bullish. “Anybody that says that EVs might be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they haven’t done the math,” he says.

Lessons from telecomms

The company has been equally bullish about the Exchanger’s potential. In December last year, when it formally introduced the product, the firm heralded the device as having the ability to “change the course of history”, and being capable of enabling as much as 107TWh of additional renewable generation in the UK alone – and at no additional cost.

To put it simply, the Exchanger acts as the router of the energy system; a device which can spark a revolution in the energy world in much the same way internet routers changed the telephony system and sparked a revolution in telecommunications with the internet.

In adapting the grid to behave “in much the same way the internet does”, as Scobie suggests, many of the issues inherent with a more decentralised grid would be reduced. A significant amount of resources could be saved by capping the need for costly grid upgrades. The loss of inertia on regional systems, caused by the shift away from large conventional power stations, would no longer be mourned. Voltage could be better controlled and more ideal power factors delivered, making the entire energy system more efficient.

Comparing the device with internet routers is an interesting parallel to make given the now frequent messaging that the energy sector in general could learn a lot from telecommunications, which experienced a similarly revolutionary change when it moved from a copper wire-based switch network to a packet system, as Scobie says.

“We [the energy sector] are not going to be free from the nature of wires any time soon, but we absolutely need to alter the underlying ontology of the grid. What you had was this architecture that was very rigid, very fragile, but very efficient. That simply does not fit… we do not have the energy density in renewables which would allow you to have that as large centralised generation,” Scobie says.

Faraday Grid clearly believes it has just the answer and, as you may expect, the company has not been found wanting for potential collaborators.

Scobie says that every door the company has knocked on has been opened, with interest across the world. On these shores it is working with UK Power Networks and Scottish Power, two of the country’s DNOs, with a view to commercialising the product. Richard Dowling, appointed as the firm’s chief economist last December, says interest in the firm has been “at a pace and rate greater than we anticipated” which has helped in Series C funding.

The firm’s Edinburgh base has proven to be the perfect incubator. The city has provided ideal access to links in both industry and academic fields, which Scobie says is vital for its staff (the average qualification within the company is a PhD). The firm’s next objective will be to prove the technology works in the field and en masse. Its technology was going into testing facilities at the start of the year and a behind-the-meter deployment schedule has been struck with aforementioned investor Amp Energy.

A US-based R&D facility is also on the cards, with Faraday Grid keen on extending its reach into the significantly more complex North American market, knowing full well that the energy transition is a very global phenomenon. Should the Exchanger work as billed, then the Internet of Energy could be within reach.

Implementing central-London’s biggest lamp column charging network

We know that concerns about ‘range anxiety’ can put people off buying electric vehicles. However, EV technology is changing and local authorities must change with it. New cars travel further on each charge, charging is becoming quicker and charging points are more plentiful.

There is growing demand for electric vehicles in Kensington and Chelsea, however most residents do not have access to off-street parking.

This is why Kensington and Chelsea Council is investing in central-London’s largest network of lamp post electric vehicle chargers as part of our strategy to help reduce air pollution across London.

We announced in November that we were expanding the network with 50 new charge points in addition to the seven charge points already installed as part of the pilot.

Delivering the project

Unlike standalone ‘turn up and charge’ technology, lamp posts use unmetered electricity supply, so the meter is built in to the charging cable itself.

Residents who purchase a cable can plug into any of the lamp post chargers, located right across the borough from Chelsea to Notting Hill, giving them flexibility about when and where they charge.

The cable measures the electricity used while plugged in and charges residents accordingly. The cables are secure, locked in both to the lamp column and the vehicle itself, so residents can leave their car charging while they go about their day or night.

Our commercial partner ubitricity has a free app which identifies the location of each operational charging point.

We know that more than half of Kensington and Chelsea residents do not have access to off-street parking, so it was important that the electric vehicle network was designed with residents in mind.

Council officers contacted and surveyed both owners of electric vehicles and residents who were considering making the switch. We also work with and talk to EV manufacturers to understand future demands in the borough.

The survey found that residents welcomed the possible expansion of electric vehicle charge points. However, with so many residents not having access to off-street parking, the primary concern was how to reliably access on-street charging on demand.

With residents’ feedback front of mind, the Council set about designing the network to allow residents across the borough to access charging points close to where they live.

Not without its challenges

While the lamp post charging network provides a great opportunity for both residents and the Council, we knew before we began rolling out the network that it wouldn’t be without its practical challenges.

Chief among them is fitting the charging technology inside the lamp columns. Taller columns of 8-12 metres have enough space within the columns, however the shorter columns of 4-6 metres present a technical challenge. We work with ubitricity to miniaturise the system, including by utilising the column shaft to house part of the equipment.

Another challenge is finding the right lamp columns to use. The columns need to be kerbside, not at the back of the footway to avoid the cords creating a trip hazard for pedestrians.

All locations require a pre-survey before the column doors are drilled for the charging socket. This does have the added advantage of not affecting the structural integrity of the lamp post itself.

Other challenges include ensuring the columns adhere to a prescribed standard of earthing, increasing the fuse size to cope with the extra energy usage, and metering an otherwise unmetered energy supply.

Weighing up the advantages

However, for all these challenges, the benefits to motorists and to council taxpayers are immense.

Retro-fitting lamp posts with charging technology allows drivers to conveniently charge their vehicles close to home, while helping tackle air pollution in London. Lamp post charging is also more cost-effective and much less obtrusive as charging points do not require additional street furniture.

In addition, lamp column chargers offer considerably better value-for-money over traditional stand-alone charging points. Depending on design and specifications, the lamp column chargers can cost as little as 5% of the cost of standard roadside chargers.

There is no need for costly civil work and no disruption to traffic while fitting the charge points, while another advantage over stand-alone charging points is that it makes use of existing infrastructure, rather than installing separate pieces of street furniture.

The lamp column chargers give a 3kW charge, which is ideal for residents parking their vehicles overnight, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Overall energy demands on the grid are lower at night, so a slow overnight charge has the additional benefit of minimising the load on the power grid, something that will be vitally important as electric motoring becomes more widespread.

Residents who have joined the electric vehicle charging scheme are enjoying it, however the real benefits will be realised over time as more people make the switch to electric and plug-in hybrid motoring.

We were privileged to have actor and renewable energy advocate Robert Llewellyn – aka Kryten from Red Dwarf – recently in the borough to open one of our newest charge points. Robert rightly called for other councils to follow Kensington and Chelsea’s lead. After all, there’s no shortage of lamp posts on London streets, so why not make use of them!

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