The end of the “road to zero” feels like it just got a whole lot closer. This week’s news that MPs are urging government to bring forward a ban on sales of petrol and diesel-powered cars by eight years could see 2032 become the new turning point for the energy industry – not least the networks.

For suppliers, the uptake in electric vehicles (EVs) signals a welcome new revenue stream, particularly after the price cap. In fact, earlier this month at Utility Week Congress, Eon’s chief executive, Michael Lewis, called for the deadline to be brought forward to 2030.

But the move also accelerates the challenge for networks.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee has criticised government strategy on the decarbonisation of transport for being vague, notably saying it is being hampered by networks.

This was a point met with surprise by those Utility Week spoke to. On the contrary, networks – the facilitators of connection – have been working to assist the rollout of charging points across the UK.

Even if the ban date were brought forward, they say they would be ready, having so far been using a mix of existing accessible data and future scenarios to forecast demand.
But it is far from ideal, which is perhaps where the sector might agree in part with the committee’s calls for a more strategic approach.

Networks are currently navigating their way through a policy black hole. They obviously know the charge points already connected, yet new installations continue to spring up throughout the country. It is a market-led picture involving a host of companies, private homes, on-street and motorway locations, local authorities and building developments. Some are being connected retrospectively and ­connections are being requested regardless of size.

Meanwhile, networks have insufficient access to key data – such as car registrations and vehicle sizes, for example, which could help them gauge demand better.

There is no doubt investment will be needed in infrastructure to cope with the looming mass take-up. The RIIO2 period from 2023-28 will fall ahead of the 2032 target, so getting the design of this right will be key.

As one network source, asked about their position on EVs, put it: “Our position is we will be prepared. But we need more data and we need more clarity – that is critical.”

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