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Innovation Outlook: Smart charging for electric vehicles

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The advent of electric vehicles (EVs) promises to be
a game-changer for the world’s shift to sustainable
energy and particularly to renewable power generation.
This is true for several reasons. Most notably, along
with transforming the transport sector, EVs present a
viable opportunity to introduce much higher shares of
renewables into the overall power generation mix.
EV charging can create significant additional electricity
demand. This can be met practically and cost-effectively
with renewables, including solar and wind power fed
into the grid. Such developments offer a tantalising
prospect – particularly for cities – to decarbonise
transport while also cutting air and noise pollution,
reducing fuel import dependence and adopting new
approaches to urban mobility.

Steady cost reductions for renewable power generation
make electricity an attractive low-cost energy source
to fuel the transport sector. Scaling up EV deployment
also represents an opportunity for power system
development, with the potential to add much-needed
flexibility in electricity systems and to support the
integration of high shares of renewables.

What makes EVs a unique innovation, from an electricity
system perspective, is that they were not developed for
the power sector and are not primarily a grid flexibility
solution. Instead, their primary purpose is to serve
mobility needs. Achieving the best use of EVs, therefore,
requires a close look at which use cases would align best
for both sectors. Optimally, EVs powered by renewables
can spawn widespread benefits for the grid without
negatively impacting transport functionality.

Cars, including EVs, typically spend about 95% of their
lifetime parked. These idle periods, combined with
battery storage capacity, could make EVs an attractive
flexibility solution for the power system. Each EV could
effectively become a micro grid-connected storage
unit with the potential to provide a broad range of
services to the system. At the same time, however,
uncontrolled charging could increase peak stress on the
grid, necessitating upgrades at the distribution level.
Emerging innovations in smart charging for EVs span not
just technologies but business models and regulatory
frameworks (IRENA, 2019a). These will be crucial to
integrate renewable energy sources while avoiding
network congestion. In addition, this innovation outlook
discusses the possible impact of the expected mobility
disruptions, including mobility-as-a-service and the
widespread arrival of fully autonomous vehicles in the
coming two to three decades. 

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