Introducing the E-Flex academic partner: Imperial College London

This blog is co-authored by Dr Nicolò Daina, Research Fellow at the Urban Systems Lab at the Centre for Transport Studies, and Dr Dimitrios Papadaskalopoulos, Research Fellow in Decentralised Energy Systems at the Control and Power Research Group, Imperial College London

The decarbonisation of energy and transport systems, including the large-scale integration of renewable generation and the increasing demand for electricity constitutes one of the biggest challenges facing the world today.

At Imperial College London, we think of ourselves as problem-solvers dedicated to finding innovative solutions to the world's biggest challenges. So naturally, the cost-effective and secure transition to a low-carbon energy future is a challenge that we want to address.

But we also know that it’s a challenge that can’t be solved by academia alone.

It will take experts from across the board – technology, energy, and the public sector - working and innovating together.

For this reason, we’re incredibly excited to be involved in E-Flex, where we can work alongside all types of partners to examine the potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.

V2G presents a huge opportunity to both the fields we’re involved in: transport systems and power systems. As well as providing our insight and expertise, we’ll learn a lot on the project that we’ll be able to take back to the Urban Systems Lab at the Centre for Transport Studies and the Control and Power Research Group respectively.

So, in this blog post, we’d like to provide an overview of our role as the E-Flex project’s academic partner.

Exploring future integrated transport and energy systems

For one hundred years, Imperial College London has been working towards its mission to benefit society through excellence in science, engineering, medicine and business.

We can absolutely see how V2G technology fits in with this mission. It will benefit society by supporting a more flexible and efficient grid, which will allow for a greater percentage of renewables in our energy mix.

This is relevant to our specific disciplines in several ways. From a transport planning perspective, V2G might change how often and when vehicles are used. Electrification is already reducing the running cost of transport, smart charging and V2G may further reduce these costs for end users.

Currently, the potential effects this will have on EV uptake and travel demand are still unclear. However, V2G may make it cheaper (or profitable) to have vehicles plugged in at certain times of the day. Ultimately, this may have an effect on the time patterns of vehicle use for the users with the more flexible use cases.

But will this have a significant effect on traffic patterns in future when EVs become mainstream? Again, it’s still hard to say, but E-Flex will enable the gathering of the data that will start enabling us to start addressing these questions.

Similarly, the Control and Power Research Group is interested in re-designing the electricity market to capture the whole-system value of V2G.

The global landscape of power is changing as we utilise an increasing amount of renewable energy. While this is good for the environment, it’s tricky for the power system, since renewable energy can be variable and unpredictable. Think about solar power, for example: the sun doesn’t always shine.

This lack of predictability and controllability calls for flexibility on the demand-side of the electric system, where sources of micro-generation and demand can be rapidly adjusted to help balance the grid.

There’s huge value in securing flexibility – in a study led by Imperial College, it has been estimated that a more flexible electricity system could save consumers £8 billion a year by 2030. Electric vehicles can be one of the primary agents of flexibility, since they can store energy in their batteries at periods with high sunshine and wind speed and pass it back to the grid at periods of high demand.

For this reason, we’re excited to be right at the heart of V2G development with E-Flex.

Examining V2G in action

One of our main aims for the project is to discover how V2G can be implemented in the optimal way for mobility and commercial fleets. We’re looking to understand how V2G might make them more efficient, so that we can respond effectively to the future demands of transport.

The advantage of being involved in E-Flex means we can gather enough data to large-scale test our planning hypothesis.  

Another hugely valuable aspect of the project is the fact that it’s not simply a technical demo but also a market demo. In other words, it aims at demonstrating a completely new market and regulatory framework which cannot be easily simulated with our software tools. These tools are naturally inadequate in analysing how people respond when it comes to using V2G in their daily lives, so this will be a valuable practical insight.

Of course, as the market uptake of V2G capable EVs is still very limited, there’s an inherent challenge in that we need to recruit a significant number of vehicles from fleets with sufficiently diverse use cases to gain as much insight as possible on the way V2G can be implemented efficiently across fleets with different operational requirements.

To get a real picture of how V2G will work, we want to explore the technology in different types of fleets – and this means partnering with as many fleet owners and operators as possible.

Co-innovation is key to V2G

We feel the project really benefits from having an academic partner on-board – and, of course, we’re hugely proud that it’s us.

At the moment, there’s still a long way to go before we understand fully how V2G will evolve. But we need to understand it, so we can ensure that it evolves in a way that will enable us to get the best out of it.

To gain this understanding we need a balance of both research and development. And that’s where our expertise comes into the project.

We’re enjoying the process of co-innovating with many other partners. Collaboration of this scale is rare and really exciting, and for the Control and Power group in particular, integrating with industry has been invaluable.

Together, we’re confident that we will demonstrate the immense value of V2G, and enable as many people as possible to access its benefits.