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European countries are on the march to phase out Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles; last year Norway pledged to ban the sale of fossil-fuel burning vehicles by 2025 which was followed closely by Germany and The Netherlands making similar commitments for 2030. This month, the UK announced investment in Electric Vehicle (EV) battery technology as key part of its spring budget. Clearly momentum for one-hundred percent EV transportation is growing…

Imagine for a second that every vehicle owner in the UK goes down to the local Tesla dealer (other EV’s are available) tomorrow and drives a zero carbon, green machine off the forecourt. Other than immediately cutting CO2 emissions in the UK by 24%, what impact would this have on infrastructure and our pockets? For 100% EV transport to become a reality, more than just our registration plates will have to change and this is likely to be expensive!

Electric car in charging station

More energy will have to be generated as electricity to replace the energy-dense hydrocarbons that we have relied on.  In 2015, the energy equivalent of 40 mega-tonnes of oil was consumed for road transport, which was 30% more than all the electricity generated in the same year! The solar panels required to meet this demand would cover an area of over 25 times the size of the city of Cambridge and at today’s prices could cost up to £200 Billion. It goes without saying that this is a hefty price tag, but who will pay?

Supply and demand will become more erratic and therefore smart grid systems such as the one being trialled on the Isle of Scilly will need to be rolled out country wide. A charging station with 10 vehicles on a “quick-charge” would draw 442kW which is about the same as the mean demand from 630 houses at peak times. The supply of power geographically and temporally will become less predictable as capacity reliant on wind, insolation and the tide is added to meet the additional demand. Our creaky transmission and distribution infrastructure, which suffers the same losses as it did 15 years ago, will require a serious face lift to manage these changes.

If the obvious barriers of EV ownership, such as the relatively high price and social inertia, were to suddenly disappear, we would still have some serious economic hurdles to jump over. To pay for the additional infrastructure required, it is reasonable to predict that tax on the electric kWh is going to rise dramatically over the next ten years. To minimise the damping of the adoption that this could cause, we need to invest and make policies with foresight.

James Westley

James is a Senior Engineer within our Mechanical and Analytical group with 5 years of experience in the energy sector. He is a composite specialist interested in projects which promote sustainability.