National Grid did not set out to produce a comprehensive policy document about solving the challenges of going electric. Instead, it offered a welcome start to a national conversation about how to ensure consumers and politicians are making the necessary preparations. The overall message is that the power grid will need upgrading and planning must begin at a national and local level to ensure electric cars can be charged in a safe and reliable manner. Although upgrades to the UK’s power infrastructure seem inevitable, the motor industry is already examining some interim innovative solutions. Smart chargers, for example, may be one way to tackle the kettle conundrum. These devices can ta ke the decision of when to charge out of drivers’ hands and power up when the local power network has the capacity to do so (usually overnight). This may prove inconvenient but would avoid outages. Access to power points is another challenge. National Grid says 43 per cent of British homes do not have access to off-street parking, raising the question of how to charge vehicles on street bays. Charging points on lamp posts might be one solution to ensure electric vehicles are an option for all residents. Decisions must be made on how these points will be installed if we are to avoid the risk that electric cars will be adopted purely by wealthier owners of detached properties. There is also no coherent universal charging system for all electric vehicles at present. The charging plugs for a Tesla Model X, for example, are not interchangeable with a Nissan Leaf. An industry-wide agreement is needed on a system that works with all models. Otherwise, motorists might find themselves driving around endlessly to find a charger that fits their particular model. It would be akin to petrol pumps having different nozzles. The mass arrival of electric vehicles raises broader economic questions. As Dermot Nolan, chief executive of Ofgem, says, there is no clear answer about who will invest in the power infrastructure for electric vehicles. Nor is it clear how the Treasury will replace the lost revenue from fuel tax for cars without fuel. Moving the tax burden to the distance travelled in the form of road tax could be the simplest solution. There is plenty of time to plan for the 2040 target. But the shift towards electric is already under way and adoption may rapidly accelerate. So the government must begin preparations to ensure the process moves as smoothly as possible. Electric cars need not take the steam out of kettles.
FT 1st Sept 2017 read more »