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BLOG: Powering Ahead: Mitigating the Technical Impacts of E-Mobility on Power Systems

Authors: Tarek Keskes, Henrik Rytter Jensen, Yanchao Li, and Adam Krzysztof Suski

The transition to electric mobility (E-Mobility) offers promising potential for decarbonization. At the same time, it poses significant and intricate challenges for power systems worldwide. Successfully addressing those challenges requires a diverse range of solutions and approaches. The recently released Technical Report titled "Electric Mobility and Power Systems - Impacts and Mitigation Strategies in Developing Countries" of the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) provides valuable insights into the technical aspects of those challenges. In this blog post, we aim to clarify some commonly asked questions regarding this topic.



Q: Why is the transition to E-Mobility a major technical challenge for power systems? 

A: According to the International Energy Agency, the total number of electric vehicles (EVs), excluding two/three-wheelers, will reach 240 million by 2030, driven by the ambitions and targets announced by various countries. As more people adopt EVs, the impact on power systems will become increasingly noticeable. One of the most common impacts will be the sudden increase in residential load when EV owners return from their daily routines and plug their vehicles into their home chargers. While a few simultaneous plug-ins might be manageable, the transition to a net-zero economy requires countries to prepare for a significant increase in EV penetration rates. Moreover, charging hubs like public rapid charging stations and electric bus depots will exert particular pressure on local grids. Without proper coordination, the increase in EVs could amplify existing demand peaks, adding stress to the power system and causing problems for electric utilities. Local clusters can strain power system infrastructure, necessitating costly upgrades and reinforcement of transmission and distribution lines, and substations. To minimize the negative impact of EV adoption and maximize its benefits, comprehensive planning and collaboration among utilities, system operators, regulators, and policymakers will be crucial.

Q: What are the technical impacts of E-Mobility on power systems? 

A: The impacts will vary from short-term operational issues up to long-term energy system planning effects. In the initial stages, the distribution grid segments are at the highest risk. These are susceptible to spatial accumulation of plug-in events even if the national numbers are low, for instance at electric taxi charging stations. Common issues include the overloading of feeders and transformers, and quality issues such as voltage deviations and power losses. Since the resilience of the distribution network is only as strong as its weakest link, failure of one component can cause severe distortions in the supply to the area. Distribution grids will be the primary source of potential reinforcements needed for EV deployment. As the E-Mobility transition continues, the power system impacts may extend beyond distribution, affecting generation dispatch or transmission lines on a national level. However, these impacts are projected to be less severe and with more ways to mitigate them.

Q: Why is it particularly relevant to developing countries?  

A: Today’s technical, academic, and institutional literature uses examples of countries with substantial levels of electrification, such as Norway, the Netherlands, or the United States, to benchmark the potential power system impacts of EV deployment. However, charging patterns and transport modes vary greatly across different regions, from the hilly streets of La Paz, to the minibus networks of Johannesburg, or the isolated islands of the Maldives. These factors are crucial in determining the power system impacts, and therefore require detailed and country-specific evaluations. These countries often face existing challenges in providing reliable power services due to limited capacity, inadequate maintenance, and operational challenges. Inadequate design and aging equipment in the distribution grid further exacerbate these issues, making EV integration a significant challenge. The growth of EVs in developing countries can put a strain on already overwhelmed grids, making it essential to assess the current state of the power systems. Moreover, the response of the grid to specific load changes can vary significantly. Examples of technical impacts are presented in the table below. As a result, these countries need to evaluate the current state of their power systems and develop comprehensive plans for EV grid integration that consider the technical aspects of both the grid and EVs. ESMAP is providing funding and technical support to assess these challenges in several countries and is expanding to meet this growing demand for support. Recently, using internally developed modeling tools, we conducted a long-term planning study for the Maldives, a small island developing state. The analysis revealed the importance of focused modeling analysis to understand the ramifications of EV load impact on the power system. The analysis showed that EV adoption would result in a significant increase in generation capacity and the potential increase in power sector emissions in a fossil-fuel-dominated system.


Table: Technical EV Load Power System Impacts in the Context of Developing Countries




Power Demand

  • Increased energy consumption

  • Altered daily load curve

  • Modified peak load in terms of magnitude, duration, and timing

  • Increased load profile variability and uncertainty

  • Location, weather, demographics, and driving patterns may impact EV adoption, power consumption, and charging behavior

  • Electric two- and three-wheelers may dominate in many developing countries

  • Economic, regulatory, and geographical difficulties in establishing public charging infrastructure

Generation System

  • Additional electricity generation required

  • New capacity investments needed to ensure security and adequacy

  • Increased power system emissions

  • High ramping needs due to sharp power demand increase

  • Increased need for ancillary services

  • Increased need for energy storage

  • Existing reliability and security challenges with electricity access

  • High generation investment needs due to fast-growing demand

  • Carbon-intensive generation capacities, often relying on inefficient fossil fuel units

  • Poor market regulation and difficulties in providing reserves

Transmission System

  • Risk of congestion and distortion of electricity prices

  • Increased need for transmission capacity

  • Increased need for reactive power

  • Limited interconnectivity and cross-border capacity

  • Lacking regulations for appropriate transmission system to encourage investments

  • High investment needs to maintain adequate interconnections with growing demand

Distribution System

  • Overloading feeders and transformers, necessitating capacity upgrades

  • Increased power losses

  • Voltage deviations

  • Power quality issues, such as harmonic distortion.

  • Weak, poorly designed distribution systems

  • High distribution system losses

  • High rate of transformer failures and maintenance needs

  • Insufficient management, standards, and regulations

  • Low awareness of power quality issues

  • High reinforcement needs due to growing demand.




Q: What are the implications for electric utilities? 

A: Electric utilities play a crucial role in the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system. As the demand for EVs continues to grow, utilities must prepare. They will need to upgrade their distribution infrastructure to ensure that the power system can meet the increased demand and make use of new grid resources. However, with challenges comes opportunities. Electric utilities can also benefit from the growth of E-Mobility by exploring opportunities in the EV charging market and promoting the adoption of EVs. For example, utilities can partner with municipalities to install public charging stations or offer incentives for EV ownership. By doing so, utilities can increase revenue, attract new customers, and improve customer satisfaction. Planning ahead is critical, and utilities should evaluate the least-cost way to meet the demand while maintaining reliability and security. Utilities can also explore the use of smart grid technologies that can help manage the increased demand for electricity from EVs while improving system efficiency and reducing costs.



Q: How can the technical impacts on power systems be mitigated?  

A: There are several solutions that can be implemented. One is smart charging strategies, which can reduce negative impacts while using the potential benefits of vehicle-grid integration (VGI). The primary goal of these strategies is to shift the load to the most optimal time from the system operator's perspective, while also respecting the EV owner's preferences and considering power system constraints. Advanced strategies allow for bi-directional energy flow between EVs and their environments, enabling functionalities such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) to provide ancillary services. Smart charging strategies, including dynamic tariff designs such as time-of-use (ToU) tariffs and real-time pricing, can incentivize EV charging shifts and reduce costs. Another mitigation solution is battery swapping systems, which are gaining popularity in markets with a high percentage of two and three-wheel EVs. For example, in India, the World Resources Institute estimates that the swapping market will have a cumulative average growth rate of 31.3% from 2020 to 2030. Battery swapping stations allow for the quick replacement of discharged batteries with fully charged units, reducing the burden on the power grid during peak demand periods and facilitating renewable energy integration. In addition, strategic placement of charging infrastructure in areas with ample grid hosting capacity can minimize the need for grid reinforcements. On-site solar generation and battery storage facilities can also increase flexibility and mitigate negative impacts. Standards and interoperability requirements can further improve grid safety and facilitate aggregation. Finally, reducing EV energy consumption, such as through more efficient cooling systems, can also help to mitigate technical impacts. An upcoming ESMAP-funded study in the Middle East and North Africa, has shown that optimizing mobility cooling can save between 7 percent and 30 percent of the electricity consumed by EVs in the region, extending driving range and reducing charging demand.

Q: How do those impacts and mitigation options fit into broader planning considerations? 

A: Integrated planning of power systems and charging infrastructure is critical for successful EV integration. This planning approach requires the use of advanced models to capture distribution system equipment stress, power flow principles, and load variability, and it should involve various scenarios to inform decision-makers about the potential implications of different projections. It is crucial to recognize that these technical roadmaps must be developed as an integrated part of broader intersectoral planning. This is particularly important for developing countries seeking to meet their climate and development objectives, where enabling frameworks must be planned and implemented to ensure their investments and efforts lead to a sustainable E-Mobility transition.

To delve deeper into the technical impacts and effective mitigation strategies, we recommend  downloading the Report.