Relax! Your Electric Car Won't Cause a Brownout This Winter When Charging

Earlier today, the UK National Grid published its Winter Outlook Report for 2014/15, detailing just how much excess generating capacity it expects to have this winter.

Relax! Your electric car won't cause a brownout this winter.

Relax! Your electric car won’t cause a brownout this winter.

But while the spare electricity generation capacity in the UK’s National Grid this winter is around 4 percent — the lowest it has been since the winter of 2007/2008, the National Grid says electric car owners won’t be causing brownouts by plugging in to charge on cold winter days, despite what many may think.

Three years ago, the National Grid had a winter spare electricity margin of 17 percent, but the closing of many older, polluting power stations in recent years — not to mention a space of fires at power stations — has meant that the electrical grid is looking to enter the winter season with a particularly small margin of excess.

And while previous years have seen some media outlets look to plug-in cars as a potential cause of brownouts as winter power supplies are stretched to the limit, those at the National Grid say that charging an electric car overnight is unlikely to cause any problems, even with such a small excess capacity available.

That’s because the National Grid — which owns and operates the high-voltage electricity transmission network in England and Wales and operates the whole high-voltage electricity transmission network for the whole of Great Britain — says it has taken into account the effect of plug-in car owners charging up their cars in its prediction.

“The Winter Outlook Report provides a picture to industry and government about what the eneryg picture will look like this coming winter,” Rebecca Watson, Press Officer for the National Grid told us in an email earlier today. “The report is built from information received from industry about the generation they will have available this winter and also from our own demand analysis. We have a team of forecasters who look at demand patterns and changes in consumer and industry behaviour — including the use of electric vehicles.”

The National Grid says its winter predictions take into account the effect of plug-in car charging on the grid.

The National Grid says its winter predictions take into account the effect of plug-in car charging on the grid.

“This is all taken into account in our analysis and therefore the use of electric vehicles will already be factored into our margin figures,” she continued.

In other words, while the UK grid is unarguably going to be pushed pretty hard this winter due to both planned and unforeseen power generation changes, the lights aren’t going to go out just because a plug-in car charges in.

“Electricity cannot be stored in large quantities, so supply has to accurately meed demand,” Rebecca Watson continued. “National Grid does not generate electricity, our role is to operate the system and ensure a balance between what’s needed and what’s being generated. As demand increases we instruct generation to come online to meet that demand. Our reliability record is 99.9999%. It’s a record we’re very prod of but do not take for granted.”

Of course, no-one can sure the National Grid’s predictions will be one hundred percent accurate, but with the National Grid already taking into account the effect of electric cars plugging in, there’s no need for concern.

That said, there are some simple steps that electric car owners can take to ensure that charging their car doesn’t cause undue stress on an already stressed system — and we should point out that these are Transport Evolved’s  recommendations, not those of the National Grid or any other power transmission or generation company.

The first is to ensure that you make use of charger timers where possible, setting your car to charge overnight when power grid demand is traditionally low.

And if you need to charge outside of those cheaper-rate off-peak periods, avoiding peak hours — usually weekday evenings between 6pm and 8pm — is a smart move, as that is when the grid is under the biggest strain.

Finally, be smart about charging while out and about. If you can make it home without charging, do so. There’s no need to put extra strain on a charging network during the rush hour if you know you don’t need it — even if it’s free!

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