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How EV growth will result in a more environmentally-friendly electricity grid

David Hall

David Hall

VP Power Systems at Schneider Electric
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David Hall, VP Power Systems at Schneider Electric, explains how the rapid growth in electric vehicles will help make the electrical grid more environmentally friendly. 

The transportation industry contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, which must be addressed within the next eight years if we are to avert climate change. Electric vehicles, which emit no tailpipe emissions and produce far less pollution throughout the supply chain than gasoline or diesel, hold the key to making this a reality. The widespread use of electric vehicles by consumers and businesses has the potential to reduce direct CO2 emissions from company cars in the UK by 80% by 2025 and to zero by 2030.

To minimise carbon emissions and encourage the “green economic recovery,” the UK government has already established a clear direction for the industry by prohibiting the sale of new petrol and diesel automobiles by 2030 and trucks by 2040. According to the SMMT, one out of every 9 new vehicles sold is now an electric vehicle. Furthermore, we are seeing additional investments inside the UK manufacturing base, such as Stellantis’ recent £100 million commitment to manufacture electric vans in Ellesmere Port.

However, in addition to eliminating polluting vehicles, we must also build the foundations for widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Consumer mindsets and the infrastructure required to facilitate the transformation must be given more consideration. Individuals and corporations can play a critical role in encouraging the adoption of low-carbon, net-zero choices for everything from trucks to buses to the rail network to reduce their carbon footprints. The electrification of company fleets is a great example of this, yet only 11.6% of UK and Ireland businesses say they have switched to an electric fleet.

Scaling up infrastructure to meet the need for speed

The most significant challenge to overcome before EVs can be adopted on a mass scale is how and where recharging can be done. EV batteries require specific equipment and sometimes hours to be fully recharged. According to research from Deloitte, approximately 90 per cent of EV purchasers charge their cars at home or work. But many households don’t have driveways or garages and rely on on-street parking, making it challenging to charge overnight. Charging points in lampposts may be part of the solution but are far outnumbered by the number of houses in the average street.

If recharging EV batteries overnight can’t be guaranteed, buyers may be deterred. The pace of the rollout of charging points available for the general public will undoubtedly be a significant deciding factor in many EV sales.

So, as the number of e-vehicles, e-vans, e-trucks, and e-buses increase, the capacity and volume of charging sites will need to increase also. There will also need to be more consideration around on-route charging along the main arterial roads or at service stations. And, what’s more, we’ll need to see much wider availability of ultra-rapid charging facilities instead of the ‘slow’ charging points now typical in public areas.

An appetite for power

The second and possibly less considered challenge is that by 2050, we’ll likely need another 89 TWh of additional power to satisfy the electricity demands EVs will place on the network. Utilities stakeholders need to invest now to upgrade the electrical network and charging infrastructure available without creating upward pressure on the cost of electricity for consumers and businesses. Although the current higher cost of fuel has been linked to greater interest in electric vehicles, there is a risk that additional costs may stifle enthusiasm.

Work is also needed to upgrade the UK energy grid to accommodate the increased electricity consumption of EVs. This presents a further opportunity to decarbonise the transmission network by safely removing SF6 (Sulphur hexafluoride) from medium voltage switchgear and replacing this potent greenhouse gas with alternatives such as SF6-free air-insulated switchgear – helping the energy sector embrace a net zero future faster.

Looking ahead for sustainable supply

Countries, governments, and businesses are under pressure to reach net zero emissions, and time is of the essence. EVs are integral to the future decentralised energy resource: a vector of decarbonisation and sustainability. Many solutions and techniques are currently in place, but future EV users’ affordability and infrastructure needs to be addressed in order to realise their full decarbonising potential. We must get this right in order to make the shift from petrol and diesel as seamless as possible for drivers while also reaping the benefits of EVs on the larger energy network.  This effort must be done concurrently, with governments investing now in a robust infrastructure to accommodate the upcoming spike in EV adoption and avoid the wheels coming off this critical aspect of the journey to net zero.

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