UK Power Networks won the 2018 Utility Week Environment Award for its work to improve London’s air quality by transforming public transport. Utility Week looks in detail at what it did.


We are in the midst of an electric transport revolution. There are almost two-and-a-half times more electric vehicles in the UK now than there were just two years ago. At a time when half of London’s air pollution is caused by road transport, and one in ten of the capital’s children suffers from asthma, UK Power Networks (UKPN) is working in partnership with the London Mayor, the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, and taxi, bus and fleet operators to support the electrification of transport and improve London’s air quality.

The Mayor of London’s commitment to improve London’s air quality has put the capital in the electric transport fast lane. Every new double-decker bus on London’s roads is ultra-low emission and within 20 years London’s entire bus fleet will be zero-emission; by summer 2019, London will have Europe’s largest electric bus fleet.

Transport for London (TFL) plans to deliver the greenest taxi fleet in the world, with all new black cabs already required to be zero-emission capable and all new minicabs set to follow suit by 2023. Meanwhile, the creation of the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone has the capital’s fleet operators actively swapping diesel for electric vans.

Such a transformation cannot be achieved without adequate electricity infrastructure. This is why UKPN is at the heart of enabling the capital’s electric revolution. The electric future has arrived in London and the electricity network company is having to find new, innovative, smart solutions, alongside traditional reinforcement and investment, to ensure London has a world-class transport system befitting a world-class city.

Costs and timescales

On an average day, ten million people travel to work in London. Ensuring London has the electrical infrastructure to enable the decarbonisation of the buses, cars and taxis that ten million people rely on, is the responsibility of UKPN’s 6,000 staff – 1,800 of which are based in the London area.

Working hand in glove with TFL, the Greater London Authority and the London boroughs, UKPN is developing and deploying world-leading smart solutions to enable the electric revolution at the lowest cost to its customers. Key elements of the project are:

• Electrification of Waterloo, Camberwell and Northumberland Park bus garages (£600,000), August 2016-March 2018;

• Installation of black cab rapid chargers;

• Black Cab Green (£175,000), August 2017-July 2018;

• UPS electric fleet (total project cost of £2.6 million), March 2017-February 2018.

To ensure UKPN understands and responds to the ambitions of its stakeholders, it manages a detailed contact programme and is a founder member of the Mayor of London’s EV Infrastructure Taskforce and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) EV Energy Taskforce. Both groups bring together key industry figures to remove the barriers to the electrification of transport.

Environmental benefits

1. Reducing fleet emissions

Vans contribute around 30 per cent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from road transport, and up to 16 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. UKPN worked with global logistics company UPS to turn its Central London depot into a testbed for leading-edge technology aimed at reducing the cost of charging freight electric vehicles, to help remove traditional vans from the road.

The company developed smart charging technology to enable UPS to increase its ­electric trucks from 63 to 170 – without upgrading its electricity connection.

The network company combined management of power flows with battery storage, in a move believed to be a world first to be deployed at this scale and deployed into “business as usual” without affecting UPS’s normal operations and business continuity.

2. Reducing bus emissions

Ultra-low emission buses reduce emissions of NOx by up to 95 per cent compared with the previous generation of buses.

UKPN connected Europe’s first electric-only bus garage in London’s Waterloo, and two more since. Waterloo’s conversion saved 700 tonnes of carbon dioxide in its first year.

The distribution network operator (DNO) offered timed connections, allowing electri­city to be drawn at non-peak hours. This pioneering arrangement helped it explore how to support more electric vehicles on London’s streets without the need for costly, time-­consuming network upgrades.

The company has been working closely with TFL to help realise its ambition to electrify the entire 9,000-strong bus fleet. It was originally estimated that this would need 800MW, but a UKPN team worked with TFL to reduce that to just 232MW, through intelligent use of existing infrastructure.

3. Reducing taxi emissions

Taxis are responsible for 16 per cent of NOx road transport emissions in central London.

Black Cab Green is a landmark study with TFL and taxi drivers’ union the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association. By studying the ­driving behaviours of all London’s 60,000 black cab and minicab drivers, the company found the cost of upgrading the network to enable them all to drive EVs could be reduced by up to 70 per cent through optimised smart charging.

The DNO helped TFL deliver the first of 75 public rapid chargers in 2017 and is on ­target to hit its goal of 300 public rapid chargers by 2020.

4. Innovating to create an EV ready grid

Active Response is UKPN’s unique new trial to test how network operators can proactively move spare capacity to support areas that are using more electricity at specific times. It provides extra capacity in residential areas in the evenings and at weekends when people are charging their electric cars, and then moves that spare capacity to where it’s needed during the day – such as city centres, commercial hubs or electric fleet charge points.

This flagship project could save customers more than £270 million and cut more than 450,000 tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030.

Beyond business as usual

EVolution – UKPN’s electric vehicle strategy – supports its vision to be the “most innovative DNO” and to provide the most reliable network at the lowest cost. EVolution uses industry-leading forecasting to predict where EVs are coming onto the network and where UKPN needs to target investment and deploy smart technology so it can deliver the infrastructure at the lowest possible cost to customers.

What the judges said…

Judges praised the winner for the level of its ambition.

Winner’s comments

“The electric future has arrived in London and we are finding new, innovative, smart solutions to ensure the city has a transport system befitting a world-class city.

“This award was special to receive, as it recognises our role at the heart of enabling the capital’s electric revolution, by enabling electric buses, taxis and delivery vans to be used across London.”

Adriana Laguna, senior Innovation Strategy manager, UK Power Networks

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