Norway recently crossed a landmark number of 100 thousand EV and PHEV in active use in the country. With a population in Norway of 5.2 million, we are talking about an insane amount of electric-powered vehicles. Other countries are scrambling to get their EV policies in place while Norway just decided a few years ago — what the heck — let’s just go all in on electric vehicles. Massive incentives were rapidly put in place, and onward they went.
Massive growth in the EV fleet
According to the Norwegian Electric Car Association Norsk elbilforening the result of these policies is a growth from a total of 3347 electric vehicles registered by the end of 2010 to 123,222 by the end of August this year. Today 29% of all new cars sold in Norway are electric. A whopping 41% if you look at the capital Oslo alone.
These numbers are unreal. If you were to have the same ratio (EVs per capita) in the US, the country would have almost 8 million electric cars on the road right now.
The grid is pushed to its limits
I have been working on the electric grid since 1981. In recent years, the network demand has grown drastically. On the one hand, LED lights and other power-saving solutions have led to less stress on the grid. On the other hand, electric cars have led to challenges for the network owners. Today we balance on a knifes edge in several locations. When people install 22 kW chargers to charge their Tesla in outlying areas, it can be a heavy burden on our local network. In case of large voltage variations, it can even result in light flashing in people’s homes.
Christina Bu, director of the Norwegian Electric Car Association agrees:
The challenge in Norway is not that there is too little power, but too low capacity in parts of the network closest to the consumer. It is certainly challenging.
Indeed. You can almost hear fuses popping all over the place. Despite Norway being one of the richest oil-nations in the world, almost all their electrical power comes from hydro. That’s why they are fine with going electric on the roads. More oil to sell.
Batteries to the rescue
So, what can be done about it? Well, the people at the grid operators and network owners are hard at work solving this problem. They agree that one part of the solution is stationary battery storage. You could argue that stationary batteries are redundant when you have the EVs rolling around with batteries already. But the thing is — at the end of the day more electricity is still going into the EVs than out of them.
The battery inside an EV has one primary job: to move stuff (including people) around. The stationary battery has a different job: to suck up electrons, store them, and release them on demand. So while V2G (Vehicle To Grid) is a clever way of utilizing an EVs excess capacity (Nissan is betting big on this, Tesla not so much), the stationary battery is more effective in terms of on demand buffering.
Smart grids rule
When you place stationary battery storage in strategic places in a grid — in all categories of scale from the power plants to the end user — things start smoothing out significantly. With clever use of grid surveillance and peak demand anticipation simulations, these decentralized batteries can work together and shift power back and forth with response times counted in milliseconds. This way you will never have a problem if you happened to turn on your kettle and toaster while your EV was charging outside.
I would argue that it is of greater importance that the EV itself is able to back off a bit on heavy charging from time to time, than it is to have it actually returning power to the grid. Keep in mind that 8 hours of slow and easy charging will still get you more than 50 miles of range. But if you really are in a hurry — and you are willing to pay for it — maybe the other EVs in your neighborhood will cut you some slack by letting your EV charge at maximum rate while they all back off just enough to not exceed the capacity of the local part of the grid.
Given adequate supply of battery storage systems from big companies like Tesla, Nissan, ABB, Bosch, GE, Siemens, and many others, the deployment of these systems will give more time for the grid to evolve with sufficient cabling for the new all-electric society we are moving towards.
Thank you Norway, for taking the toll of testing this new future to the limit, so that the rest of us won’t have to bother.