While we absorb the current dire warnings about potential brown-outs and black-outs due to spikes in energy prices and falls in energy production in 2022, others are looking forward to the future. To 2030 to be specific, and how and if Ireland can produce enough electricity, and distribute it efficiently enough, to power one million electric cars.
The good news is that it seems Ireland broadly has the potential to pump enough juice into the grid to supply all the electric vehicles we can buy.
David Martin, senior communications specialist at EirGrid, told The Irish Times that: “EirGrid has conducted a scenario planning exercise for the power system, which examines a wide range of issues. The analysis highlights the benefits of smart EV charging technologies, which have the potential to suppress system peak demand growth compared to simple or no smart EV charging. Around 500MW of capacity is needed if smart EV charging is not developed by 2030. For context, the peak winter demand for electricity in Ireland is approximately 5,000MW.”
Smart charging is already here for some customers, and smarter systems still are being developed. While there has been much talk of “vehicle to grid” systems, whereby spare power in an electric car’s battery can be drawn out while it’s attached to a charger, there are problems with that idea. Some cars – Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 for example – are already capable of this, but it requires a lot of extra tech, such as a heavy and costly inverter built into the car, as well as a high-tech smart electricity metre in the house.
Others, such as David Watson, co-founder of Ohme chargers, prefer simpler solutions. Watson told The Irish Times that it would be far easier to install and use smart chargers, which could detect when there is cheaper excess renewable energy being fed into the grid, and use that to charge large numbers of EVs overnight. “Ireland can potentially become a leader in this kind of technology” Watson told The Irish Times. “There are periods of time where there is 75 per cent renewable production being fed into the grid, so there will be an incentive for energy suppliers to create more sophisticated tariffs, which cannot only save EV drivers money, but which by using smart chargers can also help to better balance the energy demand on the grid.”
When it comes to longer journeys and public charging, Kieran Campbell, head of Irish market operations for all-electric brand Polestar (a spin-off from Volvo), told The Irish Times that: “We have passed range anxiety. Modern EVs can be driven like their combustion counterparts. What I mean by that is you no longer have to ‘nurse’ your EV on a journey. What we need now is more higher speed charging hubs to combat ‘charging anxiety’. Modern EVs and near future models will be able to draw 150kW, 200kW, even 300kW DC charging power. As EVs become more plentiful in the market, ‘charging anxiety’ could become more prevalent. A solution would be to create more charging hubs at known high public travel locations. With these hubs, which should have DC charging capability of up to 200kW, it means modern EVs can gain a lot of range in a short time.”
One of Campbell’s biggest rivals agrees. Rodolfo Calixto, Volkswagen Ireland’s brand director, told The Irish Times that: “Against the backdrop of significant EV adoption, public charging infrastructure will continue to need robust investment. A rapid increase in the number of public charging points particularly over the next two to three years should help towards laying the foundations for government 2030 ambitions.”
There are moves are afoot to improve the number and quality of public charging points. “The reliability of the existing public charging network has come on a lot in the past few years,” Dave Kelly, from charging supplier EasyGo told The Irish Times.
“There’s a lot that’s going on behind the scenes at the moment, and I think that visible change, visible to the public I mean, is going to come quite quickly. Looking at the curve of what’s needed for 2030, I think we, as a country, will still be lagging behind a bit but there’s an awful lot of work going on behind that curve. You have to remember that getting a working charger up in front of the public is a process that takes maybe 20-25 steps, and the public only actually sees it, and sees it working on step 26.”