Between now and 2040, Europe must implement a series of practical steps that will make it possible to meet peak demand requirements resulting from the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. With this in mind, ABB has conducted an in-depth analysis of anticipated power needs in key European economies. The company’s recommendations regarding power transmission and distribution and the challenges associated with developing cleaner and more resource-efficient transportation are outlined in this article.
Thierry Lassus ABB Sécheron SA Power Grids – Segment Transportation Geneva, Switzerland, email@example.com; Alexandre Oudalov, Adrian Timbus Power Grids Business Zurich, Switzerland, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Not since the times of our great, great grandparents has there been a transformation in transportation such as we are witnessing today. Roughly 120 years ago the transition from horses and buggies to motorized vehicles was barely on the horizon, yet by 1908 there were already as many automobiles on the streets of New York City (100,000) as horses.
But that transformation was not simply a question of exchanging one type of motive power for another; it was, more profoundly, a question of coming up with an entirely new infrastructure. For instance, before cars and trucks could be of much practical use, asphalt production had to be developed and ramped up; roads had to be paved; a system of street signs, road markings and traffic laws had to be developed; gasoline production had to be improved; and society itself had to be retooled as stable boys made way for gas station attendants, carriage makers for engineers; and blacksmiths, harness makers, farriers and saddle makers for mechanics and assembly line workers.
Today, society is in the early stages of a similarly profound paradigm shift – a shift that will see a transition from internal combustion engines fired by fossil fuels to electric mobility. As people, businesses and public transport operators progressively adopt e-mobility as a primary transport technology, it will become increasingly necessary to invest in infrastructures and technologies that support and enable this transition, the most prominent of which is how power will be provided to charge the millions of new electric vehicles (EVs) that will soon take to the roads →1.
Driving the transition
Three major trends are driving the transition toward e-mobility. The first of these is the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Within the context of the battle to limit climate change, the Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2016 by 174 countries, is designed to limit the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels. The transport sector, which today accounts for 28 percent of CO₂ emissions in France, for instance, will notably have to reduce its emissions by 29 percent by 2028 in comparison with 2015 figures. The second major trend driving demand for e-mobility is the need to reduce other types of emissions and pollutants that are harmful to human health and the economy. Air pollution by nitrogen oxide and particulates is largely attributable to the transport sector. According to the European Environment Agency, particulate matter caused 391,000 premature deaths annually . The economic impact of air pollution is also significant: more than 100 billion euros per year in costs associated with health insurance and sick leave, not to mention reduced agricultural yields and the degradation of buildings, bridges, etc. as a result of exposure to these pollutants.
Third on the list of forces driving the transition to e-mobility is the need to increase the attractiveness and livability of cities and regions. In addition to air and noise pollution, congestion in urban centers means lost time and productivity for users. An improved mix of public-private transportation, autonomous EVs and increasingly synchronized and optimized traffic management based on vehicle-to-infrastructure technology would reduce these stresses and help cities to attract companies, start-ups and creative people who demand efficient transport infrastructures and a healthy environment.
EV markets and the grid: growing up together
Considering the powerful environmental, economic and social forces driving demand for an EV-based transportation system powered by renewably generated electricity, ABB has carried out an in-depth analysis of multiple scenarios for anticipated power needs in Germany covering the years 2020, 2030 and 2040 – a period that is likely to be marked by the progressive adoption of e-mobility. Additional analyses were carried out for France and the United Kingdom.
ABB’s analysis indicates that, even if existing power generation systems can mostly cope with EV charging needs, there will be instances – primarily at times of peak demand on days when generation from renewable sources is limited – when demand outstrips available supply or overburdens existing transmission and distribution networks →2.
To ensure continuous and reliable service, cross-border and regional grid upgrades and expansions will be necessary in many cases in order to facilitate the exchange of renewably generated energy across geographies that have complementary patters.
There are also several existing solutions that can limit the potential negative impacts of the mass adoption of e-mobility on grids. Among these are solutions that shift EV charging to non-peak hours or to the times when renewably generated energy is predicted to be in over-supply. For example, current systems for the charging of electric buses are already capable of managing overnight charging at a depot so that not all buses are charged simultaneously .
It would not be difficult to apply similar techniques to charging systems for other vehicles as well. A scheduling regime would reduce the risk of overloads triggered by changing tariff periods, although it may be necessary to provide a financial incentive to private users to charge their vehicles later at night, presumably by reducing the cost of power at off-peak hours.
Energy storage systems are also likely to play a growing role in our power systems, particularly as pressure grows to develop methods to store power generated by renewable sources. At the level of local distribution networks, small-scale storage systems make it possible to significantly reduce immediate loads on grids, as they make it possible to spread the transfer of power from the grid over a longer interval. Ever more storage technologies, both large and small in scale, are being developed or are already heading for market introduction.
Furthermore, solutions are being investigated that involve using the battery packs of EVs themselves as components in a distributed power storage system. Since private vehicles are typically parked and not used 95 percent of the time, there is some logic in attempting to use them as sources of reserve energy that can be mobilized to support the power grid at times of peak demand. This would require the use of a bidirectional charging interface – an approach that could reduce the total cost of EV ownership by enabling owners to sell power from the vehicle to the grid at times of their own choosing.
In addition, once an EV has come to the end of its useful life, its batteries could serve a secondary purpose in stationary applications to provide power storage and shift demand into non-peak periods.
Another technique that can be used to spread out the charging of vehicles relies on the centralized management of charging stations. A virtual power plant, or VPP, consists of centralizing and optimizing the operation of a number of assets. A VPP can integrate charging stations, demand sites, power generation sites and energy storage systems, and then optimize and prioritize consumption over an entire range of assets. The use of such a platform enabled Stadtwerke Trier, a utility in Germany, to ensure that EVs would be recharged using exclusively renewable electricity.
It should be possible to modify and strengthen today’s generation, transmission and local distribution infrastructure to serve tomorrow’s needs without undue expense or disruption.
With respect to generation, future developments should be carried out with an eye to flexibility →3. For instance, unlike combined-cycle gas turbine plants or coal-fired plants, open cycle gas turbine plants can be started and stopped on short notice and with little wear and tear on equipment. Their flexibility would make them vitally useful in a situation when base load plants and renewables need to be supplemented to meet peak demand.
Transmission networks will continue to expand in the years ahead, largely in response to the rising profile of renewable energy. The digitization of power grids →4 is already playing a key role in the energy revolution and is expected to play an even greater role going forward. Extensions and bolstering of the existing transmission network will serve the purpose of integrating grids and new renewable sources, as well as of enabling greater versatility of the sort that can support new demand patterns.
Local distribution networks, particularly for commercial installations, should progressively be upgraded to serve increased demand from EVs, notably at sites where large numbers of EVs can be expected to require charging.
Furthermore, as new energy storage solutions emerge, they can be strategically deployed to serve local and regional needs in ways that will lighten the burden on generation, transmission and distribution systems. Decision-makers should continue to encourage innovative technological solutions that will limit the overall impact of charging stations on power grids.
The road ahead
A gradual shift to e-mobility will not suddenly or dramatically overburden our existing power systems. In Germany, for instance, depending on factors such as population change, car ownership rates, average driving distances, and kilometers driven per vehicle, the additional electricity demand associated with EVs is expected to be 0.3 percent in 2020 and between 10 and 12 percent by 2040. Should EV penetration reach 100 percent around the globe, total electricity demand is projected to increase by 5 to 20 percent in different countries by 2040.
All in all, building the infrastructure required to charge the millions of EVs that are expected to be built and sold over the next several decades represents a significant, but not insurmountable challenge. With proper planning and preparation, it should be possible to create that infrastructure at a reasonable cost, with a minimum amount of disruption, and in a manner that promotes the rapid and orderly implementation of e-mobility.
 F. Muehlon, “EV infrastructure innovation trough collaboration”, ABB Review 4/2019, pp. 38–43.
A COMMITMENT TO ELECTRIC MOBILITY – ON LAND, SEA AND IN THE AIR
ABB is actively working to meet the challenges posed by the electrification of mobility. To do so, it is investing heavily in research and development that is geared toward constantly improving the energy efficiency of in-vehicle and on-board technologies, as well as charging solutions. The company is also committed to the identification and development of new opportunities for services offered by the digitization of transportation systems.
ABB has contributed key technologies to all major forms of transportation. In the rail sector, ABB systems made it possible for France’s TGV high-speed train to achieve a record 575 km/h in 2007. In 2012, in Philadelphia, the company implemented the world’s first train-braking energy recovery system based on the use of way-side battery energy storage. And in 2016 ABB electrified the Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland – the world’s longest railway tunnel.
Fast charging for buses, cars and boats
When it comes to public and private road-based transportation, ABB technology is helping to cut CO₂ emissions. For instance, working in close cooperation with local authorities, the company developed Geneva’s first electric bus, which is based on its “TOSA” (Trolleybus Optimisation Système Alimentation) “flash charging” technology . The technology uses flash chargers along routes to partially recharge batteries and thus reduce charging time at terminal stations. In 2014, ABB received a “smart Award” at the Smartgrid Paris trade show for the technology.
Since then, ABB has deployed one of the first ultra-fast charging stations (150 kW) for electric vehicles in the United States, has launched the world’s first 24-meter electric bus based on flash charging technology, and is the first company anywhere to have deployed a 350 kW charging station . The company has also delivered the first 100 percent electric ferry, which is now operating between Denmark and Sweden. The ferry can be charged in less than 10 minutes when docked.
In 2016, in a partnership with Volvo Buses, ABB automated two fast charging systems to serve electric buses in Namur, the capital city of Wallonia (Belgium). The systems are based on “opportunity charging,” where, instead of returning a bus to a depot to connect to an individual charger, the bus is recharged in minutes each time it arrives at an end station. This allows buses to be outfitted with a smaller, lighter battery pack, which increases passenger capacity. Because they are not returned to a depot for charging, the buses are able to run more routes. ABB has since sold 10,500 DC high-speed chargers across 73 countries worldwide .
Only a few years ago, could anyone have imagined being able to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane? Solar Impulse did just that with the help of ABB, the result of a shared vision between two adventurers and a team of ABB engineers and scientists. •
 A. McCraw, “The electric bus - range is a matter of perspective”, ABB review 4/2019, pp. 24–28.
HOW THE GRID CAN MEET THE DEMANDS OF ELECTRIC MOBILITY
As electric mobility becomes increasingly important, it will have to be implemented in harmony with technological improvements in electrical power grids, which are themselves rapidly changing in response to the massive integration of renewable energy sources. Here are three examples of what can be done.
Sequential charging for electric bus depots
Tomorrow’s buses will be powered by rechargeable batteries. Considering the huge amount of power this will require, a great deal of charging can be expected to take place when demand for electrical energy is low. To optimize their investments, transport authorities will benefit from pooling the use of chargers for several buses. With this scenario in mind, ABB has developed chargers with a capacity of up to 150 kW that can successively charge up to three buses. Known as sequential charging, this process can be programmed remotely. This spreads the charging power throughout the night, while guaranteeing a full charge for the following day.
Energy storage to spread power demand
As part of the implementation of an electric bus line in Geneva, Switzerland, ABB has integrated batteries in selected bus stops equipped with flash charging stations. These “buffer” batteries recharge between two bus charging operations at a power of about 50 kW; however, they discharge at a power of 600 kW in about twenty seconds. This major innovation reduces peak power demand on the local distribution grid to less than one tenth of what it otherwise would be. The same concept could be applied in many other areas, including high-speed charging stations for electric vehicles. Such systems also hold the promise of ensuring improved energy quality, voltage support, and power reserves.
Centralized management of charging stations
Virtual power plants (VPP) can integrate charging stations, demand sites, power generation sites and energy storage systems, thus providing VPP operators with an entirely new toolbox with which to respond to and optimize energy supplies over a range of assets. The use of a VPP has enabled the energy company Stadtwerke Trier in Germany to guarantee the charging of electric vehicles using 100 percent renewable electricity. The platform has also allowed the operator to provide services to the local grid such as voltage adjustments and power reserves.
A SECOND LIFE FOR BATTERIES – AND ADDED STABILITY FOR TOMORROW’S GRIDS
Until autonomous driving and carsharing become common, most private electric vehicles will probably wind up being used in much the same way as their conventionally powered counterparts – in other words, they will sit in parking lots and garages 95 percent of their lives. Similarly, buses, trucks and other municipal and commercial vehicles, although more heavily used, will nevertheless be idle outside of well-defined schedules. What all such vehicles have in common – assuming they are powered by batteries – is that they hold the potential for being used as reserve power sources to support the grid →6a. What’s more, this approach allows for reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of all such vehicles, as well as reducing the cost of running the grid itself, as they would help to obviate peak power plants.
And one more thing: Once electric vehicles are retired, their batteries may be able to enjoy a second life in stationary applications →6b that may also help to stabilize the grid and provide a better quality of power.
Naturally, all such batteries could be charged on site using locally or remotely generated power from wind, photovoltaic, or other environmentally neutral sources. Charged this way, vehicle batteries could provide a nearly inexhaustible repository for renewably generated electricity.