In a captivating and enlightening Q&A session, we had the privilege of raising thought-provoking questions with Andrew Jones, Senior Policy Advisor at the National Infrastructure Commission. Our questionnaire revolved around the crucial role played by the NIC in driving the United Kingdom's ambitious mission to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2030.

With a keen focus on the existing policies and frameworks, as well as the highly anticipated second National Infrastructure Assessment scheduled for publication this autumn, Andrew Jones generously shared invaluable insights on the subject of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure in the UK.

Let’s delve into the depths of the NIC's pivotal contributions and uncover the indispensable knowledge Andrew Jones imparts regarding the advancement of EV infrastructure in the United Kingdom.

LEVS: What is the NIC's current stance on the role of renewable energy in the UK's infrastructure development, and what specific policies is the commission advocating for in this area?

Mr Andrew: Concrete action is required to reduce the use of gas and oil. Without this, the country will retain its high cost, high carbon, and insecure energy system in the coming decades. Natural gas represents too much of the country’s energy consumption and is far too carbon intensive. Around 40 per cent of electricity generation is powered by natural gas, and 88 per cent of homes are heated with gas boilers. Gas is responsible for around 77 percent of emissions from electricity generation, and around 86 percent of emissions from homes. The successful transition away from coal use means that use of natural gas is the main obstacle to delivering a net zero electricity sector, as well as using electrification to decarbonise heat and transport.

Deploying low carbon alternatives and reducing wasted energy is the best way to transition away from gas. This will cut costs, improve energy security, and decarbonise the economy.

Deployment of renewable electricity over the next decade will reduce reliance on gas in the power system and cut emissions. The cost of renewable electricity, through offshore wind, onshore wind and solar, is lower and less volatile than producing electricity with natural gas. This will remain the case even when prices fall from their current extreme levels. The government needs to maintain the strong pace of renewable deployment and bring forward firm plans to deliver the flexibility that a decarbonised system will need.

The planning system will need to move more quickly to enable sufficient deployment of renewable generation. Decarbonising the electricity system will require over 17 transmission projects to receive development consents in the next four years, a fivefold increase on current rates. Government should publish updated National Policy Statements for energy, and increase capacity across the planning system.

Improving the energy efficiency of homes will also reduce the use of natural gas for heating and is one of the best ways to durably lower bills for households. In the longer term, every gas boiler will also need to be replaced with a low carbon alternative, such as a heat pump. The government must urgently step up the level of ambition on energy efficiency and increase the pace of the transition to low carbon heat.

In the first Assessment, the Commission stated that the UK could have a low cost and low carbon energy system, reducing the use of gas generation and replacing it primarily with wind and solar power.

The Commission recommended that the government act to deliver 65 percent of Britain’s electricity from renewables by 2030. Contracts for difference auctions should be used to deliver increases in renewable capacity, and auctions for onshore wind and solar should be reopened.

To support the deployment of a highly renewable electricity system, the Commission has set out:

  • In its Smart Power study, the government should increase the flexibility of the electricity system by increasing electricity interconnection and facilitating increased deployment of storage and demand side response.
  • In Strategic Investment and Public Confidence, regulators must ensure that their regulatory frameworks enable anticipatory investment where appropriate. Anticipatory investment will be vital to ensure that there is sufficient transmission and distribution network capacity to manage the increases in demand as heat and transport decarbonises.

LEVS: What are the challenges and opportunities associated with the development of electric vehicle infrastructure in the UK?

Mr Andrew: Emissions from cars and vans accounted for around 75 per cent of the UK’s total domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. The transition of the fleet to electric vehicles will be one of the most important actions to decarbonise the transport sector. In the National Infrastructure Assessment, the Commission recommended that government, Ofgem and local authorities should enable the rollout of charging infrastructure sufficient to allow consumer demand to reach close to 100 per cent electric new car and van sales by 2030. To facilitate this a national network of both rapid and slower chargers will be needed. To support this the Commission recommended that:

  • Government should subsidise rapid charge points in rural or sparsely populated areas of the country where the market alone is unlikely to deliver; a visible core network of rapid chargers is critical to give drivers confidence and tackle range anxiety
  • Ofgem ensure that charge points can contribute to the optimisation of the energy system and work with network operators and charge point providers to identify areas where anticipatory investment in the networks may be needed.

The Commission’s study Infrastructure, Towns and Regeneration highlighted the challenge of providing on street charge points in towns and cities. The Commission recommended that government should publish an electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy and roadmap for the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in towns. Local infrastructure strategies should also include an active role for the local authority in planning and managing the rollout of on street electric vehicle charging.

LEVS: How are the policies and strategies framed by NIC helping the Govt to reach net zero emission goals by 2035?

Mr Andrew: The government has committed to fully decarbonise the power system by 2035, subject to security of supply. To deliver this, the target for offshore wind capacity in 2030 has been increased from 40 GW to 50 GW. This would deliver around 220 TWh of generation in 2030, resulting in around half of the UK’s electricity generation coming from offshore wind alone. To support these targets government has:

  • Agreed to deliver annual contracts for difference auctions and has allowed onshore wind and solar projects to participate for the first time since 2015. The government is also consulting on planning changes that would loosen the effective ban on new onshore wind projects in England.
  • Announced a Review of Electricity Market Arrangements and published a consultation on a range of options for electricity market design.

In 2021, the government and Ofgem published an updated Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan, which predicted that a tripling of low carbon flexibility capacity would be needed by 2030. The plan set out several actions to reduce barriers to deployment.

As part of this work, the government launched a call for evidence in 2021 on the role for large scale, long duration electricity storage, recognising that is not currently attracting enough investment nor being built at sufficient scale. Government has since committed to making a policy to de-risk investment in large scale long duration electricity storage by 2024.

Over the last year Ofgem has set the second round of electricity distribution network price controls. To meet the demands from a system with more electrified heat and transport, around £3 billion of funding has been made available for network upgrades. In December 2022, a new framework for strategic transmission network upgrades was announced, which aims to streamline the process for key projects.

The government has set targets for reducing the time taken to build infrastructure. These include aspiring to halve the time it takes to develop offshore wind projects and to build new transmission infrastructure. The announced measures include bringing forward the energy National Policy Statements originally consulted on in 2021.

In the 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the government committed to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. To support this goal, government published the UK Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy in March 2022. The strategy sets out a vision and action plan for the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the UK. The Strategy highlights that there are several barriers to deployment, such as difficulty of the commercial model for on street residential chargers, the cost and time needed to connect new charge points to the electricity system and the lack of local engagement and leadership for charge point roll out.

As part of the plan government set out that it expected around 300,000 public charge points as a minimum by 2030. Government has published a local authority toolkit for installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure to empower them to facilitate the rollout of high quality charging infrastructure to meet residents’ needs. Government has already announced a range of funding streams, including:

  • a £500 million infrastructure package for local authorities to expand the provision of local public charge points
  • £10 million for a pilot of the local electric vehicle infrastructure fund to help local authorities scale up their local charging provision
  • £950 million rapid charging fund to accelerate the rollout of high powered chargers on the strategic road network
  • Ofgem announced £300 million for additional network investment in May 2021, half of which will target the development of electric vehicle infrastructure, including rapid charge points to reduce range anxiety and improve consumer confidence.
  • £56 million of public and industry funding for increasing charge points across the country.

Government published the Electric Vehicle Smart Charging Action Plan in January 2023, which outlines the next steps that government and Ofgem will take to deliver energy flexibility from electric vehicle charging, providing affordable, green power.

LEVS: As The Commission is now working on the second National Infrastructure Assessment, to be published in autumn 2023. What strategic vision can we expect to be framed to tackle the climate crisis for the years coming?

Mr Andrew: The effects of climate change, which are already evident in the UK and worldwide, can only be mitigated by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, fast. In 2019, two thirds of all UK greenhouse gas emissions arose from transport, energy, waste and wastewater infrastructure. While progress has been made in these sectors, they all need to decarbonise further. And the move to net zero will also require new infrastructure networks for hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

In the second Assessment, the Commission will focus on the following key challenges:

  • decarbonising electricity generation by 2035
  • the heat transition and energy efficiency
  • new networks for hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
  • Decarbonising both interurban and urban transport

Society and the economy depend on a healthy environment. But the climate is changing, and nature is declining at unprecedented rates. Infrastructure needs to adapt to the growing risks of extreme weather and contribute to wider environmental objectives including increased biodiversity, reduced waste, and cleaner air and water.

In the second Assessment, the Commission will focus on the following key challenges:

  • asset management and resilience
  • surface water management
  • the role of the waste sector in the move to a circular economy.

Alongside these, the Commission will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the challenges set out in our net zero work and assess impacts on emissions and natural capital for all the recommendations made in the second Assessment. The Commission will continue to monitor the government’s progress against its previous recommendations to improve resilience across the regulated sectors and increase resilience to drought and to river and coastal flooding.

LEVS: How do events like the London EV Show help promote sustainable transportation infrastructure and reach net zero emission goal by 2035?

Mr Andrew: The show is a valuable opportunity for us to promote the key messages and recommendations that the commission has made. If we are going to successfully transition to a net zero economy it will require the full engagement and co-operation of the private and public sector which is why these opportunities are valuable for us to discuss our messages and recommendations.