“Powered up”: Esther Dudek talks about working on the world’s largest domestic electric vehicle smart charging trial


Back in 2016, I was warned that a “big EV project” was likely to begin soon, and it would need “most of my time for six months…”. Three and a half years later, the world’s largest domestic electric vehicle smart charging trial has come to a successful conclusion.

From the outset, Western Power Distribution’s Electric Nation project was all about understanding people’s charging behaviour. This meant it had to involve real people driving real cars. The project recruited more than 650 electric vehicle drivers and produced new understanding of the impact of EV charging on local electricity networks and driver attitudes towards smart charging, preparing the ground for the mass adoption of EVs.

Both the size of the project and the involvement of so many drivers increased the pressure to get it right. If the project was done well then it’d give the industry the opportunity to get a really detailed picture of how people charge EVs at home, and how they felt about smart charging – the first time that behavioural insights had been obtained from a large group of participants, over such a long project. Our volunteers also meant we had to have the smart charging systems running correctly so we delivered a hassle-free charging experience. Come rain or shine we were running small tests of the charging systems using a test rig outside our offices in Capenhurst to make sure we understood exactly how the smart charging algorithms would behave and that no-one would be left without charge. Drive Electric took care of direct customer contact, but we were often looking into technical issues as they arose. A colleague and I were also responsible for shepherding as many of our participants as possible through the necessary tests to get them into the demand management part of the trials – we managed to do this for 83% of the participants.

Since the two-year trial ended in December 2018, EA Technology’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure team have been busy analysing the data, summarising the conclusions and preparing the final outputs from the project. The size of the project meant we had a lot of data – 673 participants, approximately 130,000 charging events lasting over 2 million hours, and five different surveys. This is great because it meant we could learn a lot about how people charge their cars and their attitudes to smart charging. It also gave us lots to do. In the end, we produced two keys outputs:

  • The full customer trial report: a detailed report containing the findings of each of the three parts of the trial, alongside a wealth of information on the charging behaviour of the participants, based on over 130,000 charging events
  • “Powered Up” – a 32-page summary report explaining the drivers behind the project, the different stages of the trial and the key findings

The key findings from the project were:

1. Data from the trial shows flexibility in charging – but without an incentive the demand in the evening peak requires management
2. Demand management is technically feasible and acceptable to the majority of trial participants
3. Trial data shows that Time of Use incentives appear to be highly effective at moving demand away from the evening peak – particularly when supported by Smart Charging (with an app) which makes it simple for the user
4. Smart Charging can support the introduction and management of Time of Use based charging, and provide a means to manage any negative consequences of mass uptake of these incentives
5. Data from smart chargers, similar to those used in Electric Nation, can provide a strong data source for building an evidence base for future development.

In addition to these outputs, EA Technology also delivered the Network Assessment Tool. This tool uses data from the trial to show where, and when, EV uptake could present issues on WPD’s Low Voltage networks. It also models the ability of time of use tariffs and smart charging to mitigate any issues.
Electric Nation is a Western Power Distribution (WPD) and Network Innovation Allowance funded project. WPD’s collaboration partners in the project are EA Technology, DriveElectric, Lucy Electric GridKey and TRL.

The final outputs from the project were released at LCNI in Glasgow on the 30th October 2019 and can be found on the WPD innovation site here: https://www.westernpower.co.uk/innovation/projects/electric-nation. The underlying data from the project is also available on request.

For further information please contact electricnation@eatechnology.com .