The government have made a bold announcement, to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, following the recent similar French announcement. This move should be welcomed. It is an example of clear and actionable strategic leadership, something that has long been called for from parties included in the low carbon agenda. It is effectively giving 23 years notice to car makers, but a lot will need to happen in those 23 years – not just from the design and availability of the cars themselves, but also from the infrastructure platform the UK will need to support such a dramatic shift.
A change of this magnitude should help to inform decision making on how the UK invests in its energy networks over the coming decades. Such a decision means that now more than ever clear decisions have to be made on which networks to adapt and enhance, which new networks to build and also identify where, if possible opportunities exist to invest in network integration to meet future energy demand. This is something we have highlighted needs to happen to all UK energy networks over the coming decades.
For effective energy system management and design, any such decision cannot be viewed in isolation. Because of the interdependencies of the system the choices made in one form of energy will affect what needs to happen elsewhere across the system.
By introducing lots more electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles) this requires a need to consider electricity system balancing and network reinforcement. From our ongoing analysis in this area we believe that the costs of balancing and network reinforcement will be significantly reduced with the introduction and implementation of successful managed charging. The charging needs to be developed and implemented in a way that meets user needs, therefore providing them with confidence that it will work and clearly identifies how it will save them money. Consumers need to buy into this change.
With lots of new electric vehicles, particularly pure battery electric vehicles, then the availability of sufficient rapid charging points becomes even more important. And this should be in support of home charging which is where we believe the core of charging needs for most people should be satisfied along with locations for rapid charging points. This will mean having enough charge-points available for peak times and also having a functioning electricity system that can cost effectively deliver the low carbon electricity needed at those times. Therefore the development of rapid charging capability becomes a priority for the country especially in the medium term as you build up to this ultimate switch in new vehicles.
The scale of change is huge. Today electric vehicles make up less than 1% of vehicles in the UK so a clear pathway to an electric transition is to be welcomed but it will take time and it will be necessary to cater for the mixture of vehicle types that will exist at any one time during any switchover.
Something else to be considered is that any high uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles could lead to a sizeable drop in the net revenue the government receives from the transport sector. So consideration will also have to be given to how best to ensure such revenue raised is sufficient to operate and maintain the transport sector sustainably whilst also continuing to encourage the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. Any withdrawal of support – either too much or too soon – could ultimately be detrimental for the overall level of benefit of switching from conventional cars.
So preparation for the transition needs to start imminently because of the infrastructure considerations. And it should build on the valuable completed and ongoing analysis in this area.
To meet climate change targets cost effectively it is imperative that you look at the energy system in its totality and not just at individual parts. You need to gradually decarbonise transport alongside the decarbonisation of power and then heat over the coming decades. This decision with a long lead time is to be welcomed but should not be seen as a silver bullet, but rather as a key component of a successful whole energy system approach to decarbonisation. Notwithstanding that electricity generation itself needs to be decarbonised.
Liam Lidstone, Strategy Manager, Light Vehicle Integration