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Will there be enough electricity for electric cars?

The ongoing conversion from fossil fuels to electricity in the automotive sector is one of the factors that has affected electricity demand. At the same time, vehicle operators are seeing an ever greater demand for electric cars. Now many are wondering if there will be enough electricity for electric cars.

Our increased need for electricity is a result of greater focus on sustainability efforts and the transition from fossil fuels to electricity, with the electrification of transport at the centre. Passenger cars are not alone in the move from fossil fuels to electricity – buses, ships, heavy vehicles and construction equipment are all following suit.

“The prices of electric vehicles, for instance, have dropped faster than anticipated,” says Magnus Brolin, Manager of the Future Energy Systems at RISE. “Current prices are more reasonable than before and the rate of consumption has increased. All told, it is positive that consumers are opting for more eco-friendly alternatives, but it presents challenges to the industry. Yet even if everyone switches to electric vehicles, there’s no great cause for concern.”

The main factor driving our increased need for electricity in cities is urbanisation. More people are moving to cities from the countryside. 52 percent of Sweden’s electricity is used in housing and the service sector. Urbanisation is happening faster than expected, with some cities finding it problematic to supply companies and residents with electricity.

“Some cities with electricity supply problems at the moment include Uppsala, Malmö and Stockholm. The number of people moving to the cities is higher than what the power grid was designed to handle. Which is why local problems with electricity supply have emerged,” explains Brolin.

In addition, a number of electricity companies have chosen to replace cogeneration power plants that produced both electricity and heat with heat-only boiler stations that solely produce thermal energy. Solely producing heat is cheaper, but it also means that municipalities lose local electricity production and are forced to import electricity into the cities. 

It won’t be a problem at a national level

Universal problem

Electricity supply is not a unique problem in Swedish cities. The problem exists around the world.

“It’s a global problem. Urbanisation, where people move to cities from the countryside, and electrification, where fossil fuels are replaced by electricity, affect electricity supply all over the world,” says Brolin.

Investing in new charging infrastructure and smart systems

International collaborations are underway involving researchers from numerous countries. Among other things, the collaborations are aimed at finding solutions which will enable flexibility in the systems, with the ambition of levelling out the peaks to achieve a more even supply of electricity.

“We still don’t know what the cumulative effects will be, but, either way, not everyone will charge at the same time. Locally, it may require greater electricity productionor grid reinforcement. This could prove to be a problem in some towns, but it won’t be a problem at a national level,” says Brolin.

However, charging infrastructure will need to be broadened and connected to so-called smart systems able to distribute power output.

“At present, there is a lack of standardised, cost-efficient products geared towards, for example, homeowners or housing cooperatives for the installation of charging stations at residences. Nor are there regulatory frameworks in place governing how much one can charge or when, or whether the output of other systems on the property, such as heat pumps, will need to be reduced,” says Brolin.

Compounded by a divided focus

Ambitious investment plans exist for Sweden’s electrical grids, with additional plans for cities. Unfortunately, the electrical grid needs to be reinforced here and now, while it also needs to be expanded, which results in a divided focus.

“The different time perspectives compound the work. At the same time as we need to reinforce areas in which there are gaps today, we need to make huge investments into infrastructure which will supply our country for the next fifty years or so,” concludes Brolin.

Published: 2019-10-28