The UK’s Transport Ambitions
The UK government’s announcement mentioned above, namely that new cars and vans powered by petrol and diesel will not be sold in the UK from 2030, is part of a so-called ‘green industrial revolution’. The aim is that this will go towards the fight against climate change and create new jobs in industries such as nuclear and renewables.
The UK’s greener travel ambitions are not entirely new, of course. 2015 saw the creation of Highways England in the interest of creating a more free-flowing, economical and environmentally-friendly traffic network in the UK. And, more recently, as part of Highways England’s funding programme, the government announced an investment of £9.3 million into a scheme to replace diesel van fleets with electric vehicle (EV) fleets.
There have been some positive steps towards the country’s ambitions. Firstly, sales of EVs have continued to rise over recent years and now account for around 7% of new cars sold. The government has pledged £1.3 billion towards new EV charging points and the network as the total has grown by 18% in the first ten months of 2020. However, even given the government’s new ten-point green industrial revolution plan and its multi-billion-pound budget, the scale of change required is enormous. There are serious questions over whether the grants for homeowners, businesses and local authorities will be enough to support the installation of charge points required.
Electric vehicle chargers surrounded by electric cars
Image credit: Bigstock
The Challenges of Meeting the Target
While EVs are clearly a vital component of the UK’s zero carbon emissions plans, the new ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars creates several challenges. In short, the country needs to build a sustainable EV ecosystem and create the charging infrastructure, safety regulations and standards to support it. Covered below are two key challenges that need to be addressed if the ambitious plans are to be realised.
There are questions surrounding whether car manufacturers will be ready for the change in time and, therefore, whether the price of EVs will be able to drop sufficiently. Currently, EVs are more expensive than conventionally-fuelled models, largely due to the battery cost involved in electric transport.
The AA claims that the cost of EVs is a huge roadblock that stands in the way of the government’s plans. What’s more, there is the economy in general to consider: the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the total sales of EVs decline by 19% year-on-year in 2020. And with the threat of a looming global recession at the time of writing, the market could take a further knock still.
Electric Vehicle charging bays in Great Malvern, UK
Image credit: Geograph
While one of Highways England’s funding programmes aims to ensure there are charge points on 95% of the UK’s motorways and major A-roads by 2021, this would still leave the country woefully behind on charging infrastructure. While private charging companies are already doing their bit, further action needs to be made by the UK government.
Charging needs to be readily and economically available at home and on the road with charging stations able to perform any type of charge (consider even vehicle-to-grid charging) to meet the demands of EV batteries. According to Transport and Environment, which is Europe’s leading clean transport campaigning group, today’s charging infrastructure needs to increase by more than 15 times over the next ten years.
Potential Engineering Solutions
If EVs are to overtake petrol and diesel vehicles and facilitate the UK government's plans, more charging points are clearly going to be required. But, more than that, those charging points need to be present in more locations and be able to charge vehicles efficiently if they are to be effective. Currently, most charging stations are installed in private residences with off-road parking, in office car parks, and in some public streets. However, on the horizon are new solutions, such as those below, that may be able to steer the UK in the right direction.
Ubriticity’s Specialised Charging Sockets
EV charging stations company Lubricity, with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, has developed special charging sockets that are suitable for installation almost universally. Smart mobile metering inside the car or charging cable helps to make the invaluable link between EVs and renewable energy by enabling users to select their preferred supplier.
The company already has 1,800 public charge points in the UK and has signed a deal with EDF energy to power the points with renewable energy.
A graphic of Trojan Energy’s electric vehicle charging technology: the Trojan lance
Image credit: Trojan Energy
Trojan Energy’s Flush Connectors
The Trojan lance EV charger enables flat and flush connectors to be set into the pavement, meaning it can be installed on nearly all residential streets. What’s more, the design enables the installation of fifteen chargers per cabinet—substantially increasing charging availability.
Meanwhile, cloud-arbitrated charging enables users to select charging preferences (for instance, they can choose to pay a low rate for overnight charging, or a higher rate for speedy charging). The STEP (Subsurface Technology for Electric Pathways) project is currently trialling the solution in London, with its 4.1 million pounds’ worth of funding to roll out the technology.
ByteSnap’s Smart Charging Controller
Charge points need to be controllable to help load balance the supply network and prevent permanent damage. To help achieve this, ByteSnap has developed ‘MantaRay’, a small printed circuit board that supports functions specific to the charge and discharge of a vehicle.
Using either OCPP (the Open Charge Point Protocol) 1.6 or 2.0, MantaRay controls the charging structure and instructs when and what rate to charge at. The technology can be connected to RFID readers and can communicate to a back office and building management system without going through the cloud.
NIO’s Battery Swapping Capabilities
The Chinese-based charging solution company has faced the complications of connector compatibility and fluctuating charge rates head-on by putting forward an alternative solution: EV battery swapping.
The company has developed a solution that uses laser-guided tools to remove and replace batteries within three minutes. The solution is already used across China and offers another alternative that could help the UK. It provides a considerably faster substitute to the hours of time that it usually takes to recharge existing EV batteries. This may well boost consumer confidence.
A road sign on a motorway that directs drivers to an electric vehicle charging station
Image credit: Pixabay
Will the UK Make the Necessary Shift to EVs by 2030?
Electric cars are certainly the future, but that future isn’t going to happen overnight. Again, the UK’s plans are extremely ambitious. Simply banning the purchase of traditionally-fuelled cars without having the infrastructure in place to support their replacements could have a major impact on how Britons experience their day-to-day lives. Which leads, therefore, to the argument that a phased transition over a longer period of time would be more viable—aiming to encourage, rather than simply force, change.
However, the aim is certainly an admirable one, and if the UK manages to put the services in place to enable people to retain both their autonomy and novel, ever-cheaper energy sources, then it is a huge step in the direction towards a zero-carbon future. That said, to expand the charging infrastructure by around twenty times in ten years, the government is going to have to provide grants towards the installation of charging points, motivate companies to offer free charging to their employees, and utilise location services to direct EV drivers to nearby charging points.
Moreover, the government will need to use a variety of engineering solutions, such as the said technologies—smart charging, flush connectors, and battery swapping—to ensure that everyone has access to economical solutions. Ultimately, the government can’t assume that the infrastructure will be better in the future: it needs to change it now.