How to get electric vehicle plans out of the box

During discussions about electric vehicles and the opportunities in having so much storage in the system, I am always struck by how quickly people start to talk about their own car, and what they do with it.

Say they drive to their office, and play squash on a Saturday. How, they ask, could the system possibly cope with using that? Sometimes they go away for a weekend (admittedly, not at the moment)! How can their car possibly have any value to the system?

Maybe it is because I am not too interested in cars themselves, but this view from inside the metal box seems entirely unfitted for the world we are entering.



Since I live in London, I often find it hard to remember where my car is. It may be parked anywhere within about half a mile, depending on where I can find a space.

Does that make it unpredictable? Not at all, if you look at the bigger picture.

I can’t park because I am in an area of fairly dense housing with no offstreet parking and a station.  Apart from momentary breaks when a car pulls away, I can promise you can rely on every space being filled.

I imagine that, in aggregate, their fuel level reflects the national average. But you could check that fairly quickly, because many of the same cars come back time after time, and we are all creatures of habit over whether we fill up on the half way mark or the warning beep.

So if you used this small grid of streets as storage, you could soon have a pretty good handle on what it could give you.

This is the action of crowds. It tends not to come to mind in the power sector, because instead of understanding customers, the industry has always just tried to guess the maximum possible demand and deliver it. And, of course, the tendency is to think of ‘a’ vehicle (usually your own).


Forget the individual

There are many organisations that do know about human behaviour in crowds. Take the flow of users to a sporting event (remember those?). In fact, even a local chip van owner can make a good guess where people will stay for longest, but the city transport managers will understand it in detail.

Similarly my local superstore. Even I can make a good stab at guessing the relative occupancy of the car park at most times (and so can you, because you know when you’ll have to search for a place). And I’ll go to the foot of our stairs if Sainsbury’s doesn’t have a good idea of the average composition of their customers at any one time (the retired taking a long breakfast in the café, the Saturday family ‘big shop’)  and hence their residency times in the car park.

I’m told that understanding the state of charge of the cars on the car park will be very complicated. Seriously? Each one of those car park users is prompting hundreds of interactions as they go around the shop, especially if they are using ‘scan and go’. A handshake between their recharging connection and the onsite storage system to exchange charging limit information I think is achievable.

So again, if you used this small grid of spaces as storage you could soon have a pretty good handle on managing it.

With EVs, it’s hard to start by thinking about the crowd because to many people the vehicle looms so large. But as the rollout grows there will be huge opportunities to make our sector more efficient using all that storage.

To access those opportunities, we need to stop thinking about a car from inside the box, and start thinking about it as part of a crowd. Like electrons, its not about working out how to get a single one to buzz its way down the country, from the power station to the toaster.  It’s thinking about mass behaviour.