How the infrastructure needed to support the EV boom will create a greener energy system  

By David Hall, VP Power Systems, Schneider Electric

The transportation sector is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions – a situation that must be addressed in the next eight years if we are to halt climate change. Electric vehicles, with no tailpipe emissions and much less pollution across the entire supply chain than petrol or diesel hold the answer to make this a reality. Mass adoption of electric vehicle usage by consumers and businesses can bring down direct CO2 emissions from company cars across the UK by 80% by 2025 and zero by 2030.

The UK government has already set a clear direction for the industry by banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and trucks by 2040 to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the “green economic recovery”.  There has been a noticeable change in the market, with one in 10 new vehicles sold now electric, according to the SMMT. Additionally, we’re starting to see more investments within the UK manufacturing base, such as Stellantis’s recent £100m commitment to manufacturing electric vans at Ellesmere Port.

However, alongside scrapping polluting vehicles, we also need to ensure the conditions for the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Closer attention needs to be paid to consumer mindsets and the necessary infrastructure to support the transition. Private individuals and businesses have an essential role in driving the adoption of low carbon, net zero options for everything from trucks, buses, and the rail network to cut their carbon footprints.

Home and away – building national infrastructure

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.

Feeding the network

The second and possibly less considered challenge is that by 2050, we’ll likely need another 89TWh 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.

Supply must come before the demand

The pressure is on for everyone – countries, businesses, and governments to reach net zero, and time is of the essence. EVs are intrinsic to the decentralised energy resource of the future: a vector of decarbonisation and sustainability. Many solutions and tools are already in place, but the affordability and infrastructure to support future EV owners still need to be addressed to unlock their full decarbonising potential. We need to get this right to transition from petrol and diesel as smoothly as possible for drivers and reap a broader positive impact of EVs on the wider energy network. This work needs to be done in tandem – governments need to invest now in a robust infrastructure to handle the coming surge in EV adoption and avoid the wheels coming off this vital part of the drive to net zero.

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