Planning ahead


Delphine Clement, commercial and industrial building segment leader EMEA, Eaton, explains how the country can prepare for an EV-centric future. 

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are no longer a distant dream and we are on the cusp of seeing them being deployed en-masse throughout the UK. Indeed, a recent National Grid Plc report predicts that around 11 million EVs will be on UK roads by 2030 – a decade prior to the government’s deadline to ban petrol and diesel vehicles. 

The government has correctly identified mobility as one of its key challenges and it is great to hear they are looking to make wholesale changes in order to improve the UK’s transport sector. Furthermore, the demands of the European Union’s standards related to new car fleet CO2 emissions requirements for 2025 and 2030 leave manufacturers no option but to build significant numbers of EVs in the future – for example, from next year Volkswagen will introduce its first all-purpose electric car, the ID Hatch.

The widespread electrification of transportation brings with it a multitude of serious questions about how it can be sustained in the long-term – highlighting the need for a comprehensive and user-friendly charging infrastructure, while bringing under the spotlight the implications a rapid increase in electricity will have on the UK’s overall energy supply. Time is at a premium and these issues cannot be worked out with a silo mentality.

Appropriate use of the UK’s electrical grid

With 11 million EVs forecast to be on UK roads by 2030, electricity demand will increase. This will have impact on electricity prices, energy generation mix and carbon emissions. The long-term effects of electrification on the grid really depend on both the speed of deployment and the extent to which charging is considered ‘smart’.  

At present, the vast majority of EV drivers charge their vehicles during the day or when they return from work, which are peak times for energy consumption, resulting in power system issues that could lead to an increased need for power generation capacity and investment in the power network. In order to placate this trend, Ofgem has issued its own 'call to action' to encourage consumers to charge their EVs outside of peak hours. 

By doing this, it is possible for peak demand to be drastically reduced. If consumers were encouraged to charge their EVs during times of lower power demand, like overnight, or during excess supply periods (when solar output is high), then the need for power generation would decrease. 

Inadvertently, there would be less need to upgrade power networks too. 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. 

Making the best use of charging infrastructures

The mass electrification of transport needs the right charging infrastructure. It may sound obvious, but at present 40% of households are without private parking and cars spend most of their time away from home, parked on work sites or in public car parks. Therefore, commercial and industrial sites (C&I) need to be at the forefront of providing the best charging infrastructures they can for EVs.  

There are two key options when it comes to providing comprehensive charging for EVs. Charging needs to be given to employees at company sites, and charging needs to available at public sites too. 

In the future, charging applications will be provided at scale: in car parks, motorway service stations, work places, and fleet van depots too. Charging at company sites will suit those who use more mileage than the average private user. On the other hand, charging in carparks and supermarkets will allow drivers to park their car and top up whilst they complete their weekly shop.     

Making a profitable roll out of EVs 

C&I charging is likely to be profitable. Going beyond the traditional approach, there is a case for adding other technologies to EV charging, such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities and on-site energy storage or solar panels, which can enhance the business cases for C&I EV charging. These technologies 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.     

In the summer of 2018, the UK government announced the AEV Act – which aims to support massive improvements in electric charge point availability. This gives the UK government the power to ensure motorway services are upgraded at various points and allows mayors to request installations at large fuel retailers in their areas. The UK’s business leaders have clearly taken notice of the environmental and economic benefits of electric mobility, responding to support the trend towards EVs and their supporting C&I sites. 

The UK cannot rest on its laurels though when it comes to continued support for EV deployment. It is up to the government and commercial leaders to make significant investments in solutions that will improve infrastructure and alleviate the burden on the grid. 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 it stands, we are not there yet.