Transitioning to a world of electric vehicles

The momentum behind the decarbonisation of transport is now clearer than ever

The 2018 report from the Climate Change Committee has stated that transport has the highest emissions of any sector in the UK, and so to meet the UK Greenhouse Gas targets cost-effectively, emissions from transport need to reduce by 46% between 2017 and 2020. The government’s Road to Zero strategy sets out the ambition for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.  

Yet, there are still some unanswered questions on the successful transition of the transport sector. We ask two National Grid colleagues, Owen Wilkes (Electricity Transmission’s Long-term Strategy Manager) and Graeme Cooper (Director, Electric Vehicles), about some of the challenges concerning the future of transport.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of electric vehicles?

Graeme: I’m the Project Director for Electric Vehicles at National Grid. I’ve always worked in ‘disruptive industries’ - industries that have changed things. I started rolling out mobile phone networks then worked in the wind industry and clean energy, and now electric vehicles. Except death and taxes, change is life’s only inevitable! It’s not just work for me though – I’m a proud EV driver and even though I use to be a petrol head, I’d never go back!

Owen: I’m the Long Term Strategy Manager for our Electricity Transmission business. I started out in my career as a power system engineer, and I’m really interested in new technologies and innovation, and the opportunities these bring; this makes my role as Long Term Strategy manager a very exciting one! One of our focus areas is considering what National Grid could do to support and enable the roll out of electric vehicles; aligning the transport and electricity sectors to manage this challenge.

If the uptake of electric vehicles is as successful as predicted, then there could be as many as 36 million electric vehicles on the road by 2040? Is National Grid capable, and prepared, to deal with these changes?

Owen: Decarbonisation is a key factor in the transition to electric vehicles (from petrol and diesel) and National Grid, with the rest of the industry, is working at pace to prepare for this change. Think of the end game – 36 million is a lot of electric vehicles to charge. We are thinking about how we could utilise and invest in our infrastructure to meet this new electricity demand, and are working with a new and diverse set of stakeholders to ensure we are ready to meet this challenge.

What work is National Grid doing in response to the uptake of electric vehicles? 

Graeme: We are currently focusing on motorway service area rapid charging solutions. The working assumption is that EV charging is going to happen mainly at home and at work. However, over 40% of people in England and Wales don’t have off-street parking. Home-only solutions aren’t sustainable. National Grid’s transmission network, in many cases, sits beside our trunk road network. This means we are in a unique position to support a new charging infrastructure. We’ve identified the optimum 54 motorway points that will cover 99.9% of the strategic road network, allowing those using these roads to have an un-disruptive journey with fast charging points, some 50 or so miles in between. One of the reasons people don’t currently buy electric vehicles is range anxiety. This charging network will help remove that anxiety.  

Beyond decarbonisation what are the other benefits of electric vehicles?

Owen: Electric vehicles offer the opportunity to improve local air quality and reduce noise pollution. However, beyond environmental benefits, such a fundamental shift in how we ‘fuel’ our transport (which includes, but isn’t limited to, electric vehicles) affords us the opportunity to think differently about the electricity and transport sectors and their delivery models that will support this future. 

Green GB week is about showing leadership in climate change and celebrating clean growth. What do you think is most exciting about the electric vehicle movement?

Graeme: I’m proud that National Grid is demonstrating that art of the possible. We are helping provide solutions to advance the market while demonstrating leadership and being inclusive.  

Owen: For me the most exciting thing is the rate and pace of change in this area. There are many possibilities for the future of decarbonised transport beyond electric vehicles, and National Grid is showing leadership and preparedness in delivering the best for the future.

If you would like to find out more, please visit our cleaner transport webpage.