Mobilising the response to Electric Vehicle Growth in the UK

Published: 19 July 2018

Energy Systems Catapult has held an industry event ‘Mobilising the response to Electric Vehicle growth in the UK’ to highlight the effects of Electric Vehicle (EV) uptake on the electricity grid, and to explore ways to avoid network capacity constraints which could impede the roll-out of EVs.

Over 70 delegates from a wide spectrum of the energy industry joined us at our innovation hub in Birmingham, and took part in a morning filled with thought-provoking presentations, discussions and debates centred around the challenges and implications for supporting electricity grid and network infrastructure.

In recent weeks, the fast-moving arena of EVs has seen much activity:

  • The recent publication of the government’s Road to Zero Strategy set out their ambition for between 50-70% of new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030;
  • In the Air Quality Plan, the UK aims to end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040;
  • Electric Vehicles were at the forefront of National Grid’s Future Scenarios Report, where they upwardly revised their figure for the number of EVs on the road to 11 million in 2030, and 36 million in 2040;
  • And the EV Energy Taskforce, which Catapult CEO Phil New is leading, was launched by the government. The EV Taskforce is a cross-industry group which will see government, the energy sector, and the automotive industry collaborate to ensure that the energy system is used more efficiently for the uptake of electric vehicles. The Catapult will also be providing technical support to the taskforce.

Highlights from the event presentations and conversations

Current trends show that EV sales are certainly on the rise, with manufacturers reporting that EV order books are full for the coming two years. At present, this change to EVs is being pushed by consumers. EV uptake is running at 69% year on year growth, while charging infrastructure growth is at 31%1 so we can already see a disconnect in the two.

The government says that EV charging-infrastructure, and electricity grid and network infrastructure should meet 100% of EV needs by 2030; however, what are the challenges, and risk of investment in infrastructure ahead of need?

The adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) will bring significant benefits to the UK in improved air quality, decarbonisation, and economic growth. There is little doubt that the growth of EVs will see a rapid upturn over the next 12 years, and the UK’s infrastructure and electricity networks need to be ready for this change. To do this effectively and efficiently, it will need all market players (transmission, network operators, government, vehicle manufacturers) to come together now to plan how this infrastructure will be developed and rolled out.  The recent announcements highlighted above, show that this work is happening, however, it will need to move at a pace.

Discussions from the event indicated that from a consumer perspective, the energy market needs to look at:

  • The way a consumer wants to charge their EV;
  • When they want to charge it;
  • What they want to pay to charge it.

A number of potential barriers to the uptake of EVs were highlighted which included range anxiety, purchase price of vehicles, performance, and accessibility of charge points. Many of these barriers will resolve themselves with the rapid pace of technological advances in EVs and consumer knowledge, however, the infrastructure challenges will remain.

Of particular importance to consumers which was emphasised at this event is the speed of charging. A 75kw car will need approximately ten hours to fill a battery on a 7kw charger, so ideal for the home. However, out on the road, faster charging is essential. The most advanced of today’s rapid-chargers (120kw) can still take up to 45 minutes to provide a full 75kw battery.  Even faster charging infrastructure needs to be developed to bring charging more closely into line with the experience of refuelling at the petrol stations of today.

Some final thoughts from our speakers included the need to learn from other major market disruptions. The uptake of mobile phone and wind turbine technologies saw many similarities to the challenges we are facing currently in EVs, namely, a push by government, pull by consumer, infrastructure-led, with a strong regulator.

In addition, in the rapidly changing environment that EVs will bring, improved forecasting, the deployment of smart system solutions, and the upgrading of policies and regulation, together with taking a whole systems approach towards decarbonisation will be necessary. Energy Systems Catapult considers that no single technology is the answer to decarbonisation, and that a “whole energy systems approach” is the most effective way to reduce emissions. The use of EVs will be a key part of this approach and could potentially have significant implications for the support infrastructure including the transmission and distribution networks.

In conclusion, the consensus of attendees was that high-speed and readily-available EV charging infrastructure, and the associated upgrades to our electricity grid and infrastructure, should be implemented as soon as possible. It is important that we, the energy industry, act now to help create the market and be an enabler of this new, electric vehicle future.

Access our report, Preparing UK Electricity Networks for Electric Vehicles.

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1 Source:  National Grid