It’s widely speculated that the government will pull forward a ban on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles to a new deadline of 2030. That’s great news for a greener UK, but how can DNOs get ready to accomodate an  explosion in Electric Vehicle ownership – and the inevitable strain on our LV network?  

By Samir Alilat, Kelvatek

The deadline for banning sales of carbon-belching petrol and diesel cars could be happening ten years sooner than anticipated. Rumours have been swirling in the transport and energy sectors for some time now. Ahead of a delayed government white paper – due before Christmas – it’s looking likely that a decade will be shaved off the original 2040 cut-off. This new 2030 date will bring the UK in line with several other EU member states that have already accelerated their EV switchover schedules, and ahead of France that is still publicly signalling a 2040 timeframe.

It is a strong indication of the UK’s intent to deliver on its net-zero target by 2050. But while the government has pledged that our energy infrastructure can cope with this wholesale switch to EVs, it poses a challenge for network operators tasked with the job of making it a reality.

Ten years is the mere blink of an eye in the DNO universe. The Guardian reports Graeme Cooper, director of National Grid’s EV project, as saying that our distribution infrastructure is ‘suitably robust’ to cope with the imminent spike in demand from EV charging. And while the latest news is hardly a shock to energy stakeholders, the clock could be ticking for DNOs to ensure they are in good shape for the revised 2030 deadline.

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) has stated that drivers on motorways and A roads should never be more than 25 miles away from a rapid chargepoint. Accordingly, it’s pouring money into installing high powered public charging points nationwide, possibly as many as 6,000 by the new 2030 deadline. But as OLEV itself admits, the reality is that most charging will take place at home. And that brings the problem, literally, to the doorstep for DNOs.

With current technology, plugging in your car to a high power 3.5/7kW charger overnight is like running an electric cooker for hours. That’s quite a burden for the LV network to cope with. Charging one EV is like adding an extra house to the LV network: scale this up to a hundred homes on a street doing the same thing every night…and who knows what impact it could have on the network?

There are other unknowns for operators to contend with. Under the terms of the OLEV grant programme, plug-in vehicle owners are required to notify their DNO when a domestic charger is installed. But as we’ve seen with similar PV incentive schemes, homeowners don’t always share this information, especially when the job’s been done by an unregulated installer. The chances of DNOs having a totally accurate picture of EV ownership in a particular area are therefore slim.

DNOs have a tough call gauging this extra demand on their LV networks, and the best way to meet it. There is the low-cost option of doing nothing in the short term – and potentially paying the price later with residential outages, costly LV faults and penalties from the regulator. Then there’s the capital-intensive alternative of traditional reinforcement of the LV network to ensure there is enough capacity to keep the power flowing.

Without visibility of the LV network and the crucial data it provides, DNOs could be left with an unpalatable choice. Do they leave a yawning hole in their business plan? Or budget for reinforcement programmes that are potentially unnecessary and inefficient?

As always, knowledge is power. What’s crucial for every DNO is a clear picture of the impact of increased, unpredictable load on the network due to the rapid proliferation of EVs as well as other LCT installations. This means understanding the health of assets including underground cables and transformers, where and when these assets need to be replaced – and what other smarter, cheaper interventions could be made. Armed with sufficient information about load profiles and real-time power flows, operators can have a better chance of understanding the operating conditions of their LV network before an issue blows up into a costly and disruptive crisis.

At Kelvatek we’re working closely with DNOs to help them manage their LV assets more efficiently, and an example of this commitment is our PRESense monitoring solution. Installed at sub-stations on the LV network, PRESense captures and analyses highly granular information on power flows to highlight developing problems and the location of likely faults.

The system also uses edge computing to detect real-time network conditions, optimising the volume and frequency of data that PRESense captures dependent on the task it is carrying out. This shifts the burden away from the communication and processing of large amounts of data, reducing the operational cost of LV monitoring. PRESense then transforms the data collected into actionable information, confirming whether the network’s operating safely within its capacity or prompting further corrective actions.

Real-time monitoring is often perceived as a complex and expensive overhead for DNOs. But as operators face new challenges, innovations like PRESense offer a powerful tool to understand the performance and condition of their network assets with far greater clarity.