Industry powers up for a low emission future

October 13 2017  

Britain looks set for a low emission transport revolution following the Government’s announcement that sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will end by 2040.
The pledge came this summer as the departments for environment and transport released their plan to tackle the nation’s illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution from road transport.
Scotland has since gone a step further in committing to ban sales of conventionally powered vehicles from as early as 2032.
But how achievable are these targets, where is the market at the moment and what barriers will need to be overcome to ensure a smooth transition to a ultra-low emission vehicle fleet?
Society of Motor Manufacturers director of policy Konstanze Scharring describes plug in vehicles as a “small but significantly growing part” of the UK’s new car market, currently representing about 1.7% of sales.
In the year to June 2017, 45,509 new ultra-low emission vehicles were registered in the UK, an increase of 27% on one year before and 71% on two years previously. These are supported by a network of over 13,000 publically available charge points for electric vehicles.
Various motor manufacturers have declared ambitions for their future products to be predominantly electric or hybrid vehicles, Government continues to invest in research and development in this area and London leads the way on clean air zones. It would appear that current efforts are heading in the right direction.
“But there are several key overarching challenges that we need to work on to really accelerate take up of low emission vehicles,” says Konstanze Scharring. Infrastructure is perhaps the biggest challenge, she says, while barriers relating to technology; policy, regulation and standards; public acceptance; and business models also need to be addressed.
On the infrastructure challenge, she says: “We need many more charging points and their location and interoperability needs to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to use the vehicles.” To date the Government has been funding the deployment of public charging points, some operated by local authorities and some by private organisations.
But TRL’s head of ultra-low emission vehicles and energy Denis Naberezhnykh says: “Domestic charging is going to be the number one thing that most people will probably use. Workplace charging will also be important and then there needs to be a very smartly deployed network of public rapid chargers, positioned in places where people will use them.”
He adds that there is a need to come up with a business model for these public networks that covers the cost of installation, maintenance and operation without introducing prohibitively high electricity tariffs.
In the long term he predicts that fast charging will likely be a ‘value added’ service provided at strategic locations such as supermarkets or motorway service stations.
Meanwhile one of the most highly publicised fears relating to charging infrastructure has been the availability of sufficient energy from the National Grid to support a nation of low emission vehicle users.
But the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership’s managing director Andy Eastlake does not share these concerns. “There is sufficient energy available for us to electrify transport over the period of time we are talking about.
“The challenge we have is making sure enough energy is in the right place at the right time, and we may need to think differently about how that is achieved.”
For example the use of ‘smart charging’ to manage overall demand as well as ‘vehicle to grid’ technology – allowing plug in vehicles to return power to the grid – will help to provide a more flexible energy system that is integrated with the vehicle fleet, he says.
Denis Naberezhnykh adds: “The idea that everybody will come home from work, plug their cars in and all the lights will go out is completely exaggerated. In reality the technology already exists to make this a much more intelligent process and there are projects currently being worked on to test this.”
The Government is currently introducing a new Vehicle Technology & Aviation Bill which will allow it to require that charge points are ‘smart’ and can interact with the electricity grid.
The Bill will also provide powers to require that data on charge point location and availability is openly available, and mandate provision of electric vehicle infrastructure at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers.
Another important challenge for the years ahead is around battery technology for electric vehicles.
Konstanze Scharring says: “Battery innovation is definitely at the heart of our challenge towards electrification. We need to bring down costs and enhance the range of electric vehicles to overcome range anxiety.”
Launch of the Government’s £246M Faraday Challenge this summer to bring forward cutting edge research and development in battery technology is expected to put the UK in a strong position to lead these efforts.
Andy Eastlake welcomes the Government’s backing of the industry through funding competitions and the support offered by organisations like Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
This, combined with its long term objectives and policies to support the purchasing of low emission vehicles and their procurement in the public sector, makes the UK an attractive market, he says.
But it is important to recognise that the market is still small and fragile, and “we cannot take our foot off the accelerator,” emphasises Konstanze Scharring. “Stability in the incentive and taxation regime are absolutely critical,” she says, adding that there is still a need to foster public acceptance through information campaigns.
Denis Naberezhnykh believes that the price of vehicles is the number one barrier to public acceptance. “As soon as that comes down then there is really nothing holding people back from accepting these vehicles,” he says.
Despite the challenges, Denis is confident that the Government’s 2040 ambition will be met. “It may seem on the face of it to be a bold move by the Government but in reality it mirrors where the industry is going anyway, with continued pressure from governments around the world to decarbonise transport and reduce air pollution,” he says.

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