Charging your car may mean candlelit dinners…

Charge your car and eat your dinner by candlelight, the shift in the shape of electricity demand over the next two decades may mean the simple act of flicking the switch will demand some serious decision-making. Tim Yeo, Chairman of NNWE, asks government what it is going to do to ensure the public don’t have to go without.

Across Europe governments are putting plans in place to phase out petrol and diesel cars, the race is on to see who can do it soonest. The UK is looking to ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, Norway wants to do it by 2025.

But it’s not just governments that are vying for pole position, car manufacturers not surprisingly are on the race circuit with carmakers Volvo and, more recently, Jaguar Land Rover turning their backs on vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine. In as little as two years, all new models manufactured by Volvo will be all-electric or hybrids; Jaguar Land Rover pledges to follow a year later. 

It is all shaping up for a big shift in the uptake of electric vehicle (EV) ownership. Since 2010, the ownership of EVs globally has increased from virtually zero to over two million – in 2016 alone there was a 60 per cent increase on the previous year. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that by 2020 the figure will be between nine and 20 million.

In the UK, one of the scenarios in National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios report has EV ownership at one million by the early 2020s and nine million by 2030. By 2050, National Grid forecasts that peak demand for electricity will increase by 30GW due to the rise of EVs – amounting to an additional annual demand of around 90TWh.

And the Grand Prix, in its literal translation, will be considerable cuts in pollution and much improved air quality. But that’s not all, gearing up for EVs will create a boon for infrastructure investment, and not just charging points. This whole revolution relies on there being sufficient electricity generating capacity to meet a sizeable new demand. Even with developments in battery and storage technology, the uptake of EVs will drive a huge surge in electricity demand at peak times.

The shape of electricity demand will change considerably compared to today’s pattern. Imagine returning home from work on a winter’s evening and having to decide whether to charge the car for the next journey or light the house and watch your favourite soap. The notion of candlelit dinners on most weekday nights will soon wear off even for the romantics.

The decision to phase out petrol and diesel cars is a bold one, and one that should be welcomed, but it must be matched by an equally bold and progressive timeline for new nuclear build. The need for reliable baseload power generation to meet this extra load is undeniable. The capacity of intermittent generation technologies, such as wind, could be as high as 50GW by 2050, but if the wind isn’t blowing some cars won’t get charged.

Government needs to act now to pave the way for large capital investment. It all points to new nuclear as the silver bullet – an affordable, secure and low carbon baseload power source. Quite simply, it ticks all the boxes.

National Grid’s figure of 30GW equates to 10 additional nuclear plants the size of Hinkley Point C, which itself is yet to be built. It is time for government to commit to nuclear new build and in doing so they must look beyond Europe to overseas vendors from countries such as China, Russia and South Korea. These countries have developed nuclear technologies that can generate electricity far more cheaply than Hinkley Point C at prices that are below the true cost of even the latest offshore wind proposals.

Build times for new nuclear plants are lengthy, and therefore a forward programme must be in place by 2020 so that companies have the time to complete the comprehensive Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, and then build the plant – which in the case of Hinkley Point C is due to take nine years. 

Only with this roadmap in place will the UK be ready to meet the surge in demand which will come online in the next two decades. What is government going to do?