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Achieving net zero means delivering a successful shift to electric vehicles, but what power innovations are needed?

Dan Clarke, Head of Innovation

Dan Clarke, Head of Innovation | Energy Networks Association

3 min read Partner content

Three things the Government needs to do to make the UK a global leader in electric vehicles.

The ongoing shift to electric vehicles (EVs) has dominated the national conversation on transport like no other topic in recent years. It’s not surprising – car buyers in countries around the globe must consider national phase outs of petrol and diesel vehicles meanwhile companies like Tesla have seen their value skyrocket. In the UK over the last five years the value of electric vehicle exports has risen sixfold. They now represent over 36% of the value of all car exports while the number of EV charge points has increased five-fold. These huge changes have been inspired by the global drive to decarbonise and its generally recognised that the shift to EVs must succeed if the UK’s wider transition to a Net Zero economy is to be successful. 

To continue this progress the UK needs to attract billions of pounds for new infrastructure, just as we have in our ongoing shift to renewable energy. Otherwise, the UK’s current grid infrastructure risks being unable to deliver the capacity required to power the number of EVs expected to be on our roads, particularly when we also consider the additional power demands of our smart and connected society.

To mobilise this investment and support the transition energy network operators need some changes.  

Firstly, we need to recognise that working with a responsive regulator allowed networks to mobilize over £300 million of early support for a Green Recovery. Much of this investment will enable the connection of more charging points, including in rural areas and on motorways. Our regulatory regime must continue to enable networks to adapt to innovative new technologies and business models, whilst accessing the necessary investment to improve grid infrastructure, including through schemes like the Network Innovation Allowance 

In addition, our world-leading markets for local flexibility services, that shift customers’ energy demand at peak times, must be supported in growing further. 3.7GW of flexibility was tendered in the past year, which is the equivalent for providing electricity to over four million homes across the UK. Overall, this approach will be even more important to a nation of EV drivers, with Ofgem forecasting customers saving £10bn in energy costs by 2050 through flexibility services. We also shouldn’t forget that EV owners themselves can provide flexibility to the grid and even get paid for it.

We need government to maintain a clear vision and sense of direction on the longterm strategic priorities for our energy network

Finally, we need government to maintain a clear vision and sense of direction on the long-term strategic priorities for our energy network. Network operators are already creating the foundations of a smarter, more flexible grid suited to the needs of a heavily electrified future. To drive forward its delivery there are extensive investment plans in place for both physical and digital infrastructure, including smart grid solutions. However, we need to be confident the infrastructure we create today will be ‘fit for the future’ – as the Climate Change Committee said, we need to build it once and build it right. With a clear vision and a toolkit of practical innovations we can continue to minimise the need for costly retrofitting and the disruption of repeated roads works or other civil works. 

Energy network operators, in partnership with UK public bodies, are developing the type of future focused innovation that is one of the surest investments the UK can make in its own future. We’re working hard to ensure the EV transition is one that will position the UK to thrive in the decarbonising global economy.

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