Basil Scarsella, chief executive, UK Power Networks Energy networks, Opinion, Basil Scarsella, UK Power Networks, electric vehicles, EV, EVs

"It is clear that for the UK to meet its climate change targets by 2050, it needs a targeted approach for all sectors, not just power"

Since 1990, the power sector has made great strides in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by an impressive 49 per cent. The distribution networks have been at the heart of this success by enabling the rapid connection of new renewable technologies.

We at UK Power Networks now have 6GW of renewable distributed generation – the equivalent to almost two Hinkley Point Cs – connected to networks that were never envisaged to cater for distributed energy and two way power flows. Yet despite the scale of this revolution, we have delivered a step change in our performance with reliability and service at their highest ever levels and reduced distribution costs for our customers – roughly half the cost of an annual TV licence for our customers.

However, it is clear that for the UK to meet its climate change targets by 2050, it needs a targeted approach for all sectors, not just power. This is now happening with the spotlight firmly on transport to reduce both carbon emissions and dramatically improve air quality. These collective pressures are resulting in a push for Electric Vehicles (EVs) with almost 80 new models expected to be available in the next 2-3 years, bringing with it profound implications for electricity networks.

Today, there are 51 per cent more EVs on our roads within our licence areas than we forecast there would be just three years ago.  We now predict up to 3.5 million EVs could be operational across our networks by 2030. Clearly, with this scale of uptake it is imperative we understand the implications on our networks and develop smart solutions to manage the change.

Installing a 7kW EV charger has the potential to triple the load on an average domestic property that would typically consume 2kW and currently there is no requirement to notify network operators when one is installed.

It is the equivalent of being faced with the potential requirement to serve three times the number of customers we supply today without knowing where these extra customers live – this is the scale of the challenge we face. This is why we would like to see the notification of EV chargers in domestic properties to become a mandatory requirement.

Despite these new challenges, our core objectives remain the same; we need to keep the lights on, deliver a great service and efficiently invest in the network to enable the take up of EVs at the lowest cost for customers. We have very clear strategy to achieve these outcomes.

Firstly, given the challenge of not knowing where EVs could cluster on our network and in the absence of smart meter data, we are collaborating with partner organisations and academic institutions to build a comprehensive EV data set and advanced analytics to pinpoint the neighbourhoods where targeted investment could be required.

Secondly, we are developing state of the art active control systems for our low voltage network, combined with mobile monitoring sensors. This is where the digital and physical networks and solutions are merging. Our analytics guide us to where we need to deploy these enhanced sensors and if we discover that the network is performing well, we have the flexibility to redeploy them rapidly onto other sites.

Thirdly, we are investing in both commercial and technical innovations to enable our customers to connect faster and cheaper than ever before. For example, our work with UPS installing smart charging solutions coupled with energy storage has enabled a 270 per cent increase in the number of electric freight vehicles that can operate out of one of its biggest central London depots whilst avoiding the costs and time for traditional upgrades to the network.

The future is already here and UK Power Networks is innovating to stay in the fast lane of this revolution.

Working in collaboration with other organisations that bring complimentary skills in technology, data and customer innovation, we are confident that we will continue to enable our country’s successful transition to a low carbon future.

What to read next