The British government must invest billions in its power infrastructure in order to meet the challenges of developing a cleaner grid.

Reuters reports that facilitating the proliferation of electric vehicles expected in the coming decades is challenge enough, and there is also the issue of replacing a large extent of old nuclear and coal-fired power plants set for closure, in order to cope with new demand.
Pylon from below
In July, the government said it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 so as to reduce air pollution, cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 from 1990 levels.

This means the number of electric vehicles is predicted to increase to 20 million by 2040 from its present number of 90,000, meaning expensive implications for power grid development.

Estimates vary on future numbers of electric vehicles, as well as hybrids and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells which do not require mains electricity. However, analysts surveyed by Reuters said up to an extra 50 terrawatt hours (TWh) would be needed for them by 2040.

Overall demand could increase by 41-49 TWh, or 13-15 percent of current levels. A 15 per cent rise would translate into a 40 per cent jump in peak demand if drivers charged their cars between 6 and 9 pm, when electricity consumption is at its highest.

This problem can be eased by encouraging charging at night, when demand is currently only about a third of during peak periods.

Its “extreme scenario” projection of a 40 per cent rise in peak demand equates to 24 GW But National Grid, which operates the transmission system, has said the rise in peak demand can be kept to 5 GW if there is smart charging and time-of-use electricity tariffs.

Spreading out charging through the night could save £2.2bn of expenditure in replacing or upgrading cables or transformers.

Adding to the complexity, and expense, it is estimated that 43 percent of households have no off-street parking, meaning drivers could not recharge their cars overnight in their garage or driveway as they slept in their homes.

An alternative is more public power points at supermarkets, allowing cars to be charged while their owners shop inside. However, few drivers would probably want to buy groceries in the dead of night, the best time for easing grid loads.

Even if the grid can bear the burden, increasing charging points from the current 13,000 is set to greatly add to the expense of the transformation required.

“The UK by 2040 needs 1-2.5 million new charging points. An average public charging point costs 25-30,000 euros so it would need to invest 33-87 billion euros from now until 2040,” according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie.

In terms of ensuring there is enough power capacity to meet the demand, the government will need to invest further. The government has projected that almost 140 GW of generation capacity is needed by 2035 to replace ageing plants and as electricity demand increases. This is around 30 GW higher than current levels.

At the end of last year, gas-fired power capacity totalled 32 GW and the government has said more such plants could help fill the gap left by coal. However, weak wholesale power prices have stunted new development.

Another risk is that by using this fossil fuel to meet extra power demand, Britain could end up emitting more greenhouse gases in charging EVs than conventional cars do already.

As well as gas Reuters reports that onshore and offshore wind, biomass, nuclear and power links with Europe can all be part of the solution.