IBM To Probe Electric Car Impact On UK Grid


The tech company is looking into how the UK’s grid needs to be overhauled for electric vehicles

IBM is leading an investigation into how the UK’s electricity grid will need to be updated to allow best use of electric vehicles – which can deliver power to the network, as well as using electricity from the grid.

The tech giant announced an agreement with UK energy efficiency specialist Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to assess how increasing use of so-called plug-in electric vehicles will impact the electricity grid. Other companies involved in the study include EDF Energy, E.ON and Imperial Consultants.

Vehicle to grid puts power back

Charging a Nissan Leaf - shortly to be manufactered in the UK

IBM, along with other tech companies including Cisco and HP, is keen to cash-in on the rise of so-called smart grids and smart meters seen as critical to improving the efficiency of the UK’s energy network. In the latest study, IBM said it will be investigating issues such as: “Design concepts for the ‘intelligent architecture’ of interconnected data and systems needed to enable local networks of electric vehicle charging points linked to the distribution networks.”

For its part, the UK government has committed around £300 million to create the infrastructure required for plug-in vehicles such as charging stations as well as upgraded to the grid to cope with extra demand.

The project led by IBM is one of three, whose total cost of £4.5 million will come from the ETI’s £11 million Electrification of Light Vehicles programme. The other projects will look into the economic and carbon benefits of electric vehicles, as well as consumer behaviour. According to IBM, the studies will involve data collected on more than 3000 vehicle trials in the UK.

“Electric vehicles have enormous potential for creating a cleaner transport system to help the UK meet its 2050 carbon reduction targets. However, there is uncertainty over the pace of vehicle development, consumer take up and patterns of usage and charging. It is important we anticipate the likely requirements these developments will have for grid enhancement and the need for an intelligent architecture,” said Jon Bentley, energy & environment Partner, IBM Global Business Services.

IBM also supports oil, gas and nuclear

As well as backing green energy projects, IBM is also expanding its interests in carbon-intensive markets such as oil and gas. In a report released in November last year, Global Oil & Gas – The Adaptation Challenge, IBM discussed how oil and gas companies can use IT systems (presumably from IBM) to off-set some of the impact of climate change on their operations and future profitability.

Allan Roberts, IBM’s industrial strategy & change leader, IBM Global Business Services, UK & Ireland claimed in the report that any disruption to the future profitability of oil and gas companies from climate change won’t just be bad for the businesses themselves but society as a whole. “The oil and gas industry is an important contributor to our society and economy, so if anything impacts the industry it could well impact people at home, at work, on the move, or even their personal finances,” he said.

As if that were not enough, IBM is also backing a programme to spark a resurgence of nuclear power in the UK.

Last year IBM announced that it had joined the Edison research group based in Denmark. The consortium includes Denmark’s largest energy company DONG Energy, the Technical University of Denmark, Siemens and the Danish Energy Association. The project – which stands for Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks – has also received funding from the Danish government.

The ETI describes itself as a “Limited Liability Partnership” made up of energy industry players, car makers and supported by the UK government. Members include BP, Caterpillar, EDF Energy, E.ON, Rolls-Royce and Shell.

Electric and hybrid car makers are now talking about Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) schemes, where cars can be used to smooth out demand. Electric cars can hold around 24kWh of electricity in their batteries. This might have been generated from braking in a hybrid car, or may have been taken in by an all-electric car at night when the grid makes cheap power and demand is low. The cars can be plugged in at peakd demand times and deliver energy back to the grid for a profit. Google is involved in V2G pilots in the US.

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