Moving to electric cars: how big data is leading our transition

Thursday, August 4, 2022 - 13:30

A new Horizon project, FLOW, aims to transition road transport towards zero emissions, writes Dr Fabiano Pallonetto at the School of Business

In June 2022, the EU Parliament voted to effectively ban new sales of fossil fuelled cars by 2035. The decision upholds a key pillar of the European Union's plans to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 55%, from 1990 levels, by 2030. Currently transport accounts for approximately 18% of CO2 emissions in the EU, so to meet our targets requires faster emissions reductions in this sector supported by research to inform stakeholders, from policy makers to the public, on the best ways to meet the challenge.
FLOW is one such research project - a four year long endeavour launched this month under the 2Zero partnership initiative that aims to transition road transport towards zero emissions. With a budget of €10M funded under the Horizon Europe framework programme the FLOW consortium brings together 30 European companies and research organisations and associations from nine different countries engaged in the electric mobility transition.

According to the International Energy Agency, power demand for electric vehicles is predicted to account for up to 6.5% of European final electricity consumption by 2030, with almost €60 billion per year in electricity sales. FLOW will support the upcoming mass deployment of electric vehicles by taking into account all of the actors involved, from power distribution system operators, charging point operators, mobility service providers, infrastructure manufacturers to final users. Importantly FLOW will test, validate and enhance so-called Vehicle-to-X systems, where energy can be exchanged among vehicles, buildings and the grid. By taking a systemic approach the project will validate and quantify the benefits associated with electric vehicle charging flexibility as a mechanism to alleviate grid constraints, secure greater penetration of renewable energies, and ultimately achieve energy decarbonisation while transitioning to a sustainable mobility model.

The consortium has a strong academic participation from research centres and universities that will focus on finding solutions for optimal configuration, control and operation of electric vehicle chargers, enabling them to provide flexibility services to the grid, interoperability and harmonisation of protocols and standardisation, investment planning and multi-criteria assessment, and user engagement and satisfaction.

A novel feature of FLOW is the development and implementation of five demonstration sites to determine the impact on different energy systems in Czech Republic, Italy, Denmark, Spain and though Maynooth University’s participation, Ireland. Ireland is an interesting case given that private vehicles are the most used mode of transport because of a widespread population living in rural areas which prevents the development of an efficient public charging infrastructure. This may account for the relatively low uptake of electric cars in comparison to our European neighbours, but with increasing energy costs at the pump, this picture is changing. With increasing charging demands other challenges arise, such as the design of an efficient charging infrastructure to avoid malfunctions and electricity network strains. This is were big data can play a part to pinpoint the most critical nodes in the power grid and correctly manage and upgrade public charging infrastructure to avoid highly concentrated demand, grid congestion, power loss and voltage fluctuations.
In a paper published in the World Electric Vehicle Journal, myself and colleagues across Italy developed a framework for the analysis and expansion of public charging infrastructure in Ireland. Using the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system we accessed status information such as the type of charger (e.g. AC/DC, fast/slow), availability of connections and whether the charger is out of order, along with date and time, the charge point Id, latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, and the address of the charge point. This provided scope for analysing the charging infrastructure to highlight eventual issues and most critical nodes in the power grid. Using this information, and supplementing it with the county and the town, the area (city, town or country side) and the position details (commercial, residential and motorway) we developed a methodology to model the charging infrastructure electricity profile, and used functional data analysis and clustering machine learning models (for example functional k-means clustering) to detect what distinguishes the daily average charge points usage, the hours of the day with the highest energy consumption and a congestion metric, and customer wait times to access a charger. Together this information can help improve the stability of the Irish power grid, inform any upgrades to the EV charging network and maximise access for customers. The analyses revealed a lack of reliability in the communication network infrastructure, frequent congestion events for commercial and shopping areas in specific clusters of charge points, and the presence of power peaks caused by the high number of simultaneous charging events.

When the full capabilities to exchange electricity with the grid are deployed electric vehicles will be truly disruptive. By testing energy flows and driving patterns of real users on real grids the FLOW project gives us the opportunity to build on our existing research and make real
world impact by feeding into new policies and through dissemination of best practices.

Dr Fabiano Pallonetto, Lecturer in Management Information Systems at the School of Business and cluster lead for Sustainable IT at the Innovation Value Institute, is a participant in FLOW, a new Horizon Europe research project, and how data science and energy systems integration are at the core of a sustainable transport system