Change is coming
It’s not so long ago that electric vehicles were a rarity. Just five years ago, according to Ofgem, there were fewer than 4,000 registered electric plug-in vehicles on the road.
In contrast, in just the first half of this year, according to SMMT, nearly 30,000 new electric cars have been registered, an increase of 25% on the same period last year.
In most industries, a 25% annual growth rate is considered a highly impressive rate of growth – but in electric vehicles it pales into comparison with forecast growth in the coming years.
In the latest Future Energy Scenarios document published by National Grid earlier this month, National Grid forecast that by 2030 there could be as many as 11 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and 36 million by 2040.
Much of the projected growth is being driven by Government policy. With the launch of the Road to Zero Strategy this month, the Government set itself a target of ensuring half of all new cars are ultra-low emission by 2030, with a view to ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
Delivering on these ambitions for electric vehicles will require a transformation. It requires the development of a new network of charging infrastructure, as well as plans for managing the additional electricity demand this will create, estimated by National Grid to be between a further 8GW and 12GW of new peak demand by 2040.
The most obvious challenge is the development of electric vehicle charging stations. Currently, there are just over 17,000 in the UK.
To service 11 million electric vehicles, our own data estimates we would need 1.2 million charging points – roughly 70 times the number presently in place.
An essential part of hitting this target will be a significant expansion of workplace charging points. Our own research has found that workplace charging points will need to represent roughly 30% of the new charging infrastructure, representing over 300,000 new workplace charge points by 2030, if the number of expected new electric vehicles is to hit 10 million.
This clearly requires a step-change in terms of awareness and incentives to businesses. While there are numerous benefits to companies from installing EV charging points at their workplaces, from cutting running costs to attracting new employees and customers, these benefits are not always immediate enough for businesses to recognise.
There is currently a Workplace Charging Scheme operated by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, which offers financial support to firms considering installing charging points. This scheme has had some success in the short run, and from my own experience we have seen a clear rise in interest, driven in part by these incentives and in part by increased media interest in electric vehicles.
However, it is not clear whether these incentives are sufficiently large to encourage the scale of take-up required – or whether the Government is prepared to support the use of incentives at the scale needed. These incentives are also separate from incentives to invest in energy storage technologies which are mutually reinforcing with electric vehicles. The case for combining these incentives is strong.
Teaching an old network new tricks
Smart charging is also essential if the electricity grid is going to be able to cope with additional demand.
Ofgem’s future insights paper this week underlined the need for smart charging systems, with its suggestion that customers who seek to charge at times when there is little spare electricity supply will be charged more than those charging at times of large excess supply (i.e. charging at peak times of day will cost more).
The suggestion underlines the need for systems that help balance loads and reduce peak demands, which requires smart systems that communicate with the wider energy system in real time to understand the optimal time to charge.
VINCI Energies has been working closely with a number of business clients to introduce smart charging systems for their commercial fleets, making use of not just new technology, but also designing charging systems to complement the time patterns of their business.
We have also been leading the development of vehicle-to-grid technology that will enable energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the national electricity network to help supply energy at times of peak demand – a service for which vehicle owners will be paid. This model has real merit, and we are working to bring it into reality.
Looking to the future
This is an exciting time for the electric vehicle market and VINCI Energies is at the heart of this transition. To achieve the forecast growth in electric vehicles, which is essential if we are to tackle climate change, we need a transformation in both charging stations and smart technologies that can help manage electricity demand. I’m proud of the work VINCI Energies has undertaken so far to make this possible – and looking forward to the new challenges we will take on in the next few years.
Kevin Pugh, Business d-EVelopment at Actemium.
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