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Centre for Net Zero launches trial with eminent global research centre J-PAL, testing consumer preferences for automated EV charging and grid impacts 

Centre for Net Zero   •   9 November 2023

Centre for Net Zero is launching a new field trial, EV-Flex, designed to understand consumer price sensitivity to automated EV charging tariffs, and the corresponding benefits to consumers and the grid. 

The trial is being funded by The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)’s, King Climate Action Initiative (K-CAI). J-PAL aims to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence. Launched in partnership with King Philanthropies, K-CAI is J-PAL’s flagship program designed to innovate, test, and scale high-impact solutions at the nexus of climate change and poverty alleviation worldwide. J-PAL’s co-founders Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo were awarded the Nobel Prize in recognition of their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty. 

The opportunities that the electrification of mobility presents are well-documented; switching from fossil-fuel powered motor vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) reduces carbon emissions and the adverse effects of combustion engines on air quality. Research covering multiple geographies shows that those exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be from low-income groups, and racial and ethnic minorities. The switch to electric vehicles presents a major opportunity to tackle the distributional impacts of the global carbon emissions that come from transport, whilst recognising the ongoing utility of access to transportation for socioeconomic mobility. 

Yet without intelligent design, the future energy system could be challenged by issues of mass electrification. EVs demand higher energy consumption than other low carbon technologies; unless they are charged intelligently and are responsive to the availability of cheap, clean electricity, the anticipated increase in demand for electricity to charge millions of EVs may lead to grid instability, significant network reinforcement, and eventually, higher electricity costs for consumers. Fortunately, EVs can be highly flexible in their operation, especially if they are charged via an automated response to market or grid signals. 

The global evidence base for how to incentivise consumers to switch to these smart charging systems is currently limited, given the low level of penetration of EVs. Based on projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA), EVs’ global market share is set to increase to 18% this year. EV-Flex will be the first randomised control trial that investigates the level of incentive required for a consumer to shift to a managed EV charging tariff. 

Through the trial, Centre for Net Zero is seeking to better understand: 

  1. Consumer preferences for automation tariffs. The costs of switching EV owners to a managed charging tariff, via an empirical assessment of their willingness to accept a regular incentive in exchange for agreeing to managed charging. 
  2. The grid and consumer benefits of automation tariffs. This will be explored via an empirical assessment of how the managed charging tariff changes customers’ electricity consumption profile towards half-hours that are lower carbon-intensity and less grid-constrained, and an assessment of the reduction in what consumers pay per month and/or per kWh of electricity they consume. 

EV-Flex will run until March 2024; early results will be shared in 2024 and full results in 2025. Outputs will include key policy recommendations and an academic paper. For further information, please visit 

Claire Walsh, K-CAI Project Director at J-PAL said: “We are thrilled to support this evaluation to generate much needed evidence on how to optimise the grid to support the transition to electric vehicles—a crucial part of the clean energy transition. We applaud the team for using this opportunity to learn while they take action on climate change, and share the results so that governments and companies can too.”

Lucy Yu, CEO of Centre for Net Zero, commented: “This important research will explore the potential for consumer-friendly demand flexibility to optimise use of energy and balance the grid. Our findings will help build more granular models of the energy system especially at the distribution level, allowing grid operators to better plan and optimise their systems to meet the future needs of consumers at low cost, and for regions of the world where there is little or no current access to energy to model and deliver people-centred future energy systems.”