Transport is widely known as being the UK’s most polluting sector. It’s responsible for a quarter of UK’s carbon emissions, with road traffic accounting for some 91% of that proportion. It’s well understood and documented that transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) is critical to tackling road emissions and creating a net zero future in the UK and beyond. While the problem and the solution are clear, the journey has not always been so simple.
To support the transition to EVs, the UK Government aims to have 300,000 public chargers installed by 2030. However, the public charging infrastructure faces several challenges, including legislative, technical and cultural barriers. Are these barriers still as restrictive as they seem, and how has the EV industry been innovative in addressing them?
Addressing power availability and grid constraints
Unsurprisingly, EVs consume considerable amounts of energy, creating issues around grid stability and security, including voltage deviation, frequency imbalance and grid overload. Unfortunately, many EV projects have already experienced delays due to power supply challenges. This issue is particularly pronounced when considering the demand to electrify commercial and industrial fleets.
The truth is the grid requires extensive and expensive upgrades to accompany EV charging developments. These upgrades are an important and necessary part of the net zero effort and will allow more renewable energy to be incorporated into the grid. Plus, the EV sector already has promising technological developments to address power supply issues.
Innovations by car manufacturers in recent years have led to the creation of larger batteries with longer life spans to reduce the ‘range anxiety’ that was holding up EV adoption. Coupled with the development of a smart electricity grid, the improvements to EV batteries can actually offer a materially efficient and low-cost way to provide short-term energy storage. Emerging Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology allows EVs to not only draw power from the grid for charging but also to give electricity back when it’s needed in periods of heightened demand.
Similarly, innovations in smart grids have enabled EVs to contribute to load balancing. Load management software can constantly communicate with the electricity infrastructure, charge points, and EVs to reduce the energy drain from EVs during periods of peak demand, easing the burden on the grid. At the same time, it optimises EV charging. At a macro level, this can create an equilibrium among power demand across several sites, for example a commercial fleet charging site or a public car park. At a micro level, load management can alter the charging session to a period of time when energy is less expensive – helping businesses and individual households cut costs and emissions.
Thanks to technological innovation, EVs can be turned into flexible assets that support the grid’s electricity supply rather than taking away from it.
Changing public perceptions
Unfortunately, EVs have been a contentious topic in the press and public opinion. While the infrastructure is not yet perfect, it is evolving to meet challenges. Many of the public’s main concerns such as range anxiety, slow charging and insufficient charging points, have already been addressed in recent years by innovation.
Charging is getting faster, and rapid and ultra-rapid charge points are becoming increasingly available. The number of ultra-rapid charge points in the UK has increased by 68% since September 2022, representing the fastest-growing charger type. Now, EV drivers can easily access a quick and substantial boost when they stop for around 20 minutes. There are also exciting innovations on the horizon in the form of wireless charging that will further maximise the ease for EV owners in the future.
A bugbear for many EV drivers in the past has been the lack of simplicity when it comes to finding chargers and payment options. However, new consumer-friendly technology is simplifying the user experience to make the process as seamless as possible.
An electric future
Innovation remains the driving force behind the transformation of public EV charging networks. There may still be bumps in the road but if one thing is for sure, the EV industry will continue to evolve and innovate to address them. A future where the UK public charging infrastructure is a seamless and integral part of our everyday lives may not be as far off as it seems.