Mapping the route to zero emissions

Written by: Eureka! | Published:

Targets demand that all new cars and vans on the road will be zero emission by 2040. A new report has outlined the challenges and realities of transitioning the UK to electric vehicles.

The advent of the electric vehicle has been one of the most visible aspects of the so-called ‘green revolution’. Indeed, last year in the UK a battery electric vehicle was sold every 15 minutes.

However, this figure does still not represent mass uptake – far from it, in fact. That can only come with the development of the charging infrastructure to support millions of electric vehicles across the UK.

The UK is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Road transport is currently a major source of these emissions. It accounts for 29% of the UK’s total energy consumption and is responsible for 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions.

In July 2018, the Government set out its strategy to deliver cleaner road transport in The Road to Zero. This set an ambition that all new cars and vans would be effectively zero emission by 2040. The Road to Zero recognised that the most credible technology currently available to deliver this strategy is the plug-in electric vehicle (EV) and that significant new charging infrastructure will be needed to support its adoption. A key challenge is to ensure that the timely provision of this infrastructure encourages the transition to EVs. Range anxiety and concerns about the accessibility of public charging infrastructure are frequently cited by consumers as a key obstacle to acquiring an EV.

The Road to Zero strategy also recognised that the electrification of road transport will have significant impacts on the energy system, potentially increasing today’s electricity consumption by about 30% by 2050. This represents a fundamental restructuring of the energy supply infrastructure and brings challenges that should not be underestimated. The cost of meeting this new demand will be heavily influenced by the way consumers choose to charge their EVs; increases in peak electricity demand will have the greatest cost impact but there is also real potential for EV charging to provide benefits to the electricity system. It is vital that the challenge of meeting this demand growth is addressed with a strong consumer perspective.

With the publication of The Road to Zero, the Government launched the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce to explore this challenge with stakeholders. It was charged to bring forward proposals to ensure that the GB electricity system acts as an enabler of the EV transition and that opportunities to positively engage and deliver benefits to consumers can be realised. The underlying goal is to encourage the growth of EVs without incurring unnecessary costs.

The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce has, for the first time, brought together key stakeholders from the automotive and energy industries. It has consulted widely in developing its proposals, involving over 350 companies and institutions. It has recognised that the electrification of road transport will impact the whole electricity system, including the devices in peoples’ homes. It has also recognised that providing affordable, convenient charging is a pre-condition for the creation of a mass market for EVs. The work of the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce has focused on two key challenges: how can the impacts on the electricity system be managed efficiently; and how can consumers be provided with a good EV charging experience.

In January, the Taskforce launched its report ‘Energising Our Electric Vehicle Transition’, which included 21 key proposals for actions to be taken by government and industry to enable an effective and efficient electric mobility transition and claims to have demonstrated that an effectively managed integration of electric vehicles with the energy system can significantly improve electricity network efficiency, increase system resilience and limit the requirement to build costly new infrastructure to meet growing electricity demand.

The infrastructure spending required to prepare the UK electricity networks for the electric vehicle transition is likely to run to tens of billions of pounds. However, the Taskforce believes this cost can be significantly reduced if the right decisions are made and the transition is effectively co-ordinated between government and key energy, infrastructure and transport industry stakeholders. A prior study put this figure at between £2.7bn and £6.5bn.

In its formal report to the Government, the Taskforce sets out a range of proposals to enable the efficient integration of electric vehicles with the energy system during the electrification transition. These include:

  • Ensuring that EV drivers, electricity consumers and the energy system benefit from the integration of EVs and the energy system;
  • Providing financial incentives to EV drivers to ensure that the potential energy storage capacity of millions of electric vehicles is used to reduce peak demand;
  • Prioritising greater standardisation across the charging network to ensure it works resiliently, efficiently and securely with the electricity system;
  • Establishing an independent body to promote the benefits of smart charging through a major publicity campaign to ensure EV drivers are confident and well informed;
  • Extending the principle of ‘open data’ in the energy system to include EV charge points and EVs to allow more effective smart charging of EVs;
  • Co-ordinating energy and transport planning to ensure we have the right infrastructure in the right place.

The Taskforce states that “the transition to electric motoring is now well under way”, but that the pace must increase. Road transport accounts for 28% of the UK’s total energy consumption and 25% of carbon emissions.

Philip New, Chief Executive, Energy Systems Catapult and the EV Energy Taskforce Chair said: “Ensuring that the mass roll-out of electric vehicles delivers benefits for both drivers and the wider energy system requires actions from industry, Government and the regulator, including creating the new markets and policies that can unlock EVs’ huge potential.”

The Taskforce expects electric vehicles to become ubiquitous on Britain’s roads, providing a significant challenge – and opportunity – for the UK’s electricity network.

Coordinating the introduction of a smart charging infrastructure will enable network operators to balance demand and supply through an electricity grid increasingly incorporating intermittent renewable energy sources. EV drivers willing to charge their vehicles during periods of low electricity demand or when surplus renewable energy is being generated will benefit from lower fuel costs in the transition ahead.

Three important recommendations relate to the correct use of consumers’ personal data and the means to ensure people’s privacy is properly protected and smart EV charging is secure.

Commenting in advance of the launch event in Westminster, Minister for the Future of Transport George Freeman said: “We are 100% committed to decarbonising the UK’s road network. Our £1.5bn Road to Zero strategy is supporting a thriving electric vehicle market.

“Government commissioned the Taskforce to advise how we can best work with industry to make sure the energy system is ready for the transition to electric vehicles. This report provides important evidence to shape the next stage of our Road to Zero roadmap.”

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “From cycling, to opting for an airline that offsets its carbon emissions, the ways we travel are changing as the UK makes positive strides towards ending its contribution to global warming by 2050. This report takes us a step closer towards the mass uptake of electric vehicles on our streets – providing guidance to ensure our energy system is prepared for an electric transport revolution and helping consumers top-up their vehicle more cheaply and conveniently on the go.”

Key to take-up, of course, is convincing the consumer. In the report, it was suggested that an effectively managed integration of electric vehicles with the energy system can bring significant consumer benefits including lower costs and a seamless recharging experience. Indeed, it suggested that under certain circumstances, the introduction of ‘smart’ charging could enable a typical motorist to enjoy very low – or even zero – motoring energy costs, potentially saving £70 per month or more.

An AA Populus survey of over 17,000 motorists found that the vast majority underestimate their potential monthly savings from running an electric vehicle. The survey found that the average car driver thinks they can save around £30 a month; less than half the actual saving possible.

The same survey found that an overwhelming majority of car drivers believe that easy interoperability between charge points is a key factor in deciding whether or not drivers will buy an EV.

The Taskforce states that “the transition to electric motoring is now well under way”, but that the pace must increase. Road transport accounts for 28% of the UK’s total energy consumption and 25% of carbon emissions.

Philip New, Chief Executive, Energy Systems Catapult and the EV Energy Taskforce Chair said: “Ensuring that the mass roll-out of electric vehicles delivers benefits for both drivers and the wider energy system requires actions from industry, Government and the regulator, including creating the new markets and policies that can unlock EVs’ huge potential.”

In order to meet climate change targets, the government has already announced that conventionally powered cars will be phased out by 2040. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that the new net zero target could mean that this date will be brought forward. National Grid ESO’s Future Energy Scenarios show that 11.9 million vehicles could be electric by 2030.5

Coordinating the introduction of a smart charging infrastructure will enable network operators to balance demand and supply through an electricity grid increasingly incorporating intermittent renewable energy sources. EV drivers willing to charge their vehicles during periods of low electricity demand or when surplus renewable energy is being generated will benefit from lower fuel costs in the transition ahead.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said: “The recent growth in electric vehicles shows there is buyer appetite for these new, exciting technologies. Vehicle manufacturers are investing heavily to bring more choice to the UK but to drive uptake to meaningful levels, this must be supported by a long-term commitment to financial incentives, as well as an appropriate and highly visible charging network. Drivers must feel confident that it is as easy to charge as it is to pull up at a forecourt and refuel.”

Howard Porter, Chief Executive, BEAMA said: “Providing EV drivers with a hassle-free, seamless charging experience requires the urgent development of further standards and codes of practice that ensure full inter-operability and sharing of data between the vehicle and the electricity system.”

Matt Evans, Director, Markets at TechUK, said: “A smart grid, delivering smart charging to smart electric vehicles requires accessible data. Frameworks therefore need to be developed to facilitate the appropriate, secure sharing of this data.”

Achieving a high degree of physical and transactional interoperability across the EV charging sector is also fundamental to making EV ownership/use a compelling consumer proposition. Interoperability is also an essential prerequisite to building a resilient charging infrastructure that works efficiently and securely with the electricity system and other smart domestic appliances, for the benefit of consumers.

The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce therefore proposes that Government should work with industry to accelerate the journey towards the adoption of common standards to achieve agreed interoperability goals linked to the growth of EVs. This journey should be aimed at delivering positive consumer outcomes, taking lessons from other industries such as telecoms. This is an immediate priority.

The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce recognises that the EV charging infrastructure sector is at an early stage of development so fostering innovation is essential. This should be recognised when setting interoperability goals. The risks of premature regulation must be taken into account but balanced by the benefits of common standards.


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