Electric Vehicle Success Requires Automation Professionals

  • By Bill Lydon
  • The Final Say

The growth of electric vehicles (EVs) will require automation professionals to manage the complexities of increased power generation, distribution, and orchestration of generation resources  including solar, wind, and traditional sources. The average person, particularly in developed countries, takes for granted the instant availability of electric power without understanding the engineering and systems needed to generate and deliver reliable power. The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles, the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights, and heating and air conditioning. Automation professionals will be critical for designing, building, programing, cyber protecting, and commissioning power distribution and generation automation systems for control, efficiency, and optimization in addition to ongoing oil and gas production.

Global power demand growth

The International Energy Agency has projected that by 2030 global electricity demand from electric vehicles (including two/three-wheelers) will reach 550 trillion-watt hours (TWh), about a sixfold rise from 2019 levels. This presents implications and opportunities for power systems. Balancing electrical demand and supply will become an increasing challenge to ensure the smooth integration of variable renewables-based energy generation and the electrification of multiple end-use sectors.

Over the coming decade, managing EV charging patterns will be key to encourage charging at periods of low electricity demand or during high renewables-based electricity generation. Consider the possibility of 250 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030; the share of EV charging in the evening peak demand could rise to 4–10 percent in the main electric vehicle markets (China, E.U., and U.S.).

In addition to lower off-peak electric rates encouraging charging at night, real-time price signals from utilities have been proposed to control a vehicle’s charge rate to optimize variable renewable electricity generation. These strategies require automation professionals to conceptualize, design, engineer, and implement systems.

The European Environment Agency report, Electric vehicles and the energy sector – impacts on Europe’s future emissions, says the share of electricity consumption required by an 80 percent share of electric vehicles in 2050 will vary between 3 percent and 25 percent of total electricity demand across the E.U. 28 member states (note that the U.K. was still a member at the time of the report). On average, for the E.U. 28, the proportion of total electricity demand required in 2050 will be 9.5 percent, compared with the 1.3 percent assumed in the European Commission’s projection. Overall, an additional electrical capacity of 150 GW is estimated to charge electric cars. A U.S. Department of Energy study found that increased electrification across all sectors of the economy could boost national consumption by as much as 38 percent by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles.

The environmental benefit of electric cars depends on the electricity being generated by renewables. Again, automation is required to orchestrate all sources of generation to ensure power availability and reliability.

Electricity demand fluctuates throughout the day, with a typical profile of higher use during daytime hours then peaking in the early evening. If many people buy electric vehicles and mostly try to charge right when they get home from work, the system could get overloaded or force utilities to deliver more electricity than they are currently capable of producing.

Delicate balance

Optimizing oil and gas will continue to be important, because the transition to all electric vehicles is a long-term effort. Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda recently brought this into focus by criticizing what he described as excessive hype over electric vehicles, saying advocates failed to consider the carbon emitted by generating electricity and the costs of an EV transition. He noted that Japan would run out of electricity in the summer if all cars were running on electric power. 

The infrastructure needed to support a fleet consisting entirely of EVs would cost Japan ¥14–¥37 trillion ($135–$358 billion). “When politicians are out there saying, ‘Let’s get rid of all cars using gasoline,’ do they understand this?” Toyoda said in 2020 at a year-end news conference in his capacity as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.


Automation professionals also have an important role in creating power generation and distribution systems that will be cybersecure. The distributed nature of power systems make them particularly vulnerable to attacks, requiring expert application of ISA/IEC 62443 standards developed by the ISA99 committee and adopted by the International Electrotechnical Commission.

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About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on Automation.com