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How electric cars can sweeten the PV deal

John Parnell


2 August 2013

Mark Fitch, PA automotive and renewable energy expert, has been quoted in an article on how electric vehicles could provide additional benefits for solar energy users.

The article describes how Nissan’s all-electric LEAF vehicle allows owners to draw power from their car into their home, for example, when grid prices peak. This could allow users of intermittent renewables – such as solar energy – to make big gains.

Mark explains: “It [making gains] will require a more sophisticated use of energy and a behavioural shift. Getting that interest in energy from people is only possible if it is of value to them. In terms of saving you money and using your own generation, you would be better off selling your electricity at the feed in tariff (FiT) rate and then buying it back to charge your EV when there are lots of renewables online and the market price starts to go to zero. You could then make it your back doubly in a sense if you are using that energy later in the day when prices are high.”

Continuing, he describes the issue around whether sophisticated home consumers will play the market themselves, or whether companies like British Gas will do it for them by helping them to find the best deal.

Mark suggests that as utilities start to offer smarter services, people could cede control of the power in their EV, allowing utilities to draw on that power should the grid require it: “It’s that kind of acceptance of losing control, like we have seen in telecoms. Your phone decides how best to get data, why can’t it be the same for energy? It’s the difference between a consumer having to take action themselves, compared to having intelligent, autonomous devices that make the decisions to optimise for you.”  

The article explains that there are a few limitations on how much of a contribution electric car storage could make on a grid-wide scale. The mobile and widely dispersed nature of EVs adds a layer of unpredictability that utilities wouldn’t be keen to rely on.

Going further, Mark says that while EV’s offer a great distributed storage option, without smart networks and savvy consumers, it could be hard to tap into this potential.

“We’re changing now to match demand to what is available in terms of supply. When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining we need to be capturing that energy. EVs provide a separate challenge because they are a large offtaker of power from the networks and looking at people’s behaviour, they tend to get home and want to plug it in and charge it. So you get a massive peak of demand at the end of the day.”

According to the article, to get round this, people need to be willing to run their battery to near empty in the morning and plug it in during the day, at work or at home.

The article explains that BMW has responded to consumers’ ‘range anxiety’ (the fear that their EV will run out of power with nowhere to plug it in) with the launch this week of its i3 electric car which will come with a petrol-based range extender. Mark says this could encourage people to “hedge their bets” when deciding when they charge and allow more people to plug in during off-peak hours.

Continuing, he argues that as more and more renewables enter the grid on a utility scale, daytime electricity could eventually become cheaper than through the night; and this could further encourage people to ensure their car can charge during the day.

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