The transition towards EVs in the United Kingdom presents a myriad of challenges and prospects. Various factors, including policy changes, inflationary pressures, and the ever-evolving markets contribute to the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance to emphasise fairness and inclusivity, ensuring the involvement of all communities in the pursuit of achieving Net Zero. Our recent Q&A session with Mr Ian Cameron, the Head of Customer Service and Innovation at UK Power Networks, shed light on the pivotal role played by the company in decarbonizing the transportation sector, unearthing captivating insights along the way.
Let us delve into the insightful highlights of our Q&A session with Mr Ian, where we explore the indispensable role of UK Power Networks in the sustainable transformation of the transportation industry.
LEVS: As EVs are expected to be on the rise in view of ICE Ban by 2035. What measures are you taking to provide an adequate power supply required for this technological disruption?
Mr Ian: Road transport currently accounts for around 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and we’re forecasting a dramatic rise in EV uptake by the turn of the decade which will play a vital role in helping the UK meet its Net Zero targets
To help facilitate this transition, we need a robust plan in place, and for us, that comes in the form of our new EV strategy released earlier this year. This strategy lays out our fundamental goal for EVs: connecting as many charge points as our customers require, as quickly and cheaply as possible, while maintaining the smart, robust electricity distribution network they need to operate efficiently. But what does this entail?
•Delivering a network that is fit for the EV transition
Our data driven approach allows us to forecast and monitor our network, giving us better visibility of EV uptake across our network. This will allow us to invest smartly, making sure we are providing the right upgrades at the right time, making sure our customers have access to the infrastructure they need to transition and saving them money in the process.
•Collaborating to help our customers
We’re working alongside local authorities to champion accessible charging and facilitate a fair and equal EV transition. We also continue to work with suppliers to identify innovative approaches with the potential to speed up charge point installation and provide high quality customer service in the process. By removing ourselves from the installation process, we’re committed to opening as many doors as feasible to EV adoption.
•Directly helping our customers
We’re committed to providing trusted, impartial data to our customers to ensure they can make informed decisions about their transition. By being at the forefront of digital innovation, we can provide real solutions for customers whilst maintaining confidence the network can support their needs.
LEVS: What are the challenges and opportunities associated with transitioning to electric vehicles in the UK, specifically in terms of electricity supply and infrastructure?
Mr Ian: Part of the uncertainty on exactly when and where EV uptake will occur comes from external pressures: policy changes, inflationary pressures, and evolving markets all affect customers’ spending decisions and businesses’ investment decisions. Whilst we need to keep pace with early adopters, it’s also vital we consider the needs of the communities who have not yet been able to make the switch, ensure no one gets left behind on the road to Net Zero. This means continuous engagement with our stakeholders and local authorities to understand the needs of a varied customer base.
Everyone is on their own decarbonization journey. The specific barriers to EV transition for a fleet owner differ wildly from a driver with disabilities for example. As the transport sector evolves, its complexity increases, and we need to continue to seek additional perspectives make that transition fair for all.
Our Distributed Future Energy Scenarios allow us to accurately forecast the uptake of Electric vehicles across our network, and whilst these forecasts allow us to understand what is happening on a macro level, we’re also continuously working with our partners to better understand the needs of the individual.
LEVS: What are the benefits of implementing smart charging facilities for electric vehicles and what are the steps taken towards implementing it?
Mr Ian: With the establishment of the UK’s first independent Distribution System Operator (DSO) this year, we’ve gone about setting the stage for flexibility services to drastically alter the way we operate, saving our customers money, whilst maintaining the reliable electricity supply they have come to expect. Investing in flexibility services will supplement traditional reinforcement costs and open the doors for further low carbon technologies to enter the network.
LEVS: Can you discuss some of the partnerships and collaborations that UK Power Networks has established with other organisations in the UK to advance the development and adoption of smart charging technology?
Mr Ian: The challenge of decarbonising our transport sector is too big to tackle alone. This is why we’re investing in new cross-sector and cross-industry partnerships to help bring fresh perspectives to the table.
Earlier this year we wrapped up the world’s largest electric vehicle fleet trial, Optimise Prime. Optimise Prime was a major cross-sector collaboration project, bringing together fleet vehicle operators and energy companies and helping to remove some of the barriers fleets face when making the switch to electric vehicles. We worked alongside Hitachi and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), as well as some of the country’s largest home-based fleet operators Royal Mail, British Gas and Uber to demonstrate how fleets can head electric at the lowest possible cost.
Another pioneering innovation project, Shift, worked alongside early adopters to understand and inform how consumer charging habits could be influenced to reduce grid constraints during peak times. Shift developed a deeper understanding of the value and potential of low voltage flexibility and discovered that just 20% of the time spent plugged in at home is needed to meet customer charging needs. The trialing of different market-led mechanisms has helped stimulate the smart charging market with over 2,500 domestic customers shifting their charging during the 12-month trials. Shift developed working, market-led smart charging mechanisms which have already been implemented to procure flexibility.
Similarly, we are continuing to grow our wider flexibility market, bringing in a number of collaborators from across sectors to provide flex services.
LEVS: What impact do you see events like the London EV Show having on public awareness and adoption of electric vehicles and related infrastructure?
Mr Ian: As previously stated, decarbonising our transport sector is not something we can tackle alone. Events like the London EV show offer a tremendous opportunity to foster collaboration and bring together a diverse set of skills and minds from across the sector. We’ve witnessed first-hand the power that working together can have. We are one big neural network, and opening ourselves to new ideas can only help speed up this vital transition. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the show.