Smart Charging – A UK Transition to Low Carbon Vehicles

Published: 14 November 2019


A new report, ‘Smarter Charging: A UK Transition to Low Carbon Vehicles’, released by The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), suggests that now is the time to lay the foundations for extensive access to vehicle charging, and effective, customer-focused charging management – or smart charging – to prevent charging becoming a barrier to mass-market uptake.

Though significant progress has been made to decarbonise the country’s electricity, the same level of progress is needed to decarbonise transport, the same level of progress is needed to decarbonise transport, heating and industry.

With UK Government policy targets by 2030 requiring significantly more than 4 million plug-in vehicles to be on the road by 2030, the ‘Smarter Charging’ insight report examines some of the issues facing the mass market transition from fossil fuel to low carbon miles.

Unmanaged charging by mass-market drivers peaks at the same time as current electricity demand, with potentially serious consequences for UK infrastructure. Charging access through market design and shaping incentives for consumers are needed to achieve the most efficient use of existing resources, and mass market consumers appear receptive to this.

The report draws significantly on the Consumers, Vehicles and Energy Integration (CVEI) project, which included trials with mass-market consumers to test charging management and uncover range requirements and was delivered for the Energy Technologies Institute (2016-2019). Energy Systems Catapult provided technical expertise and assurance to the project and will take forward the data and models to provide future development of the CVEI capability from the ETI legacy.

Key points

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and National Grid both anticipate high levels of UK electric vehicle uptake by 2030 in scenarios in which carbon budgets are met – towards 70% of sales and 9M in the fleet. Yet at the end of March 2019 there were less than 250,000 chargeable cars on the road (0.6% of the total), while they accounted for 2.7% of new vehicle sales in 2018.

Assuming this rapid increase of electric vehicle (EV) uptake by 2030 is both possible and indeed likely, this poses challenges and opportunities for the UK’s electricity and fuels system.

Vehicle choice

  • The split between BEVs and PHEVs is less important to decarbonisation and charging than the miles travelled using electricity, and the greenhouse gas emissions produced by generating the additional electricity.
  • High conversion rates of fossil fuel to electricity miles by 2030 will require uptake amongst the 2/3 of drivers who currently drive more than 5000 miles per year.
  • Crucially, this will only happen if the EVs meet their needs. The needs of average and higher than average mileage drivers are  particularly important, as they drive the majority of miles in the UK (70% of drivers drive 91% of total miles).
  • PHEVs will gain significant traction in the private market when their typical effective electric range is 50 miles. BEVs will gain significant traction in the private market as the second vehicle in a household when their typical effective range is 150 miles and for the primary vehicle when it is 200 miles, and up to 90% will consider a BEV if the range is 300 miles.
  • The majority of UK drivers would find EVs attractive, provided they cost the same (over a 4-year period) as current cars, have sufficient range, and recharging is straightforward and cost-effective.


  • Unmanaged charging by mass market drivers peaks at the same time as current electricity demand, with potentially serious consequences for UK infrastructure.
  • If current dual fuel households were to drive all their miles on electricity, charging their cars on average would require nearly as much electricity as all their other domestic electricity uses put together.
  • With ~60% of households with off-street parking, drivers are very open to managing their own charging against fixed time-of-day tariffs or letting their supplier manage charging, provided that the proposition is made attractive, easy and credible – and they have the ability to override it on the occasions they need to.
  • But the trial results found some indication that BEVs with limited-range couple with more widespread access to very rapid charging, could be very important to the ~40% of households which don’t have off-street parking. The cost-benefit ratio of this approach is untested, especially in terms of infrastructure.
  • UK fleet average carbon savings from switching to EVs with low carbon electricity would be around 1.5 tCO2e per vehicle per year. But that might reduce to 0.2-0.4 tCO2e per vehicle per year without smart charging where motorists would naturally and predominantly charge in the early evening, when electricity demand is at its peak (4pm-7pm) and when the carbon intensity due to gas turbine back up generation being deployed.