Electric vehicle charging & transport simulation

October 1st, 2019
LCV

Solutions Director, Dave Williams, writes on how planning electric vehicle charging infrastructure is a problem that can only be solved through transport simulation.

In 2018 the government set out its ambition to see at least 50% of new cars as ultra low emission by 2030, and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040 (1). Fundamental to this “Road to Zero” is the adoption and use of electric vehicles.

The uptake of electric vehicles has risen sharply. The last decade has seen a twenty-fold increase in the number of EVs on our roads, to more than 200,000. This still represents a very small proportion of the vehicle fleet – less than 1% – but the growth is encouraging.

Yet consumer attitudes are still slow to change. Concerns over the range of electric vehicles remain, despite improvements over the years. Research (2) into consumer attitudes consistently show that range and availability of charging infrastructure are the biggest deterrents to purchasing an EV.

People are worried that electric vehicles can’t take them where they need to be in the same way as a conventional petrol or diesel car or van. If we want to meet the government targets on ultra low emission vehicles, we need to show consumers and business that they can do everything with EVs that they can with their current vehicles.

This is where transport simulation is key.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure can be split into three main categories – origin charging, destination charging, and opportunistic charging. How an individual charge point is categorised depends on your point of view (one person’s origin could be another person’s destination) but is an important reflection on the movement of people at goods.

The main charging activities will take place at origin. For private vehicles this means at home, and for commercial vehicles this means in a depot. The government has done much in recent months to make home charging more accessible and affordable – cutting down the barrier for many to purchase and run EVs. Destination charging is also relatively well established, with many workplaces and town centres providing infrastructure for EVs.

Yet people want the comfort knowing they’ll be able to charge their vehicle away from homes and workplaces – in much the same way as they know they’ll almost always be able to find a petrol station. For commercial vehicles this becomes even more important – we need to know that we can run a fleet and maintain a service in a highly competitive industry.

We know that the way people and goods move is complicated, yet traditional ways of modelling this tends to only look at homogenous blocks moving from origin to destination. This is where activity schedules really matter – taking a granular view of the movements of individual agents, including passenger cars, public transit vehicles and logistics. It will only be understanding movement on this level that we can plan for opportunistic and public charging infrastructure, ensuring that consumers can enjoy the same level of service they do today. This requires new ways of simulating the movement of people and goods, and a highly granular approach that focuses on individual decision-making agents.

The Immense simulation platform has been created to do just that. Through utilising agent-based methods, we simulate the activities of millions of individuals – their homes, their workplaces, and all of the origins and destinations in between. This platform has been used extensively for the MERGE Greenwich project (3), including not only the demand of vehicles, but also the implications for power demand.

Until we are able to utilise methods such as these for planning our charging infrastructure, the UK could be missing out on many opportunities to help us achieve our goals for ultra low emission vehicles.

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(1) Road to Zero

(2) For example, DfT research into public attitudes towards electric vehicles

(3) Merge