Another day, another report on how the UK Government are ‘leading the charge’ on Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. It has been suggested that this new strategy from the Government will be the most significant technological advancement since the creation of the internal combustion engine, which is most certainly a bold claim.

We reported back in May that the infrastructure isn’t in place to cope with demand, and while it’s true that updates to the Road to Zero strategy have included infrastructure, they’ve mainly focused on charging points and charging technology.

However, with the Government targeting at least 50% of all new car sales to be Ultra Low Emission (ULE) by 2030, how will they manage that? Currently, the number of cars registered for road use is around 30 million.

The Road to Zero

The UK will be hosting the first ever Zero Emission Vehicle summit later this year in Birmingham. In attendance will be policy makers, industry experts, academia and financial institutions with the goal of providing a platform for the experts and senior government officials from around the world to meet, discuss and produce strategies for the future of zero-emission vehicles, placing the UK at the forefront.

Is it possible that this latest news has been influenced by the need to show the UK’s credentials in the fight against pollution against the court case that the EU brought against the UK earlier this year? The EU took the UK and five other major polluters to the European Court of Justice in May after they failed to meet both the 2005 and 2010 EU directives.

The government has already committed to investing around £1.5 billion in Ultra Low Emission vehicles by 2020, and the infrastructure to support them, but with just one charging spot for every nine vehicles currently, how far will that money go? With around 150,000 ULE vehicles using the road network currently, what happens when we get to 5 million? Not forgetting that the Government are looking toward the 15 million mark by 2030.

Future plans

This latest report revealed that discussions are taking place regarding the infrastructure and how we can fully optimise the situation. Some of the proposals included:

  • Have charging points included in all new house builds
  • New lampposts built to incorporate charging points
  • The launch of new £400m Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund
  • Creation of a £40m programme to develop wireless and on-street charging tech
  • A scheme for business with electric vehicle owners to claim up to £500 for the installation of a charging point

In theory, this sounds like an excellent way forward, but there are two details not yet mentioned; the proposals are ideas, not planned actions with a set start date, and a potentially more significant problem – the supply network.

Supply network problems

The increase in demand for electricity in 2030 due to electric cars could reach as high as 8GW; this is an additional figure to the current peak of 60GW. To put that in perspective, the new Hinckley Point nuclear power station will provide a further 3.2GW to the national grid. Reports say that at present, as few as six cars charging could lead to a localised power outage at peak times, and Energy UK have said that being able to cut the power off at times of peak load and demand is preferable than investing in new cables across the country. There are also suggestions of tariffs for peak charging times, which are first thing in the morning and late evening.

Energy analysts have predicted that with just 33% of new car sales being a fully electric vehicle in 2035, they would account for around 3% of the total energy demand and that there would be a need for an additional 400,000 charging points at the cost of £30bn. The government are targeting a minimum of 50% of areas having charging points, but have said they’d like to get that as high as 70%, and that’s at current levels of charge/output – what happens as the battery technology develops to greater levels of power, therefore requiring more electricity?

All electric

Even for die-hard internal combustion fans, the prospect of electric vehicles is now a genuine and viable alternative – performance levels are similar to their counterparts, the range is usable in the real world. Experts predict that when battery prices fall to £95 – £120 per kWh (currently around £145), prices should be comparable to a traditionally powered vehicle; when mass production started in about 2010, that figure was closer to £750 per kWh.

Perhaps the only thing that’s keeping everyone from rushing out and buying one is the charging situation – many of us don’t have off-street parking, and public charging stations can be an inconvenience, and while that’s the case, the Government don’t need to worry too much about the generation of power. Hence the statements made ahead of the Zero Emission Vehicle summit – giving details of potential solutions to problems that don’t yet exist rather than finding solutions to the very real problem of power generation.

BP believes electric is the way forward, and recently bought Chargemaster, the UK’s biggest charging network to help invest in the future. This echoes a move by Shell last year when they purchased Chargemaster rival NewMotion. With big oil going electric, the government introducing such schemes seems a bit late.

What do you think of the Road to Zero strategy? Should the Government place more emphasis on creating solutions for power generation? More to the point – is this latest ‘report’ hype ahead of the summit? Let us know in the comments.

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