Want to avoid blackouts? Buy an electric vehicle

A detailed inquiry into the backout that affected much of the GB last Friday night is already under way.

New Power’s early information was, in short, that two power plants ‘tripped’ within a very short time and there were area power cuts as the System Operator brought the frequency back under control. Controlling frequency is very important, because frequency deviations cause other plants to trip off and can cause a cascade of faults. In the medium term there is work under way to help the system ‘ride through’ these type of effects, which become more common as we have more variety of generation on the system, but also less dramatic as we move to smaller plant – managing the loss of two 30MW plants is easier than two 300MW plants. (More on that here: Simultaneous plant failures caused widespread power interruptions).

But what can you do right now to help the system operator? I think the answer is: buy an electric vehicle.

Managing fluctuations in the grid becomes more difficult when power use is low and there are relatively few plants operating to meet the need – a summer’s day, for instance, instead of a winter evening. When demand is low, a plant tripping off has much more impact than if it is one among many plants meeting high demand.

What is more, with just a few plants up and running and relatively little power being used, the System Operator has fewer options to manage the system.

So a good option to help keep the summer system in shape? Use more power – but in a good way. Charging electric  vehicles is a great way to do that, and at the same time it will help improve summer air quality in the city.

Initially the advent of electric vehicles caused fears over how they would affect the electricity network. That concern is not misplaced and  there will be more work to be done on that when EVs reach high levels. Although, equally a very large number of electric vehicles will mean many are plugged in at one time – so they will be available for the System Operator to use as batteries to manage fast response.

Those concerns are for the future, Now, electric vehicles look like a useful addition. More of them will help us all breathe easier.