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Bulb and EDMI trialling smart EV charging

A photo of a an electric car at a charging station

Bulb is partnering with EDMI, our SMETS2 smart meter manufacturer, in a trial of smart charging devices for electric vehicles (EVs).

CORRECTION On the 21st Feb 2019 we incorrectly posted news that EDMI and Bulb Energy had been awarded £1.3m in funding from the UK government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to conduct trials on smart meter load control devices. Correction to this statement is that EDMI and Bulb Energy have been awarded a contract for the phase 1 feasibility study of the project.

Bulb is partnering with EDMI, our SMETS2 smart meter manufacturer, in a trial of smart charging devices for electric vehicles (EVs). We’re planning to test technology with our members which EDMI have developed to control EV charging automatically, which helps even out demand for electricity on the grid.

Balancing demand (the amount of electricity that people want to use) with supply (the amount of electricity available in the grid at any moment) is important for two reasons:

  1. There needs to be enough electricity to meet everyone’s needs Demand fluctuates all the time as people turn things on and off, but it tends to peak at certain times of day, such as early evening.

  2. It helps make the best use of electricity when it is easily available This is particularly critical when it comes to using renewable electricity, where supply goes up and down (because it isn’t windy or sunny all the time). Where possible, it makes sense to try to use electricity when it’s most readily available, and there’s less demand from other users. This means energy suppliers can pay less for electricity, and pass those savings on to customers. It also saves carbon, because we’re using renewable energy when it’s available and relying less on non-renewables at times of high demand.

Developing a smart EV charger for load control

The UK government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have awarded Bulb and EDMI an initial feasibility study contract for a trial on smart meter load control devices. This study will form a bid for a contract for phase 2, to design, build and trial the devices with 100 Bulb customers.

Load control devices can turn appliances on and off, to help match demand to supply on the national grid. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean switching your TV off in the middle of Strictly; it’s about turning off appliances that don’t need to be on all the time.

EVs are a good example of this. They use a lot of electricity to charge but are often left plugged in for long periods of time after charging is complete – for example, while owners are sleeping or at work. When the car’s charged, unattended and not in use, it doesn’t matter if the charger is plugged in or not. So turning charging on and off as the general demand for electricity rises or falls, while ensuring the driver still has a full charge when needed, might be a good way to ease pressure on the grid. This helps to save money and reduce carbon emissions.

If won, this project will see the development of a load control smart EV charger. It’ll use smart meter technology to respond to information about demand on the grid and turn charging on and off. (There will always be the option to override load control, for those times when a driver needs a full charge quickly.) It will also enable EV charging to be monitored independently from the rest of a household’s energy supply. This will help us explore the potential for new types of energy supply contracts, targeted at the needs of EV drivers.

Join our smart EV charging trial

Phase 2, running from spring to autumn 2020, we’ll be running a trial of these chargers in members’ homes. Our aim is to understand whether the chosen technology (SMETS2) is a good way to handle smart charging, and how to ensure smart charging using load control provides a good experience to EV owners.

We’re looking for 100 members to take part in these trials, either people who currently own an EV, or those who are planning to get one by early 2020.

What members can expect on the trial

Participants will get a new smart EV charging device installed at their home. If they have an existing EV charger at home, the new one will replace it for the duration of the trial. We’ll develop an app so every participant can monitor their charger and their car’s energy consumption.

We’ll ask each participant to take part in fortnightly surveys. This will help us understand their experiences with the chargers. We’ll also ask 24 of those participants to take part in one-to-one interviews with our researchers, at home and over the phone, and to join an online discussion community.

We’ll share the findings in reports to BEIS and the energy industry, and with our members, right here on the blog.

So, if you’re a Bulb member who currently owns an EV, or is planning to get one in the next 12 months, and would like to take part, we’d love to hear from you!

This post was written by Claire Rowland, Product Strategist on the Bulb Labs team.