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Young people want an electric vehicle, but what does the National Infrastructure Assessment say about the ability to deliver?

We seem to be on the cusp of electric vehicles (EVs) becoming the preferred choice for the majority of young people, as according to a recent AA survey, over 50% of youngsters would like to own an electric car. However, there’s a long way to go before UK electrical and EV charging infrastructure is ready for this scale of change.

17th July 2018    |     Chris Evans: Deputy Managing Director

As can be seen in the press, most weeks we appear to have yet another document, white paper or industry announcement on EVs and strategy, so it’s great to see the release of the National Infrastructure Assessment cutting through the noise – the first report of its kind from the National Infrastructure Commission.

The report provides an excellent start to developing a cohesive strategy for infrastructure across the UK, making a very welcome long-term focused addition to those other recent documents, including Chris Graylings Transport Investment Plan, which appear to deal more with the short-term.

This document covers many topics, though of particular interest at Rolton Group are the comments on energy provision and transport elements, including the EVs/Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) assessment and its requirement for supporting infrastructure. For EVs/AVs to be capably addressed, it is good to see that within the report due regard is paid to full fibre rollout and reference made to fully connected vehicles/AVs, whilst highlighting the importance of the rollout of 5G mobile data on which connected vehicles/AVs will rely. The challenges to bringing this infrastructure to rural areas however need to be thought through, otherwise we could end up with limited 5G distribution to cover connected/AV only in cities and major designated highways – a very different scenario to the AV (almost) everywhere landscape thought ideal.

It is also of interest to see the National Infrastructure Commission suggest that most charging should be carried out slow and smart (the default option) at home or work, with range anxiety (one of the many reasons most consumers are put off owning an EV at present) being addressed and alleviated by implementing a network of rapid chargers across the UK. This charging network could focus on installing rapid charging points in towns and cities with a population of more than 20,000 people in areas that currently don’t have rapid chargers (239 such locations identified), making charging on-the-go more accessible. It is predicted that such a network would need to be in place by 2022 to meet the anticipated demand.

The cost of delivering a rapid charging network like this has been quoted at around £10million. This seems a small price to pay for the removal of range anxiety to aid EV take up, and exceptionally good value when compared to the cost of HS2 at £9.3billion.

The National Infrastructure Commission also suggest that government, local authorities and Ofgem should seek to enable the implementation of sufficient EV charging infrastructure to allow for close to 100% EV (both car and van) sales by 2030, to ensure that market demands don’t outstrip infrastructure capability. It is unclear in this or the IMF referenced document if this relates to pure EVs only or if it includes plug-in hybrids. I would suggest we need to define the figures for pure EVs separate from plug-in hybrids so that we can fully understand the overall picture. My concern relates to the ability to misuse plug-in hybrids, as owners may buy them for the tax benefits without the desire or ability to plug them in, therefore limiting their efficiency to that of the internal combustion engine. Maybe this will change over time but targets regarding EVs, I would suggest, need to be clear one way or another.

For successful implementation of EVs, the infrastructure development needs to be well underway ahead of take up of vehicles. Ofgem and the new sub section of the Dept. for Transport will need to regulate and legislate the infrastructure improvements for EVs. To do this effectively their research into the future demands will be imperative and they should not just rely on the leaders in the field in the UK, but also abroad to encompass best practices and valuable lessons learnt from other nations. It would also be appropriate that they consider the impact of the provision of electric heating demands, because as and when the grid continues to decarbonise, this will become a viable alternative to gas heating and is likely to be increasingly rolled out.

The National Infrastructure Commission also suggest legislation for local authorities to allocate 5% of parking spaces (including on-street parking) to include EV charging points by 2020 and 20% of parking spaces by 2025. As housing development is often planned many years in advance, this is probably the best compromise. Housebuilders and developers should pay due regard with respect to their future projects and address the challenges relating to EVs and energy sooner rather than later, particularly before they have installed inadequate transformers and cable infrastructure! The government has recently said future chargers would need to be capable of being smart and this will help to minimise the peak grid impact, which Ofgem now says could be as much as 8GW by 2040 using their 2 degrees scenario.

As for the rapid charge network, if the users of these chargers are not to be penalised with high charging costs, then local authority involvement (like in Cornwall) in the development and delivery of affordable networks is imperative. It is worth noting, however, that as fuel taxation reduces with EV take up, the government will no doubt be looking at an alternative method to make up the difference, possibly via some sort of per mile taxation. The alternative of a "tax on electricity" is unpalatable, due to the negative impact to those fuel poor who often rely on electricity for heating and hot water generation.

Overall, the National Infrastructure Assessment is a very welcome step away from the short-term, individualistic thinking and approaches that we’ve seen with regards to EV infrastructure to date. Let’s hope UK government, local authorities, Ofgem and all other key players across the industry take note and work collaboratively towards a cohesive approach to EV infrastructure provision, to make sure the UK can cope with the rising popularity of EV.

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