This summer, electric vehicles hogged the limelight. Utility Week rounds up five things we learned.

Electric vehicles (EVs) dominated the headlines over the summer. Their rapid rise over recent months has caused a mix of jubilation and slight panic. Green groups have welcomed the change. Meanwhile network companies, while they recognise the importance of moving to a low-carbon economy, have expressed concern that if the take-up of EVs were to happen in a haphazard way, the grid could become overloaded.

National Grid published its Future Energy Scenarios report in July, therein predicting that peak power demand could hit 18GW as EVs become more and more common.

This deluge of news was rounded off with government’s shock announcement that it would ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The first roll-out of forecourt EV charging was announced at the end of August, as ChargePoint Services and Motor Fuel Group – the second-largest independent forecourt operator in the UK – signed a deal to roll out EV charging across Motor Fuel Group’s 413 stations.

A great deal has been written and said about EVs this summer. Here Utility Week rounds up five things we learned.

1) Their rise will be rapid

National Grid has predicted that EVs could add as much as 18GW, or 30 per cent, to peak power demand by 2050. The latest Future Energy Scenarios (FES) report – published by Grid on 13 July – suggested that, without smart charging, peak demand could grow by as much as 8GW by the end of the next decade due to a “dramatic rise” in sales.

The rapid take-up of EVs does not show any signs of slowing, and forecasts from National Grid suggest that as many as 9 million EVs could be on the UK’s roads by 2030. By 2050, EV sales could account for more than 90 per cent of all cars. And even the most modest estimations of EV growth set out by Grid – in its “steady state” scenario – will demand infrastructure investment and innovation to support charging peaks.

Grid’s report warned: “This year’s analysis shows us EVs could drive large increases in peak demand if we continue to see the sharp uptake past the 2030s and if there is no management of when charging occurs.”

2) The UK government is all for them

The UK government has put a goal in place for EVs to make up 9 per cent of the country’s fleet by 2020 – a target which it says will be critical to achieve the required shift to a low-carbon economy.

On 10 July, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles jointly announced £20 million of funding to support the development of smart charging technologies, which will enable EVs to help balance the power grid. A competition has kicked off to allocate the grants, and the idea is to notify winners in December, allowing successful projects to start in early 2018.

Overall, the government has vowed to double financial support for energy innovation by 2021 and according to BEIS, £600 million is already being invested ultra-low emission vehicles.

At the end of July, the government made the shock announcement that it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars after 2040. This was a bold move, and a sure sign that the government wants to see the uptake of EVs (and ultra-low-emission vehicles) increase. Around 2.7 million new cars were registered in the UK in 2016. From 2040, all such vehicles will be required to qualify as zero emissions vehicles with EVs likely to be dominant.

3) They won’t require as big an increase in generation as alarmists claim

Former Npower boss Paul Massara dismissed dire warnings that the UK will require massive increases in electricity generation to cope with the phasing out of internal combustion vehicles.

Critics of the government’s plan had held up the findings of National Grid’s FES report which predicted that peak hour demand for electricity could increase by up to 50 per cent, requiring additional investment of £200 billion.

Massara – who is now chief executive of North Star Solar – claimed the government’s announcement of a ban on new petrol and diesel car and vans in favour of EVs led to “wild claims” of increased electricity demand. “Assertions that UK demand could increase by 50 per cent, and could cost £200 billion, have been bandied around in the media,” he said. “But this projection of increased demand is the most extreme forecast from the National Grid; in reality, demand is likely to go up by a much lower amount, perhaps as little as 10 per cent, particularly as the UK moves to a more smart, flexible power grid. Likewise, the £200 billion figure assumes using the most expensive technology to meet peak demand when many lower cost alternatives are available.”

4) They will reshape the future energy system

No matter how it is handled, the uptake of EVs will have a fundamental effect on the energy sector, and the government and Ofgem’s smart systems paper proved that policy-makers largely agree about how the energy system of the future looks – with heavy penetration of EVs, flexible local energy systems, demand responsive storage and much greater renewable generation.

Simon Skillings, a senior associate at energy thinktank E3G, told Utility Week: “There is a lot of consensus around what the world will look like. The interesting issue is how we get there.” Skillings doesn’t feel the paper goes far enough, and says it fails to fundamentally rethink the regulatory structures which will be needed to meet the scale of the EV revolution.

Baringa Partners’ Oliver Rix agreed: “The smart system paper is a helpful first step in recognising the needs around managing flexibility in the system but steps beyond are needed.”

He added that the longer-term strategy relies on a vision of decarbonising the power sector that is not there yet. “Everybody is hoping there will be a clear steer from the emissions reduction plan when it is published.”

5) The EV rollout will require a smart and flexible solution

The mass rollout of EVs will have a huge effect on the electricity system of the future. If the take-up of EVs is not properly managed, there is a danger that the grid could became overloaded and not able to cope with the shifting demand patterns.

Therefore, the industry must come up with a smart and flexible solution. One such resolution on the table is the rollout of systems which incentivise EV charging at certain times of day. Grid describes smart charging as “some kind of tariff-based system”, which can shift EV owners away from charging at peak times – whether through conscious action and behaviour change, or via automated services which manage charging on their behalf.

The Energy Networks Association told Utility Week that smart charging is a “significant enabler” to maximising the use of EVs, and accommodating the decarbonisation of the UK’s transport system. The group says it is “essential” that electricity networks have visibility of the location, availability and dynamic usage of charging infrastructure if EVs are to be supported without compromise to the reliability of energy supplies. It also called for new commercial standards to be developed to allow for safe, secure, and interoperable smart charging to be realised.