ENA's Director of Innovation and Electricity Systems, Randolph Brazier, reflects on the shift to electric vehicles
Randolph Brazier, Director of Innovation and Electricity Systems
I recently joined a roundtable held by the Industry and Parliament Trust where, alongside colleagues from Honda and Aston University, we delved into some of the remaining challenges and barriers to the electrification of transport as well as some of the enormous opportunities offered.
A concern that is often raised with us is that of range anxiety and the availability of charging infrastructure. Both concerns are valid, but both are becoming increasingly outdated. EVs themselves are developing at a rate of knots and most have a range close to 250miles, and this is steadily increasing – more than enough to cover most long journeys and ample for 56% of journeys which are under five miles. Urban and suburban journeys where on average 25% of fuel is wasted in stationary traffic – not an issue faced by highly efficient electric cars.
When it comes to the infrastructure, it is increasing daily, with now over 20,000 public charge points available according to zap map. Network companies are playing their part in delivering these charge points by reinforcing the network. A good example of this is through the £300m ENA Green Recovery scheme, which is accelerating reinforcement in the distribution networks to release capacity in areas where there are clusters of green projects EV charging hubs - including at motorway service stations – will benefit from the locations around the country that are being supported, which are due to be published in a couple of weeks. Projects like these and the services they will be able to provide back to the grid locally and nationally are central to delivering the smart, flexible grid of the future.
From an electricity networks point of view, fundamentally an EV is a battery on wheels (which remains static for 90%+ of the day!). To that end, with vehicle-to-grid technology, smart-tariffs, and other innovations, EVs can provide a lot of flexibility to the grid, rather than being the burden that some people seem to be concerned that they could become. Their use means the amount of reinforcement needed by the network is reduced, benefitting not only the energy system, but also the consumer. Our world-leading Open Networks project is leading the way to a market where this flexibility is standard at a highly localised level.
The networks can even help to extend the lifespan of those batteries. EV batteries are expected to work in the car for 10-15 years before being reused or recycled. EVs are rough on the batteries, but for certain grid services there is not as much ‘cycling’ of the battery required, meaning that these second-hand batteries can be clustered in a stationary location and provide grid-services – for example relieving local network congestion or balancing renewables production with demand.
For all this to work at scale, we will need an unprecedented level of collaboration across different sectors. For decades energy, transport, telecommunications, and other industries have sat side-by-side; in a Net Zero economy, they will need to work hand-in-hand. That’s why we support the Government’s industry-wide EV Energy Taskforce and are constantly learning from and working closer with the transport industry.
Collaboration needs to come from both the private and public sector, and consideration needs to be given on both a national and a local level – this is what we call a whole energy system approach. Network companies are working incredibly closely with local authorities and community groups, in some cases even temporarily embedding staff to make sure that these organisations have the skills and knowledge they need to plan where best to locate EV chargers, renewables projects and other developments.
Fundamentally, with greater electrification and decarbonisation of transport, the networks are becoming more complex. But through deep collaboration the benefits and opportunities can be embedded right into the heart of the smart, flexible and Net Zero grid.
About Energy Networks Association
We’re the industry body for the energy networks. Our members own and operate the wires and pipes which carry electricity and gas into your community, supporting our economy. The wires and pipes are the arteries of our economy, delivering energy to over 30 million homes and businesses across the UK and Ireland. To do this safely and reliably, the businesses which run the networks employ 45,000 people and have spent and invested over £60 billion in the last eight years.