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Consumers key to electric vehicle transition, says taskforce

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electric car market increase

The UK’s switch to electric vehicles (EVs) must place consumers in the driving seat according to a new report. Selectra takes a look at its recommendations to accelerate electric car adoption nationwide.

Who produced the report?

The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce (EVET) has brought the energy, infrastructure and transport sectors together to put forward a number of proposals to prepare the UK for a “once-in-a-generation” transition.

Last year the government pledged to create a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050, which means the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars may happen sooner than the 2040 target set by the existing Road to Zero strategy.

Road transport makes up 28% of the UK’s total energy consumption and is responsible for 25% of carbon emissions making it an important consideration in the energy transition.

Minister for the Future of Transport George Freeman said the government is “100% committed to decarbonising the UK’s road network.”

“Our £1.5bn Road to Zero strategy is supporting a thriving electric vehicle market; last year in the UK a battery electric vehicle was sold every 15 minutes,” he said.

“This report provides important evidence to shape the next stage of our Road to Zero roadmap.”
Minister for the Future of Transport George Freeman

The taskforce, which bills itself as an “unprecedented collaboration”, was established in 2018 to advise government and industry on how to speed up the public’s switch to electric vehicles in a way that would benefit the electricity system.

It is made up of 350 organisations, including energy titans like National Grid, EDF Energy and Shell, car manufacturers including Nissan and Tesla, and technology firms such as Intel.

Consumer groups, regulators and central and local government were also consulted in the preparation of the report.

The EVET believes that although “the transition to electric motoring is now well underway,'' the rate of adoption must accelerate.

What are the challenges of the EV transition?

Estimates say there could be almost 12 million EVs on the road by 2030 and around 35 million by 2050.

Philip New EV Energy Taskforce Chair expects electric vehicles to “become ubiquitous on Britain’s roads” and said they represent both a challenge and opportunity for the UK’s electricity network.

“Ensuring that the mass roll-out of electric vehicles delivers benefits for both drivers and the wider energy system requires actions from industry, government and the regulator, including creating the new markets and policies that can unlock EVs’ huge potential,” he said.

The electrification of road transport could cause total UK energy consumption to increase by around 30% by 2050.

Estimates for upgrading the energy network to cope with the transition range from £2.7bn to high as tens of billions of pounds. The task force believes the costs can be kept low if the transport and energy sectors work together.

With all this in mind, the task force came up with some priorities for government and industry to work on.

What are the recommendations?

Charge points should be standardised and provide easy access for all EV drivers. Research shows the public are reluctant to invest in EVs because they are worried about too many incompatible charging systems.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that while there is an “increasing buyer appetite for these new exciting technologies,” the rollout must be “supported by an appropriate and appealing electric vehicle charging network for EV drivers.”

Data on EV use and charging must be made available to all stakeholders in the electrical transport sector, the electricity system and to local and central government to help with planning and resource allocation in our smart cities of the near future.

This planning must be effectively coordinated between the energy and transport sectors to ensure resources are made available in the places where they are most needed.

Influencing how people choose to charge their vehicles will be very important.

With one estimate predicting an additional 24GW needed at peak hours within the next 30 years to cater to EVs, a worst-case scenario for the energy network would be if too many people decided to charge their vehicles at times of high demand. This could lead to a cascading failure of supply, like the one which happened in August 2019.

The EVET report suggests smart charging systems which could program the charging for off-peak times or encouraging owners to take advantage of certain tariffs at certain times to prevent overburdening the network.

Such smart charging systems could also allow consumers to entrust the charging management of their vehicles to third parties who could ensure load balancing across millions of customers.

The EVET recommends running publicity campaigns to promote smart charging to educate EV drivers about the best ways to charge their vehicles and to highlight the cost savings it can bring.

Edmund King, President of the AA said drivers underestimate the fuel savings of switching to an EV by “at least £360 a year.”

“There are further savings too which include; vehicle excise duty, servicing, parts, parking and congestion charges,” he said.

“Add all these together and the total savings climb to more than £1,000 a year – and much more for residents where their council charges combustion vehicles for access. We need to convince consumers that they can save costs and carbon.”
President of the AA Edmund King

How can the transition to EVs benefit the energy industry?

As for opportunities, the taskforce highlights an innovative EV technology which would help the UK’s wider net-zero carbon emissions strategy.

One of the few remaining drawbacks of renewable energy is its weaker ability to respond to periods of peak demand.

If EVs are used in a similar way to conventional cars, most will spend much of the day sitting outside factories or offices and much of the night parked outside houses and flats.

Parked EVs could act as a distributed energy grid, storing electricity and feeding it back to the national grid at times of high demand.

This is called Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capability and owners who sign up for it could be rewarded with cheaper tariffs or rebates on their bills.

Octopus Energy is already piloting such technology in the UK. Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles said the approach would create “a huge distributed battery sitting outside our homes.”

“That can help us balance the grid as we move to a green economy,” she said.

“As we do this, it is critical that we put the customer in control with smart energy tariffs, that reward drivers for charging at off-peak times and clever tech to make it easy."
CEO of Octopus Electric VehiclesFiona Howarth

Is it time to go electric?

The report is a rare example of putting the cart before the horse being a good thing. Right now there are around 200,000 electric or hybrid vehicles on UK roads, that’s only 0.5% of the total number of cars licensed.

EVs are still a relatively expensive gamble for many people for whom a reliable form of transport is a basic necessity.

While there are some tiny one-person smart cars you can buy for under £10,000, the cheapest “normal-sized” electric car you can get is the Renault Zoe coming in at about £18,420.

Norway has one of the highest numbers of EVs per head in the world, but even there most of them are purchased as second cars in multi-car households.

Range anxiety is a big show stopper for many potential EV buyers. While some models promise up to 250 miles on one charge, 100 miles is a more typical limit on how far you can drive without needing a top-up.

In light of this, the government has launched a £400m investment fund to accelerate the roll-out of new charge points. EV charge points per 100km of road in the UK have already increased from 42 in 2011 to 570 in 2019 and this investment should ramp up that number significantly.

EVET is planning for an all-but-inevitable future. The price of EVs will fall as the infrastructure becomes increasingly visible and demand rises. Second-hand models will filter down through the market and the replacement of gas-guzzlers will accelerate as surely as Androids and iPhones replaced Nokias and landlines.

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