Putting the UK in the fast lane to a low carbon transport future

Posted On: 
10th August 2018

Continuing to drive its ambitions to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, the UK government has recently pledged that half of all new car sales will be hybrid or electric by 2030 as part of its Road to Zero strategy. ETI Energy Storage & Distribution programme manager, Rebecca Sweeney looks at how the UK can overcome the infrastructure challenge to realise these bold plans.  


The introduction of more Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) is a key step for reducing transport emissions, which currently account for 27 per cent of overall greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Over the last 12 months we have seen positive momentum in the electric vehicle market, largely driven by the government’s recognition of the significant economic benefits of the UK becoming one of the leaders in vehicle electrification, alongside moves by most major car manufacturers to develop electric models. At the same time, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and National Grid both have high levels of electric vehicle uptake by 2030 in their future energy scenarios in which carbon budgets are met -  partly in recognition of the current momentum and partly to compensate for slower decarbonisation progress in other areas.

However, the country is still only at the very beginning of this challenging journey. Currently only 2% of new vehicles registrations are ULEVs. With just 22 years to realise the government’s ambitions to ban all new petrol and diesels cars from 2040, a lot will need to happen - not just from the design and availability of the cars themselves, but also from the infrastructure platform the UK will need to develop to support such a dramatic shift.

Unless there are significantly more than four million rechargeable cars on the road in the UK by 2030, the government’s policy targets will simply not be met.  Now, more than ever, in response to a potential major change in demand on the energy system decisions must be made to determine which networks need to be adapted and enhanced and which new networks need to be built. These changes should help to inform decision making on how the UK invests in its energy networks over the coming decades and help to identify possible opportunities to invest in network integration to meet future energy demand.

To support understanding of how to reduce vehicle emissions, the ETI has invested £5 million in a project that will help us understand better the preferences for different ULEV vehicle types and how these consumers may respond to managed charging. This will help to identify a sustainable way to integrate more plug-in vehicles to the grid. The Consumers, Vehicles and Energy Integration project, led by transport specialists TRL, aims to not only understand the required changes to existing infrastructure, but also the consumer preferences for the wider introduction of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK. This is because we cannot assume that the UK public will just simply adopt a new type of vehicle. Research from the project will allow for a more accurate prediction of likely future uptake of low-emissions vehicles and how this will impact the charging infrastructure required. We are also exploring how the charging habits of consumers, including home charging, can be better integrated into the wider energy network with the aim of reducing balancing ad network costs.

To meet these ambitions the development of rapid charging capability must become a priority for the country especially as it builds up to this ultimate switch in new vehicles. If this is not addressed, there are concerns that we may face a significant gap between the kind of charging services that drivers need and expect, and what is available. Recent market activity has seen this becoming a reality with companies like BP confirming the instalment of more rapid charging points for electric vehicles into their UK fuel stations alongside their purchase of the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging company Chargemaster- recognition of the potential for growth into the battery-powered vehicle market.

Because of the huge considerations around infrastructure, preparation for the transition needs to start imminently. Now is the time for the automotive, electricity oil and transport sectors to strengthen their investment in the infrastructure and technology, and work with the government to accelerate its plans towards ‘the biggest technology advancement to hit UK roads since the invention of the combustion engine’.