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24 July 2019

11million electric vehicles are coming – is the UK prepared to charge them all?

Louis Shaffer_Eaton (Orta)Louis Shaffer– Huffington Post UK

Though once seen as a luxury item – only to be afforded by Musk’s innercircle –electric vehicles have sprung into the spotlight in recent times, with good reason. A recent National Grid Plc report predicts that around 11m Electric Vehicles (EVs) will be on UK roads by 2030 –  a decade prior to the government deadline to ban petrol and diesel vehicles.

To put this into context, according to the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, there are about 37 million vehicles currently on the road. This means that if all goes to plan, about a third of all drivers will transition to an EV model within the next ten years. This acceleration is largely being driven by consumer preferences, improved and emerging smart technologies, and wider governmental support. In the UK, the government has identified mobility as one of the top “grand challenges” that will shape its industrial strategy – hoping to improve public transport and to capitalise on the nation’s existing strengths in the transport sector.

A change of this magnitude has an incredible portfolio of advantages – lower emissions, improved air quality and maintenance costs to name a few. At the same time, electrification brings with it a multitude of serious questions on how it can actually be sustained in the long-term. Two key concerns are the need for a sufficient and easy to use charging infrastructure, as well as the unavoidable implications the transition will have on the UK energy system. Unfortunately, addressing these issues cannot be dealt with in a vacuum – and time is limited.

Electrification on the grid

There’s no doubt that large numbers of EVs will transform the UK’s electricity systems. The deployment of these vehicleswill increase electricity demand, which will affect electricity prices, generation technology mix, and carbon emissions. But the long-termeffects of electrification on the gridreally depend on both the speed of deployment and the extent to which charging is considered ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’.

In most cases, EV drivers tend to charge their vehicle in the daytime – during work hours or when they return home from their commute. This means that peak charging coincides with peak demand – resulting in power system issues that could lead to an increased need for power generation capacity and investment in the power network.

On the other hand, a recent report by BNEF clearly outlines the extent to which charging times can have a significant – financial and environmental – influence on the energy system. If consumers were motivated by lower costs to shift charging periods to times of lower power demand (such as overnight) or during excess supply periods (when solar output is high), the need for peak power generation would be greatly reduced – making better use of available capacity at off-peak times and reducing the need to upgrade power networks. Britain’s energy regulator, Ofgem, has even recently issued its own ‘call to action’in the hope of encouraging consumers to take notice and charge their EVs outside of peak hours.

Changes to charging infrastructure

Achieving high levels of smart EV deployment will also require charge point availability. While the nature of infrastructure will vary depending on location, one of the most important areas will be within commercial and industrial sites (C&I). This is due to the fact that as it stands today, 40% of households are without private parking, and the average car spends over half its time away from home – parked either on work sites or in public car parks. This lack of private parking coupled with many early adopters not having access to the right charger- or any at all -has created a real need for alternate options to enable the successful mass electrification of transport.

It’s likely that we’ll see four main commercial charging applications: fleet vans, workplace commuter charging, public car parks and motorway service stations. All options are viable ways to support a more stable network of charging points andcan be better broken down into two buckets – options that provide charging to employees at company sites, and those that provide charging to customers at public sites.

Public sites, which can be found in carparks at supermarkets and retail parks for example, allow drivers to park their car and top up while they attend appointments or go for their weekly shop. This approach can typically support short-termrecharges, instances that range from about 30 minutes to a few hours. On the other hand, sites that provide charging at company sites tend to suit those who use more mileage than the average private user, such as fleets.

The profitability of an EV roll out

 

While many factors are at play with regards to C&I charging, according to the Aurora Energy Research and Eaton report, it is expected to be a profitable initiative. When it comes to fleets, the profit lies in the total cost of ownership in comparison to traditional models, and for location-based charging, in places such as work spaces, public car parks and motorway service stations, high utilisation by consumers can create unmatched profitability.In general, it’s reported that the roll-out of EVs could create significant investment opportunities of up to £6bn for charging infrastructure on C&I sites.Even going beyond the traditional approach, adding other technologies to EV charging, such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities, on-site energy storage or solar panels, can enhance the business cases for C&I EV charging. Though some of these technologies may require further capital investment, they do have the potential to unlock additional savings on electricity costs, reduce the scale of network upgrades needed, and provide extra revenue via the capacity market or ancillary services.

Luckily, many UK leaders have taken notice of theenvironmental and economic benefits, and have responded in the form of forward thinking government initiatives to support the trend. The AEV Act, which was announced in the summer of 2018, aims to support massive improvements in electric charge point availability; giving the UK government the power to ensure motorway services are upgraded with various points, and even allowing mayors to request installations at large fuel retailers in their areas.

As it stands today, we’re not there yet. Despite being witness to what many are calling the ‘electric revolution’, much more needs to be done to make electrification a reality within the UK. As we’ve seen, the data supports the idea that EVs will become the dominant form of alternate transport, and OEMs and consumers will likely do what’s needed to create significant demand. Now it’s up to government and commercial leaders to make significant investments in solutions that will improve infrastructure and alleviate the burden on the grid. If we can make this a priority and create the support system required, the UK has the potential to be one of the most profitable and innovative leaders in transport. If not, we may be left behind – one vehicle at a time.

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