The drive to electrify transport in the UK continues apace, with an expectation of up to 14 million electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads by 2030. The need for access to data to support the increased uptake of EVs, and the rollout of a charging infrastructure to enable this, has never been clearer. Without access to robust and reliable data to support EV charge point installation and usage, there is a risk that charge points will be installed inefficiently and/or too slowly to meet rising demand, and in a way that does not take into account electrical network capacity. 

Icebreaker One’s Open Energy programme is designed to make it easy to search, access and securely share energy data. Backed by Ofgem and the UK Government, it will bring together data held by thousands of individual organisations and institutions in an open marketplace. Currently in its pilot stage, the Open Energy service is being developed based on use cases that are designed to address real-world problems put forward by industry stakeholders. 

One use case currently in development is focused on how Open Energy will help electrical network and system operators meet the evolving and growing needs of EV users. We’ve conducted detailed interviews with the people on the front line of making this happen – here’s what we know so far.

Why the UK needs more EV charging points

The switch from conventionally-fuelled to emission-free vehicles forms a core part of the UK government’s Net Zero strategy, with the sale of new petrol and diesel (internal combustion engine, or ICE) cars to be banned by 2030. The reason for this is clear; transport produced 27% of the UK’s total emissions in 2019. The ban on the sale of new ICE cars, combined with lower running costs for EVs and an anticipated drop in up-front EV prices, means we can expect an explosion in EVs on the road over the coming years. 

But, as anyone who drives an EV knows, our EV charging infrastructure is inadequate. Not every household is in a position to install its own charge point, and even those that are will sometimes make use of public chargers. The UK government estimates that, by 2030, the country will need around 400,000 public charging points. But, as of December 2021, according to ZapMap, there are fewer than 30,000 public charging devices. This is a massive ramp up, and doesn’t even take into account the anticipated rise in installation of home EV charge points. 

In itself, the need for an exponential increase in charge points is a massive logistical challenge. But what’s arguably an even greater challenge is the capacity of our electricity network to cope with the rising demands placed on it. 

What’s standing in the way

Central to the task of ensuring that demands placed on the grid by the rising uptake of EVs are the UK’s Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). Their connection departments are responsible for processing and managing requests to the grid for electricity in the here and now, as well as forecasting future capacity requirements so that they can prioritise where to invest in greater capacity.

They need to know when and where charge points will be installed (domestic, public, commercial and industrial), the nature of these charge points (slow, rapid, ultrarapid, for example), and how they are utilised. But there is currently no mandatory registration of installations, with data having to be pulled from multiple sources. Data on utilisation of different types of charge point and plans for future installations is even more patchy and problematic to access. Concerns from those that hold the data may include reservations about access control, and whether their data is in a format that is suitable for sharing.

These challenges with data access make it inefficient and challenging for DNOs to plan for likely capacity requirements. This is only going to become trickier as EV uptake accelerates, potentially resulting in a too-slow rollout of charge points. 

Matt Webb, Head of Enterprise Data Management at UK Power Networks, told us:

‘The likely future demand on the electricity network that will be created through the accelerating uptake of EVs poses a significant challenge for network operators. We are faced with the need to meet customer and stakeholder expectations through the facilitation of timely connection of all forms of EV charging infrastructure while maintaining continuity and quality of electricity supply at lowest possible cost to the customer.

‘To ensure we are ready to service increasing numbers of fuse upgrades and potential network reinforcement where aggregate demand from EVs has the potential to exceed local network capacity, we require insight into potential and actual charge point installation and utilisation. The provision of data from a variety of stakeholders is key in this respect and the Open Energy programme has the potential to streamline processes to help meet this need and the challenge of delivering an electricity infrastructure that is fit for the future.’   

Matt Webb, Head of Enterprise Data Management at UK Power Networks

How Open Energy helps 

Open Energy makes data sharing simpler by automating data licensing, security checks, and technical integration. It can work with organisations that hold the data needed by DNOs, bringing it together into a one-stop shop with appropriate security and access controls, and in a consistent format. Using Open Energy, a DNO will vastly improve its access to the data they need to help make sure that grid capacity can meet the demand from newly installed EV charge points. They will be able to access this information more quickly and cost-effectively than ever before. They will be able to access hundreds of datasets with just one round of authentication and technical integration. 

In turn, it will allow DNOs to collaborate more effectively with other industry stakeholders. As well as accessing others’ data, DNOs can publish their own data securely, safe in the knowledge that only authenticated users can access it. It means no need to agree to a unique set of terms and conditions every time someone requests your data. Agree to Open Energy rules and policies once, and they’ll be applied automatically every time data is shared. 

Ultimately, better access to data via the Open Energy programme will help break down silos and ensure that an increase in the number of EVs – and EV charging points – does not place unsustainable demands on our energy resources. This will, in turn, help ensure that the UK is able to meet its ambitious targets for EV ownership by 2030 and beyond. 

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