Navigant Research Blog

The UK Has Emerged as the Leader in V2G

— May 24, 2018

Over the past 2 years, the UK has emerged as the leader in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) innovation. With pilot programs, academic research, and engagement from utilities and automakers, the UK is a hotbed for V2G technology development and partnerships. Navigant expects the addressable capacity of global vehicle grid integration to reach over 20,000 MW by 2026, with roughly 2,500 MW in Western Europe. Given the recent uptick of UK V2G pilot programs, it is likely the country will account for a large portion of the forecast capacity.


VGI Addressable Capacity Potential by Region, World Markets: 2017-2026

(Source: Navigant Research)

Nissan at the Forefront

Nissan has been at the forefront of many V2G pilot programs around the world, especially in the UK. In March 2016, Nissan began searching for fleets and company car drivers to join a V2G trial that took place later in the year. The trial involved energy company Enel and enabled 100 Nissan LEAF and e-NV200 drivers to provide energy back to the grid via V2G.

In early 2017, the automaker began working with Newcastle University to create V2G charging points for National Grid. The project is ongoing, with the first 10 charging stations located at Newcastle’s Smart Grid Laboratory. The technology itself was born from another partnership between Nissan and Enel.

Nissan’s V2G R&D is now being implemented in a partnership with the UK government. In January 2018, it was announced that Nissan is working with the government to install 1,000 V2G charging points across the country over the next 3 years. Known as Innovate UK, the project received £9.8 million ($13.2 million) worth of funding from the Office of Low Emission Vehicles and the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategies. The project aims to determine whether customers have enough financially incentives to provide power back to the grid using their EVs, and whether any regulatory or policy changes are needed. Partners of the project include Nuvve, National Grid, UK Power Networks, and Northern Powergrid.

In April 2018, Bristol, England-based utility OVO Energy announced a new V2G charging station designed to sell surplus energy from EVs back to grid operators. The charger will have 6 kW of bidirectional capability, and was designed in partnership with Nissan. It is the first widely available charger of its kind, but is currently only available to Nissan LEAF customers. The stations will be used as part of the Innovate UK program.

Longer-term V2G programs are also being developed in the UK to develop large-scale, domestic V2G trials in the country. The PowerLoop consortium is one such program, and is developing a project that will install 135 V2G chargers. Over the course of 3 years, the project will collect data regarding cost reduction and gird support. The consortium includes Open Energi, Octopus Energy, UK Power Networks, ChargePoint, Energy Saving Trust, and Navigant.

The Larger Electrification Picture

The UK V2G demonstrations are part of a larger electrification effort throughout the country. For example, in January 2018, BP announced its investment in mobile charging unit provider FreeWire, which will run a fast charging research program in the UK. The country has also made a push to electrify its delivery fleet segment with a slew of programs, including a pilot with Nissan and BD Auto.

Reports of new EV-related programs in the UK seems to be a monthly occurrence now, with all signs pointing to a continued increase. Due to the number of V2G pilot programs and electrification programs, the UK is primed to hold onto its leading position in V2G innovation and technology expansion.


HD Maps Might Help Teslas Stop Running into Fire Trucks

— May 24, 2018

Recently, a Tesla in Utah ran into the back of a stationary fire truck at high speed. This is the second such incident this year and the National Transportation Safety Board is already investigating the earlier incident. Incidents involving Teslas get news coverage because of the strident safety claims made by Elon Musk for his company’s AutoPilot driver assist system, but such accidents can happen with many vehicle brands. Relying on a single sensor for active safety control is often inadequate, but high definition (HD) maps may actually turn out to be part of the solution.

Teslas, and many millions of other vehicles, are equipped with forward-looking radar sensors that are used for adaptive cruise control (ACC). The radar is used to detect a vehicle moving ahead while ACC is active and measures the gap to that vehicle. If the lead vehicle slows down, the ACC vehicle will automatically slow to maintain a safe gap.

Forward-Looking Sensors Not Seeing Everything

You might think that if ACC detects a stopped vehicle it would automatically slow to a stop, but as the two recent crashes indicate, this isn’t always true. When ACC is used at highway speed, the assumption is that the other vehicles on the road will also be moving. To prevent false positives that would cause the brakes to erroneously engage, these systems are designed to ignore static objects like road signs, light poles, etc.

When another static vehicle that was outside of the radar range comes within view of the sensor while moving at highway speeds (as both vehicles in these crashes were), it is not assumed to be a vehicle and thus it is ignored. Some vehicles also include a combination of automatic emergency braking and/or forward collision warning safety systems to prevent crashes, but these systems are not optimized for identifying stationary vehicles in the roadway when the vehicles are traveling at highway speeds. Refinements in the coordination between these systems will continue.

How Does Mapping Fit into This?

Today, increasingly detailed maps are being used not just for routing but also as inputs to hybrid propulsion systems and long-range sensors in partially automated vehicles from GM and Mercedes-Benz. In the coming years, HD maps with detailed locations of static objects will be used for precision localization. If a vehicle has HD maps with the locations of fixed roadside objects, it may be possible to fuse this with the real-time radar data to better understand which objects can safely be ignored. The addition of image data from the camera used for lane keeping assist and it should be possible to recognize legitimately stopped vehicles and respond accordingly.

Companies such as San Francisco startup Mapper and incumbent map providers like HERE and TomTom have begun building HD maps. Mapper has developed a low cost, multi-camera-based data collection system that can be installed in vehicles used for ride-hailing providers or in other fleets. By the end of 2018, up to 2 million vehicles from Volkswagen, BMW, and Nissan are expected to be on the road globally with Mobileye’s latest EyeQ4 image processor. These vehicles will also be collecting data that feeds into Mobileye’s Road Experience Management system and then into maps from providers including HERE.

The sooner we start augmenting existing driver assist systems with new data sources such as HD maps or fusion of other sensors in the vehicle, the sooner object classification should improve to help prevent more crashes. The Tesla crashes are getting the attention, but these are problems that afflict virtually every manufacturer and the technology needs to be improved in order to save more lives.


Making the Utility-Customer Relationship a Two-Way Street

— May 24, 2018

I recently received a home energy report (HER) on my Honeywell thermostat app. It showed my monthly heating and cooling usage, compared it to last year, provided some thoughts on what factors affected my usage, and offered tips to save money in the future.

The Quest to Increase Customer Engagement

I was intrigued that Honeywell would offer this service outside of a utility-sponsored program, as most HERs are provided. The Honeywell app also includes a marketplace to buy some HVAC-related products and find local home contractors who can provide HVAC services. Both offerings appear to be gaining traction with utilities and retail energy suppliers across the globe in their quest to increase customer engagement.

Honeywell HER

(Source: Honeywell)

The widespread adoption of smartphones, mobile apps, and social networking tools has changed the way that consumers interact with their service providers. Utility customers are becoming more proactive and are expecting more insight into energy usage. The days of a once-a-month bill have morphed into potentially ongoing conversations and numerous points of contact that utilities need to embrace and exploit. Changing tools for engagement such as online, mobile, social networks, and marketplaces create a myriad of choices for utilities that seek to meet current customer expectations.

An Intersection of Technologies and Strategies

Between the distinct functions within a utility of general customer service and demand-side management (DSM) program management lies an intersection of technologies and strategies. These tools can merge the two areas to enhance customers’ experience with the utility and save energy in the process. The changes in consumer expectations brought about by companies like Amazon, Netflix, and others have led utilities to seek DSM software solutions that can lower the cost-to-serve and improve customer satisfaction and engagement.

Utilities are also under pressure to build fewer power plants, accommodate cleaner sources of fuel, and keep rates low. This has caused regulators to place higher priority on better customer service, increasingly incentivize utilities to pursue DSM, and improve their customer relationships. This same effect has occurred in regions experiencing deregulation, such as Texas, Europe, and Australia, which creates a more competitive marketplace. It also results in retail suppliers pursuing DSM offerings to differentiate themselves and evolve to become service providers in the eyes of their customers, rather than commodity providers.

Navigant Research’s new report Utility Customer Engagement through DSM highlights these trends and provides case studies of utilities and retail suppliers offering such products and profiles of vendors that provide such solutions. This market is getting ready for strong growth based on advances in methodologies and technology, utility willingness to try new means of customer outreach, and a myriad of other drivers for DSM in general and these products specifically.

Now back to my Honeywell HER to see how I can use less energy than my neighbors!


Test Failures Show Drone Delivery Services Are Still Working out Growing Pains

— May 22, 2018

At face value, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, seem to be an excellent solution for last mile and last meter logistics. In the past view years there have been a number entrants into the drone delivery service (DDS) space; both Amazon and Google have completed proof of concept deliveries using their drones, as has Reno-based Flirtey, to name a few.

In addition to these test deliveries for e-commerce orders, there are some ongoing pilot programs transporting higher value goods (i.e., medical supplies) in an effort to both speed up deliveries and reduce travel times. Startup Matternet is working on establishing automated deliveries between hospitals, and Zipline is delivering blood in Rwanda where traditional delivery methods are time prohibitive.

The Value Add Is There

UAVs seem like a logical fit for many of these deliveries, and they also have the potential to reduce the cost of the most expensive piece of the logistics supply chain. According to research by Honeywell in 2016, last mile logistics make up over 50% of the costs of a delivery process. UAVs can reduce costs by decreasing delivery times, complementing human delivery drivers in some scenarios (such as UAV-integrated delivery vehicles), and removing them in others (like transporting your online order directly from a warehouse to your front door).

Challenges to Overcome

As with all things, the devil is in the details. Deliveries in rural areas are costly for logistics companies, with routes that are often longer and have fewer drop-offs—reducing efficiency. Earlier this month, the Russian Postal Service set out to showcase its proof of concept in Serbia, using a UAV to deliver the mail. This application seems to fit the bill on adding value. The route for this event and the payload were preplanned, and a crowd gathered to watch the future of delivery. However, just seconds after takeoff the drone crashed into a wall and forced onlookers to jump out of the way to avoid the falling vehicle.

Regulators Value DDS, but Not More Than Public Safety

There are many variables that need to be understood and accounted for before we begin to see these applications take hold. These include the following:

  • How DDS will navigate within an urban environment and around infrastructure
  • What safety measures are needed when operating DDS above people
  • How DDS will tackle the intricacies of apartment deliveries
  • How DDS will operate with wind shear and inclement weather
  • How to manage UAV traffic when there are much larger fleets

Test runs and pilot programs that end successfully are great for the industry. The ability of UAVs to safely and reliably carry out tasks will be an indicator for regulators around the world to allow for the technology’s commercial operation. But tests that end in failure—such as the Russian Postal Service’s attempt—are the reason why regulations are important and why they will be slow to change until these technologies are proven and reliable. Companies operating in this space will need to keep their noses to the grindstone in order to show success and win over regulators.

Navigant Research’s recent report, Capturing New Commercial Opportunities with Unmanned Vehicles, provides insight into the growing commercial unmanned vehicle space. It includes details on the regulatory environment, which many UAVs will need to work alongside until governments feel the technology is capable of tackling more complex challenges.


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