Fuelling the electric vehicle revolution:
Thomas Newby wonders if the UK ready to meet demand from charging points?
There is no denying that we are on the cusp of an electric revolution, both in the UK and as part of a global shift towards greener transportation.
Thankfully, the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) is on the increase, which is largely fuelled by the commitment the UK has made to 2050 as the year it will be carbon neutral. Along with other progressive innovations within the smart city domain, EVs have a key role to play in improving air quality and driving down emissions. But infrastructure development may be the Achilles heel of this emerging success story. Although there are now more charging locations than petrol stations in the country, it is unclear whether Britain is ready to meet demand for charging points. The UK is working at pace to deliver on its commitment to a cleaner future: the Government has recently outlined its Road to Zero Strategy, which is part of a £1.5bn investment into ultra-low emission vehicles. In addition, late in 2019 the Department for Transport launched a consultation on its intention to apply green number plates to zero emission cars, with the aim of increasing the visibility of environmentally friendly vehicles and providing incentives for drivers to switch to EVs. This agenda is, undoubtedly, bearing fruit; a major milestone was reached in October, with one in 10 new cars sold in Britain either being battery or hybrid electric, which represents a jump from less than one in 14 a year ago. Alongside this national drive to lower emissions, Bristol has just become the first city in the UK to ban diesel cars, setting a bold precedent for other cities across the country.
“Alongside this national drive to lower emissions, Bristol has just become the first city in the UK to ban diesel cars, setting a bold precedent for other cities across the country”
EVs are also a component of the smart city and smart home. Consumer demand for smart appliances – lighting, heating, and security – is growing, with almost 50% of UK homeowners indicating a likelihood of owning a smart heating or lighting system over the next five years. The smart home extends onto the driveway, as EVs are roaming devices that are, by their very nature, intended to be connected. Their incorporation into the home ecosystem provides the opportunity not only to optimise the home, but also to take control of how energy is bought and sold by the home, whilst also helping to decarbonise the local energy system through intelligent energy usage. In this sense, wanting to smarten and optimise the home dovetails with clean energy aspirations. However, a new league table illustrating the public electric car-charging infrastructure across the UK has revealed gaps in infrastructure development. Despite there being more charging locations than petrol stations now – latest figures reveal there are 15,000 charging devices across the country, equating to 22,500 places to charge – there are still over 100 local authorities with fewer than 10 public charging devices per 100,000 population. This problem has not gone unnoticed by potential EV drivers. According to a recent study, lack of charging facilities and concerns about charging at work, are preventing drivers – half of all Brits – from making the switch to electric.
Various government initiatives have been launched to increase local access to charge points for drivers, as well as to level up the country so that ease of using EVs does not depend on postcode – including a grants scheme for the installation of charging points on the street, at work and at home. The smart city should be accessible to everyone in it, especially as new figures reveal that driving an electric car could save a UK motorist over £900 (€1100) per 10,000 miles (16,000 km). The government also recently announced a £400 million investment fund to boost private investment in charging infrastructure. The funding aims to more than double the number of rapid charge points for electric vehicles on the roads. And just this week, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, pledged to ensure that every home is within 30 miles of an electric vehicle charger as part of its investment in a ‘fast-charging network’.
“The smart city should be accessible to everyone in it, especially as new figures reveal that driving an electric car could save a UK motorist over £900 per 10,000 miles”
As the UK has recognised, it is vitally important to make charging more affordable for EV owners. Distributed generation and storage solutions are key to this. This is also where alternative methods of power generation, notably solar, become essential. Generating and storing energy on-site through solar and battery storage is an effective way to minimise expensive grid connection upgrades and provide the additional power on-demand. This is especially relevant to businesses – having to meet demand from tens or hundreds of EV chargers on a single site, such as fleets or large car parks. As network-wide deployment of cost-effective renewable generation increases, systems with sufficient scale also have the potential to generate additional revenue supporting the grid. The benefits are also clear for homes, where most (around 80%) charging occurs. Recent EV trials show that most people plug their cars in when they return home at the end of the day but remain connected long after the battery is full. Smart charging enables EVs to defer charging at periods of peak demand, typically between 4pm and 6pm. By avoiding these periods, current grid infrastructure can be maximised, with vehicle charging optimised to smooth the peaks when the grid is under the most pressure. Smart charging technology is thus an essential component of EV deployment.
“As electric vehicles become the norm, private and public sector stakeholders will face increasing pressure to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support the boom in clean, green motoring”
As electric vehicles become the norm, private and public sector stakeholders will face increasing pressure to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support the boom in clean, green motoring. It should not be assumed that existing electrical connections are adequate to deal with significant increases in power demand from electric vehicles. Working to change individual attitudes and developing the EV industry is only one piece of the puzzle. Charging infrastructure development must catch up if the UK’s smart transport system and carbon reduction ambitions are to be realised.
Tonik Energy is a UK renewable energy company responding to the slow pace of change by the “big-six” by creating the easiest pathways for homes and businesses to access renewable energy. By accelerating the uptake of microgeneration, battery storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, Tonik Energy is on a mission to reduce the cost of energy to people and the planet. Based in Birmingham and Leeds, the company is built on reputation, quality and excellent customer service – both in the green energy they provide and the renewable technologies they install. With a highly skilled workforce of energy and technology experts, the team has built long-standing relationships with industry-leading manufacturers. Tonik Energy is proud to be the first UK energy supplier offering and installing Tesla Powerall, the most advanced home battery storage available – and have a track record of solar and EV charging installations for workplaces, fleets, public parking, and local authorities.