The government will soon publish its strategy on cutting emissions from cars, trains, boats and planes — and already the transport secretary has suggested that sales of combustion and hybrid vehicles could be banned from 2035.
Change comes with questions. For example: how clean is our electricity? And can Britain’s energy infrastructure meet the demand for a new generation of electric vehicles?
At National Grid, we have been working hard on the answers.
You might have missed the good news, but 2019 was the cleanest year on record for Britain’s electricity. Zero-carbon sources produced more electricity than fossil fuels. Coal-fired power stations will be closed by 2024, and we will be able to operate a zero-carbon system from 2025. Our electricity is getting cleaner every day.
Until 2017, creating electricity was the “dirtiest” thing we did as a nation — now, it is transport.
Some have asked whether the grid can really cope with millions more electric vehicles (EVs) being plugged in. The answer, I’m pleased to say, is yes.
Even if we all switched to EVs at the same time, National Grid’s best estimate is that our electricity requirement would increase by 10 per cent. Since 2002, with all the energy efficiency improvements we’ve made and the solar panels we’ve installed on rooftops, the peak requirement for energy has fallen by 16 per cent. So we would still be using less energy as a nation than in 2002.
But what if everyone charged their cars simultaneously? Demand for electricity is at its highest in the early evening — which is also the time when people return home and plug in their vehicles. This is why the government is recommending smart charging — so that cars will charge when you need them, but also stop charging when demand is at its peak. This approach has the added benefit of keeping costs down for drivers.
Most journeys we make are relatively short (the average car does around 30 miles a day), yet when we buy a car we expect it to make some longer journeys too. To help people feel confident to choose an EV, and to ease worries about running out of charge (so-called “range anxiety”), we need the charging infrastructure for topping up.
That’s why National Grid is asking the government to commit to a nationwide ultra-rapid charging network, to put over 99 per cent of drivers within 50 miles of a hub that will charge an EV in the time it takes to pick up a cup of coffee or pop to the loo.
Electric vehicles rightly attract lots of attention — but private cars aren’t the only vehicles on our roads. Elsewhere, change is also afoot. Hydrogen fuel cells are already used for some heavy vehicles, and are just another example of how engineering is transforming the future.
There is no silver bullet to tackling emissions, and we will need a range of technologies to meet net zero across all of our economy. But electric vehicles will be a core part of that mix, and the energy grid is ready to power them.
As industry and government explore new technology to decarbonise our transport system, National Grid will be ready to support them.
Main image credit: Getty