GDPR changed how we share data, but could it also be having adverse effects on the rollout of electric vehicles and our preparedness for them? Stewart Reid, Head of Future Networks at Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), explains the need for cross-sector collaboration to ensure the UK can take advantage of the opportunities that are just around the corner.
The UK government stated in its Road to Zero strategy that its ambition is to deliver “one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world”. The destination has been set, and now industry, government and consumer groups must work together to plot the route, avoiding any potential potholes along the way.
One of those potholes may be, oddly, a misinterpretation of GDPR, the critical regulation that is protecting us, and our data. The responsible sharing of data, regularly and across sectors, is required to understand and manage the scale of transition to electric vehicles (EVs). I’ve been struck on how little of this sharing takes place, often citing GDPR.
For electricity network operators, such as SSEN, a lack of access to timely data may cause real issues as we prepare our network for the expected growth in demand. Currently we are left depending on lagging, rather than leading indicators.
Lagging or leading?
The increase in EVs presents an exciting opportunity, and a challenge for electricity networks. Investment ahead of need is not permitted by the regulator without very strong evidence. However, network operators must ensure that its infrastructure is ready for EV uptake across the UK. Without a crystal ball, managing these two responsibilities is, at best, difficult, and at worst, impossible.
Electricity networks are currently left reacting to EV uptake. SSEN is deploying monitors in at risk substations as EVs are added to the system. This activity is crucial, and will continue, but these are lagging indicators. We could achieve more through leading indicators, signposted by industries working together, smarter and better. Key to this is better data sharing.
Leading indicators can be unlocked quickly and simply. For example, when purchasing an EV, for which there is currently at best four-month delivery lead time, the customer could be asked whether the car manufacturer can share information such as where the EV will be charged with the network operator. If permission is granted, the network operator could undertake safety and network capacity checks at no extra cost to the car owner, ensuring that the network is EV ready.
This is not sensitive information that is being shared, and GDPR does not prohibit such activity. Yet the overinterpretation of GDPR leads to a reluctance to seek customer approval and results in a lost opportunity for better customer service. It risks making the UK sclerotic in seizing and maximising new opportunities.
Embracing EV flexibility
One of these opportunities is for EV owners to be paid for providing flexibility services to the network. EVs are an inherently flexible technology; able to store electricity, charge at periods of reduced demand on the network, and use stored energy during periods of significant increased demand on the network.
In December 2018, SSEN joined other UK electricity network operators in making a “Flexibility First” commitment. This means that SSEN will openly test the market to assess what flexibility services are available from smart technologies such as EVs and compare the cost of using them against building new energy infrastructure. SSEN is working with Piclo to make network constraint data visible to EV owners to unlock this potential.
In this scenario, everyone benefits. Customers, including EV owners, can provide flexibility and receive payments for their support, and network operators like SSEN can avoid spending money on the network, a cost which ultimately appears on the customers’ electricity bills.
This is just one example of how the sharing of data can deliver better value, and smarter infrastructure.
Arriving at our destination
The capturing of increased levels of data clearly brings many opportunities – and risks. That’s why the security and guidance of GDPR is critically important. Equally, the GDPR misinterpretation pothole, preventing industries working together to support customers and unlock new opportunities, must be avoided.
I welcomed the government’s decision to create an Energy Data Taskforce, that is making recommendations on how data can be used more effectively in the energy system. I hope that its conclusions will lead to better, and improved, cross-industry data sharing, to position the UK as a leader on EV and low-carbon technology preparedness.