Managing electric vehicle charging with connected cars

One of the most convenient innovation pairings occurring at the moment is the speed at which electric vehicles are being legally enforced and the development of software that is creating acceleration in the production of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs)

If this pairing wasn’t happening, we might end up with connected cars that would soon become obsolete due to the reliance on an outdated energy source, or ‘dumb’ electric cars that require new system-wide energy management but that don’t have access to the best available data to create effective solutions. Electric vehicles enhanced with connected car technology is one such example, of how the combined innovations can enhance our lives.

Home energy demand will increase

Over the last couple of decades activities that typically had to be done out-of-home are now more and more being done in the home. And Covid-19 has accelerated this change even more rapidly.

We can shop online rather than visiting shopping centres or supermarkets. We can work from home rather than commuting to an office. We can watch global movie premieres on Netflix rather than going to a cinema. We can even access personal training sessions at home thanks to YouTube and Peloton. All this has been enabled by electronic and digital devices.

EV Volkswagen Golfs Charging

On-street EV charging 

A more subtle at-home experience will soon be an everyday occurrence for most of us. Instead of filling our cars with energy at a petrol station, for those of us with private driveways, garages, or parking spaces, we’ll have our own little re-fuelling station at home. No trips to the petrol station late at night to refuel before your daily commute, and no long queues on the way to work or after the weekend shopping trip.

For those of us who have the potential to charge our cars at home, which will be about half of all UK households, the consequence of this is a large increase in home energy use. For the rest of us, finding local on-street parking is a short-term challenge which will need to be met with an array of innovative solutions. Range anxiety, where the fear of running out of battery charge or facing a lengthy wait whilst your car re-charges, will reduce to 2 sets of drivers: those on a long holiday trip and those driving their vehicle commercially.

Home and away

Despite the wide roll-out in public parking, we expect the majority of charging will take place overnight at or near home. It is highly convenient, flexible, and takes little time to manage.

We expect people will recharge when the battery drops below around 75%, so that unexpected trips do not cause range anxiety. We also believe that charging is more likely to take place when it doesn’t rain, due to our fear of water and electricity mixing*, plus it’s not much fun plugging in a charging cable while it’s raining.

Australian Road

Existing range anxiety down under

Away from home charging will be for those with bad planning skills, additional driving needs, such as those who do it professionally including delivery drivers and salespeople, or who are making long drives for holidays. These are real situations where range anxiety is justified, and not much different from when I took long trips across Australia and wondered if I had passed one too many petrol stations without stopping.

Evening and night-time peak charging

The most obvious behaviour for electric vehicle charging is that we arrive home from work and plug in the car before going indoors. 6pm to 8pm is therefore likely to be a peak charging time, adding to the already existing high demand on the network at that time.

UK Electricity Demand

UK electricity demand against time of day

However, with smarter charging solutions we can push the majority of driveway electric charging to the middle of the night, and therefore we don’t expect evening peak energy use to be a risk. Attractive night-time prices and a limited need to drive overnight will make this simple to attain.

There are more interesting nuances within the night-time charge. It is easy to see software solutions that aim to minimise the cost of the charge by comparing utility prices with desired car battery range of charge.

A driver might decide to plug their car in every night to top up to a 75% battery charge in the morning and only draw energy when a daily low price is achieved. You could take this further and either set your expected journeys or use predictive algorithms to estimate how much and when to charge. Given the variability in energy prices and the expected 10% increase in total electricity demand due to vehicle charging, this could save a significant amount of money.

In-car charge management vs. smart utilities

Another area that has drawn our attention is how we should manage charging. Setting charge limits and routines, planned trips, and driving behaviour all appear to be car-related information. Energy prices sit on the utility side. The question we want to answer is would an electric vehicle that is plugged in choose to draw power, or would the charging device (provided by an energy supplier) decide when to stop providing the juice.

On top of the who-should-make-the-decision conundrum, is also, what should the algorithm be. We can look at a multitude of energy market prediction tools, which include weather predictions, to realise that there is a competitive market for forecasting energy prices over minutes, hours, and days. This will mean 3rd party charging optimisation tools will have a place and making the connection between cars and the utilities’ charging mechanisms is vital and commercially viable.

Building mobile applications that connect with cars via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as well as charging stations, can help consumers save great amounts of money and help governments and energy companies understand how our energy habits are changing.

* It’s perfectly safe to charge your EV in the rain. You can read more about why that is here.

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