The projected rollout of 35 million electric vehicles (EVs) on Britain’s streets will mean households and highways run from the same power source, increasing the possibility of a “single point of failure” that could thwart the Government’s stated aim of banning the sale of all fossil-fuelled cars by 2035 or earlier.
With EVs also projected to increase electricity consumption by 30 per cent, a power cut such as the one that affected a million homes in 2019 could in future cause transport gridlock, too. To paraphrase the theory behind the banking bailout, the electrification of transport could make our electricity grid “too big to fail”.
As the recent EV Energy Taskforce report showed, the grid will need a major upgrade to ensure it can meet this new demand and support EVs. Charging infrastructure will need to be significantly expanded to ensure equal nationwide access and this will depend on an electricity network with enough capacity to support the spread of charging facilities to all the people and places that need them.
Inconsistent distribution of charge-points and grid capacity could exacerbate regional inequality in transport and employment as well as producing concentrated “pinch points” on the grid.
Effective planning of future infrastructure will require a new understanding of the existing electric grid, and how it intersects with the transport grid. This will require us to map in unprecedented detail major sites and sources of future demand, including new towns, future population movements and working patterns – whether, for example, working (and therefore charging) from home will become a permanent trend – and the knock-on impacts of new charging points on the local environment, such as improved air quality.
Only by understanding these factors can we see where capacity will need to be increased to ensure equal access to EVs, or where “smart charging” incentives will need to be targeted to ease the burden on the grid. We will also need real-time monitoring and maintenance of roadside EV infrastructure as any faults could now affect both transport, businesses, communities and households.
The growing decentralisation of energy generation and storage will also mean the power grid has more assets, and therefore vulnerabilities, that must be monitored to avoid faults or failures.