As we have seen, electric vehicles offer a lot of benefits but they also have many consequences for many of the infrastructure systems that society and the economy rely on, most notably the transport and energy infrastructure systems. We need a theoretical framework to structure our analysis of how electric vehicles interfere with the established infrastructure, and that helps us to design effective interventions.
Infrastructure For Electric Vehicles
The technology of power generation changed from small-scale generators to massive coal and gas-fired power plants, to atomic power plants and large-scale hydropower installations. At now, the dominant position of fossil fuels within the electricity system is not any longer taken without any consideration, as we are concerned about future energy security, about heating, and therefore the heavy toll of fossil fuels on the natural environment and public health.
Most of the technologies for harvesting solar and wind energy are characterizing by a comparatively small scale. This means that more and more decentralized electricity production capacity is developing. It is doing not only by old players in the energy market, but also by farmers, citizen co-operatives, and individual homeowners.
With solar panels on their roof, even city dwellers can become prosumers, which don’t only consume but also produce electricity.
The infrastructure may be a system that connects many users with plenty of producers, which involves system operators, market operators, regulatory authorities, and so on.
Role of institutions
An important actor within the electricity system, because it is within the transport and mobility infrastructure system, is that the government. As you’ll see, the social organization of the electricity infrastructure has become far more complex, and therefore the complexity of the social network remains increasing, as private end-users are turning into prosumers, and electric vehicles are entering the scene, with the potential of providing a variety of innovative services to the electricity infrastructure.
The interactions between the social and therefore the technical dimension of infrastructure systems are shaping and governing through institutions. A posh system like electricity or transport infrastructure cannot just be redesigned overnight. The government can only aspire to steer the continued evolutionary process into the direction dictated by new societal preferences by tweaking the institutional framework.
Consequences of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
The consequences of electrical cars at the infrastructure level, are exemplified within the image. Battery electric cars use electricity. For a mean electric, driving 30 km on the average per day.
The residential electricity use, for a mean household with only one car, is doubling. This happens if the traditional car is replacing with an electric car that’s normally recharged. Might be substantial congestion within the distribution grid, if all drivers plug-in as soon as they get home from the office, adding a considerable load to the standard peak load within the evening. Congestion is often avoided by grid capacity expansion, which is extremely expensive. A far cheaper solution is to regulate battery recharging consistent with available grid capacity and therefore the availability of cheap power.
The latter provides a financial incentive for the electrical car owner to co-operate with a scheme for controlled charging. The question then arises, how is that organized? What’s the business model for an intermediate party, such as an aggregator? And what’s the optimization criterion for the end-user, as an electricity consumer, and as a car owner? The solution to those questions depends on the division of roles and responsibilities within the electricity infrastructure system. As we’ve seen, the distribution network generally may be a regulated monopoly, whereas energy suppliers and aggregators are operating during a competitive market.
A related question is: which actor should be installing and owning the general public charging infrastructure? While these questions are still unresolved in many countries, the answers are needed urgently. As you recognize, generation and cargo must be balanced within the least times in the electricity system, and therefore the system’s need for flexibility in electricity demand is inevitably increasing with the increasing share of variable renewable energy sources within the generation mix.
The pliability of electrical cars as smart components of the electricity system can’t be deployed without smart grids. So, you see that the huge adoption of electrical vehicles doesn’t only affect the physical electricity system and therefore the transport and mobility system. It also introduces a lot of digital technology and software dependencies into the physical infrastructure systems, involving new interactions between transport and energy infrastructure systems.
Bringing a replacement technology, like electric cars, into the system, also brings new actors, with new roles and interests. That will require to establish actors to adapt, if not make their roles obsolete. Government plays a stimulating role during this process, both as a longtime actor in critical infrastructure systems and as an enabler or agent of change.