by Robert Van Cauwelaert
Europe is entering a new phase of electric mobility. With the production costs of batteries plummeting, the massive adoption of EV’s is only a matter of time. A large green fleet will do more than reduce carbon emissions: “Once EV’s reach large-scale market penetration, they can provide flexibility to the grid, both on a micro and macro scale“, says Robert Van Cauwelaert, consultant at Trilations.
In Belgium, over the past year and a half, registrations of battery-electric vehicles (BEV’s) almost doubled (+89.2%) according to figures from the The New Drive. By the end of July 2017, some 7.800 battery-electric vehicles were registered, compared to 4.150 at the end of 2015.
“Demand for plug-in hybrid vehicles or PHEV’s – cars that combine a gasoline or diesel engine with an electric motor and a rechargeable battery – is even higher”, says Robert Van Cauwelaert, consultant at Trilations. “Today, there are about 17.000 PHEV’s registered in Belgium. At present we believe Belgians prefer PHEV’s because their fiscal advantage is only slightly lower than the one for BEV’s. At the same time PHEV drivers don’t have to deal with the ‘range anxiety’ that many drivers of all-electric vehicles suffer from.” Van Cauwelaert is certain that PHEV’s are not a long-term story and merely prepare the transition to battery-electric driving: “There are plans to bring the fiscal advantages of PHEV’s down to the level of regular internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. So in the near future, BEV’s will become a lot more fiscally attractive than PHEV’s. In fact, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of BEV’s such as Tesla is already lower than the TCO of an ICE car. With the production cost of battery packs declining and battery capacity rising, electromobility is on the verge of major expansion in Europe. Today, less than one percent of the Belgian fleet is electric, but this will change rapidly in the next fifteen years.”
The growing adoption of electric vehicles comes with important developments in the technology and infrastructure to charge them. Van Cauwelaert: “More than 90% of BEV and PHEV drivers charge at home or at work. For full battery EV’s, fast-charging a battery to 80% requires about half an hour. Slow-charging usually takes multiple hours. It makes sense to do this at home, at night or at the company’s parking lot during office hours.” A growing number of Belgian companies is offering the possibility to charge cars using a charge station. Given the fact previous pilots with other charging methods such as battery swapping proved to be commercially unviable and induction (or ‘wireless’) charging is still in its infancy, wired charging will most likely become the norm.
Van Cauwelaert: “The density of wired charging infrastructure across Europe will grow in the coming years. Just look at the ambitions put forward by countries and car manufacturers. Norway and The Netherlands share the intention to phase out all fossil fuel-powered automobiles by 2025. Additionally, different brands have announced that from 2019 or 2020 onwards, their focus will be on electric vehicles. We are moving towards a balanced, European e-mobility ecosystem.”
With electric vehicles on the brink of a breakthrough, the power sector needs to prepare itself. The charging of EV’s at a large scale can create challenges for local distribution grids and their operators.
Robert Van Cauwelaert: “The challenge lies not so much in the increase in the overall electricity demand. After all, when EV’s come to comprise 20% of the Belgian fleet, our national electricity demand will only go up by 3 to 4%. The key challenge of large-scale EV adoption lies in the potential increase in peak demand. Problems start, so to speak, when a lot of EV’s plug in simultaneously to charge during the common afternoon peak.”
Due to the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation, balancing the grid has become significantly more difficult. To avoid costly grid infrastructure upgrades, operators are interested in smart systems and intelligent solutions to help balance the grid. Building energy management systems, for example, can be used for demand-side management and peak-shaving – a critical feature in stabilizing the grid.
Robert Van Cauwelaert: “By instituting controlled charging, EV’s can also be used to provide flexibility to the grid. Demand can be shifted, for example, from a peak moment like the afternoon, to a lower-demand period like at night.” Due to the storage capacity of their batteries, electric vehicles can even be used in a bidirectional flow, to provide electricity to the grid (‘Vehicle to Grid’) or to a household (‘Vehicle to Building’).
Van Cauwelaert: “Pilots show that families and companies with electric vehicles could regulate their electricity bills by using the batteries of their EV’s to cover their energy consumption when tariffs are high and by charging the batteries when tariffs are low. BEV’s offer the best opportunities in this respect, since they are generally equipped with batteries of a larger capacity than PHEV’s.” Now there’s a good reason to change your plug-in hybrid for an all-electric car…
 Source: Maandelijks rapport elektrisch vervoer België, Augustus 2017 (tem 31/7/2017), The New Drive – http://www.thenewdrive.be/blog/2015/08/21/ev-statistieken-in-belgie-maandelijks-rapport/ In this article we follow the distinction made in the statistics between BEV’s (battery-electric vehicles or ‘all-electric’ vehicles, powered solely by electricity stored in a battery pack) and PHEV’s (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or cars that combine a gasoline or diesel engine with an electric motor and a rechargeable battery).
 Estimate based on the following assumptions: (1) Belgian car park: 5.7 million cars; (2) Belgian annual electricity consumption: 83,5 TWh; (3) Average annual consumption per EV car: 2.5MWh