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Bringing networks together

Author: Network magazine, in association with Costain

We are moving into a rapid expansion in the uptake of decarbonised transport, with car manufacturers and governments across the world placing an emphasis on developing the required technology and associated energy and transportation infrastructure. This partnership study brought to you by Network, in association with Costain, is designed to examine the changing energy demands to enable future transportation.

Bringing networks together

The decarbonisation of transport brings together two industry juggernauts. The energy and transportation sectors have historically had a clear but distant link, yet they’ve had to come together in a short timeframe where customer buying patterns are at the centre and critical to success.

Aligning the energy and transport networks so that they can successfully accommodate the 36 million electric vehicles (EVs) expected on UK roads by 2040 is a challenging task, but one that is being embraced by the network operators.

The Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the voice of the energy networks, representing the electricity and gas transmission and distribution network operators in the UK and Ireland.

“Dealing with EVs on a reactive basis will be inefficient and result in an increased cost to the customer in network reinforcement in order to maintain security of electricity supply,” warns Randolph Brazier, the ENA’s head of innovation and development. “A proactive approach to improve the efficiency of network investment is key.”

In order to achieve this, Brazier says energy networks require clarity in policy; increased access to data to improve planning; and clear routes to funding and cost recovery.

Electric vehicles represent exciting opportunities for the UK to address the decarbonisation of the transportation sector and offer a new economic opportunity.

Last year the government set out proposals to install electric vehicle charging points in new homes, business parks and lamp posts as part of its Road to Zero Strategy.

It also confirmed its ambition to see at least half of new cars to be ultra-low emission by 2030.

Cameron Tonkin, Costain’s power sector director, said: “The June 2018 progress report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) found that, in 2017, transport was the largest single greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting sector in the UK, accounting for 28 per cent of total emissions. The three most significant sources of emissions were cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), accounting for 87 per cent of the sector’s emissions. Decarbonisation relies on the move away from conventional engines to electric transport.”

But there are barriers that need to be overcome in order to enable the rollout of electric vehicles and other forms of decarbonised transport.

Graeme Cooper, National Grid’s electric vehicles project director, believes the biggest barrier to enabling a consumer rollout of EVs is overcoming the perception of range and time taken to charge.

“Consumers will only switch to an EV if they are confident that it will present minimal disruption to their daily lives,” he says. “Existing charging infrastructure is limited in number, location and appropriate speed. We believe that for the UK to achieve large scale uptake of electric vehicles there is a need to ensure a widespread network of appropriate charging points, which are easily accessible, and can charge a vehicle at a speed appropriate to the time spent at a given location.”

We believe that for the UK to achieve large scale uptake of electric vehicles there is a need to ensure a widespread network of appropriate charging points, which are easily accessible, and can charge a vehicle at a speed appropriate to the time spent at a given location.

Graeme Cooper, electric vehicles project director at National Grid

Achieving uptake
The Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce has been formed at the request of government to make suggestions to government and industry to ensure that the UK’s energy system is ready for and able to facilitate and exploit the mass take up of electric vehicles.

Both Brazier and Cooper have their own ideas around how this can be achieved.

“A new model of running local electricity grids is needed, so local network operators become distribution system operators (DSOs) that have options available to them beyond building new pylons, substations and other infrastructure,” notes Brazier. “These changes will lay the foundations for Britain’s smart grid, moving local electricity grids from being distributors of electricity to being a platform that new technologies and services can connect to.”

First announced within Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget in November 2017, the Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund (CIIF) is designed to stimulate the deployment of EV charging infrastructure up and down the UK.

Cooper points to the type of infrastructure required to enable the mass take-up of EVs: “As set out in the National Infrastructure Assessment, an ultra-rapid charging network (120-350KW) would be the most convenient and cost-efficient solution to overcoming many consumer concerns. Spanning the strategic road network, city forecourts and fleet hubs, ultra-rapid chargers would provide drivers with the ability to make out of pattern and long-distance journeys and charge their vehicle in less than 10 minutes.”

Over the last year National Grid have studied the power capacity of motorway service areas (MSAs), across the strategic road network, the journeys EV drivers are likely to take, and how close they would need to be to an ultra-rapid charger to overcome consumer range anxiety.

Adds Cooper: “We have also assessed the electricity network infrastructure required to support enough ultra-rapid charge points to provide confidence to EV drivers and avoid queues at peak times. It is evident that under any likely scenario of EV uptake, due to existing power constraints, most MSAs will require a reinforced power connection before 2030 to allow for the additional numbers of charge points required to meet consumer charging demand.” 
 
National Grid have identified an initial 54 ultra-rapid EV charging sites along the strategic road network, where an upgraded electricity network connection would allow 99 per cent of EV drivers in England and Wales to be within 50 miles (in any direction) of an ultra-rapid charging hub.

“This would provide drivers with the ability to charge their vehicle in the time it takes to buy a cup of coffee,” comments Cooper.

Tonkin acknowledges that there are challenges around implementing charging infrastructure and delivering this against a changing regulatory backdrop.

Costain is playing a central role in the future of transport through our connected autonomous vehicle trials working in collaboration with Highways England, the Department for Transport, Transport for London (TfL) and Kent County Council to design, install and implement one of the UK’s first pilot connected vehicle corridors on a live road.

He said: “The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 is designed to ensure charge points meet certain smart functionality requirements. However, EVs place demand on the balancing of the network including its agility. Therefore, a barrier to uptake is certainty to ensure power demand and supply can be accommodated into regional and local networks.

“Ofgem is working with network companies to design the RIIO2 regulatory framework that needs to consider the impact of the uptake of electric vehicles and the needs case for strategic investment. It will continue to be important for DNO networks to engage closely with local authorities and EV charge installers for reviewing connection needs. Further, it will be important that Ofgem have in place the regulatory framework for investment stimulus.”

The ENA supports a whole energy system approach to decarbonisation, which very much includes other forms of low carbon transport, such as biogas and hydrogen, as solutions to decarbonising transportation as a whole.

Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at ENA

Low carbon transport
With a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040, all three acknowledge that there is also a role for other forms of decarbonised transport such as hydrogen powered vehicles.

Brazier adds: “The ENA supports a whole energy system approach to decarbonisation, which very much includes other forms of low carbon transport, such as biogas and hydrogen, as solutions to decarbonising transportation as a whole. There is especially a strong case for these alternative forms of low carbon transportation in heavy vehicles, freight and the marine/aviation sectors.”

Comments Tonkin: “Hydrogen powered vehicles have not been part of the hype that currently surrounds EVs. However, hydrogen has significant potential for heavy goods transport, rail and shipping particularly given that hydrogen can power an engine using an adjusted internal combustion engine or through a fuel cell.

“We need targets for deployment of ultra-low emission commercial vehicles, and a support package for businesses to encourage uptake amongst hub-based operations. This should also support the development of low carbon solutions for heavy, long-distance vehicles such as conversion to hydrogen fuel.”
“National Grid is technology agnostic and so we look to accommodate any technology,” remarked Cooper. “So, hydrogen will likely play an important role for larger fleet vehicles as they look to decarbonise. Electric batteries will be too large and heavy to make it economical in the short-term. We could also see rail use hydrogen too.

“We suspect that consumer behavior will likely change and could overtake the 2040 ban, we see this already in more advanced EV markets such as Norway. Whole system thinking is helpful, but we mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. National Grid is already bringing energy, transport and digital sectors together to explore the decarbonisation of transport.” 

Ultimately, a cross sector approach will be needed in order to make the necessary changes required to meet the demands of future transportation. But what does this mean in practice?

“Both sectors have travelled through history not really interfering with each other,” notes Cooper. “As we make the transition to electric vehicles we have to collaborate because you cannot have one without the other. We need to look out for unintended consequences and opportunities to make each other’s product better. Charging when energy is cheaper helps car owners, smart charging smooths out pressure on the grid infrastructure and charging when wind is strong or when the sun is shining helps the planet.

“We need to ensure that decisions are not made in silos, which then deliver detrimental impact to other sectors i.e. energy regulator decides not to fund infrastructure, which impacts on transport, health and climate ambitions/targets. Cross industry regulators need to work together with government and industry to decide, develop solutions and agree on ‘who pays’ for the much needed EV infrastructure.”

Brazier adds: “Electricity, gas and transportation are inextricably linked, and hence the solution to decarbonising all three sectors must be to look at the energy system as a whole, to find the most optimal solutions, rather than investigating them in silos.”

With the market for electric vehicles in the UK continuing to grow, the last word goes to Tonkin: “It requires a collective effort to proactively engage local authorities, motorist organisations, regulators, charge point providers and distribution network operators to determine the horizon needs, challenges and risks for identifying agreeable solutions.

“Costain continues to work with energy network utilities providing support for development of business plans for the next regulatory period. In addition, Costain adds value to both the energy and transportation networks; improving the performance of existing infrastructure to allow it to run more safely, reliably and efficiently. Our cross-sector expertise means we can effectively advise in relation to both energy and transportation networks, and we utilise our deep knowledge in each sectors to provide an overarching view of how they might come together”

Our cross-sector expertise means we can effectively advise in relation to both energy and transportation networks, and we utilise our deep knowledge in each sectors to provide an overarching view of how they might come together

Cameron Tonkin, power sector director at Costain

Dr Oliver Teall, head of intelligent mobility at Costain, discusses some of the challenges involved in bringing together the energy and transport sectors.

What barriers need to be overcome in order to enable the rollout of electric vehicles? One of the big barriers is around the manufacturing capability for batteries, particularly within Europe, and in keeping up with demand given the recent announcements around ultra-low emission zones and the push towards the decarbonisation of transport. There are also challenges around energy demand and how local systems may cope with an increase in energy consumption related to electric vehicles (EVs)s.
How should the electricity and transport sectors work together to help achieve this? We know that we need more charging points for EVs, which brings about a transport infrastructure challenge in knowing where to put them and what type to install. What this looks like in reality changes based on how people are going to use their EVs. Are they going to charge more at home or are they going to be charging in car parks in transport hubs? Layered on top of that is the actual energy supply network and the ability to draw on an appropriate power source. Resolving these challenges requires both sectors to collaborate and communicate.
How does the connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) sector play into the EV revolution? In the future you’re likely to see a lot more connected electric vehicles. Through this connectivity, you can gather data on how these vehicles are being used and use them to inform decisions around where EV charging infrastructure is needed and how to optimise energy supply. Autonomous vehicles are expected to open new business models around shared usage and ride hailing, which could change how and where EVs are used and charged.
What role is there for other forms of decarbonised transport? I think a mix of technologies and fuels will continue be used in the future. For light private vehicles, battery EVs seem to be winning as the prevalent form of alternative fuel to petrol and diesel. With larger vehicles such as trains, buses and HGVs you then run into the challenge of size and weight of battery needed. That’s where fuels like hydrogen, which has a higher energy density, could play a valuable part. 
If there’s one thing that could be done to progress things in this area, what should it be? I think taking a systems-engineering approach to what is a very complex problem would be valuable. One of the challenges currently is that many organisations and people are working in silos. Taking a systems-of-systems approach and mapping out an overall architecture to figure out what needs to be done to progress this is something that would be very beneficial to the conversation. 
What is Costain’s role in developing solutions and working with the industry? Costain is a smart infrastructure solutions company working across energy, transportation and water. We are a technology integrator, open to working with our collaborative partners, suppliers and clients in this area. Our aim is to integrate and deliver solutions to get to the best outcome for the UK and improve people’s lives.

This article first appeared in Network Magazine as part of a wider ‘bringing networks together’ study. Download your copy here.