Infrastructure challenge for an all-battery future
The government’s announcement that all sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans would be banned from 2040 wasn’t entirely unexpected, but buried within the detail was the implication that hybrid vehicles would also be off the menu. That leaves us with only electric vehicles to get us from A to B. The announcement brings the UK in line with European colleagues who’ve made similar commitments, but I wonder if it’s been properly thought through. My beef is not with the vehicles themselves; there are some fine cars out there already, and I have no doubt that over the next 23 years the technology will continue to evolve and improve. No, the real issue is going to be one of infrastructure.
As an aside, it was interesting to note that only cars and vans are included in the announcement. One might have thought that it would have started with the heavy goods vehicles on our roads, surely the biggest polluters. One of the issues here is current battery technology: for one of today’s 37 tonne payload lorries, a battery to drive it would weigh in the realm of 25 tonnes, leaving just a 12 tonne goods capacity, according to Professor Neville Jackson, chief technology and innovation officer at Ricardo. Does that mean that we’d have to see three times the number of lorries on our roads to carry the same tonnage of goods?
Commenting on the rationale for taking petrol and diesel vehicles off our roads, Professor Jackson said: “Real world emissions have come down, but not a lot. Reforms in emissions regulations will require drive cycle test results and real world results to be similar, which will be a challenge, and the requirements will become more stringent. The cost of meeting those requirements will be significant, adding between €500 and €1,000 to the OEMs’ production costs.” He added that this would quickly make diesel options non-viable for small cars. So no surprise, then, that the likes of Volvo have already announced a ceasing in production of cars powered only by an internal combustion engine.
One might have thought that such moves would drive the market for hybrid vehicles, but the government’s announcement that it will be a battery-only future has really thrown the cat among the pigeons, with Professor Jackson citing cost estimates of £30bn and above to develop a national EV charging infrastructure. He also highlighted a lack of capacity in the national grid to support this charging infrastructure, perhaps exacerbated by news that construction of the Hinckley Point nuclear power station could be delayed by almost two years. Experts have estimated that we’ll need a further ten Hinckley Points to meet the increased demands for electricity that a battery-only future will bring.
The issue is worse for home charging, where consumers increasingly want heavy duty, fast charge installations for the modern higher power batteries. “The average urban street currently only has the capacity for four households to have these chargers,” said Professor Jackson. “The fifth user who requests an installation will be asked to cover the cost of a £50,000 supply upgrade. That’s policy.”
2040 might seem a long way off, and we can surely expect massive developments in technology. But in infrastructure terms, those 23 years are going to vanish in a heartbeat.
Mark Simms Editor