This Is What An Electric Grid Does


The following short film is an interview with one of the people who runs the UK’s electricity grid. It’s a breathtakingly good bit of technical TV and the producer/presenter, Robert Llewelyn, deserves high praise indeed for his show Fully Charged. You may remember Robert from such shows as Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge but now he’s a bit of an electric car fan and overall green advocate. He’s still got his (non-plastic) head screwed on the right way and has a knack for coaxing out simple explanations on complex subjects.

There is one wrinkle in the EV cars are good for the grid story. At present in the UK the interview subject said peak demand is when getting home from work coincides with the hours of darkness in the winter.

If there really were half a million or more electrical vehicles being used primarily as daily commute vehicles, thats exactly when many of them would arrive home and plug in. Without AUTOMATED mechanisms that don’t exist now this is a problem. What we have today (pricing incentivised cheaper night charging for example) is dependent on the owner manually using a timer to defer commencement of charging: this is a problem. If you have to rely on the majority of owners remembering to start charging only later, you’ll have a problem.

As he mentioned: the key lies in giving the central grid control over more aspects of the grid (as a libertarian it pains me to say this) but whether the UK National Grid wants individual control over each car or other heavy load appliance is another story.

That is the intermediary role Better Place wants to play, giving a country’s grid control a sensible single point of contact to go to if they need to reduce load. Better Place can then manage the specifics of which cars to reduce or cut power to based on fine grained information that they have about the owner’s usage habits. In the future, when cars are much more numerous, it is even possible to work the other way round and draw power from parked cars back into the grid under central control.

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