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Gearing up for an electric vehicle future in greener smart cities

The Rolton Group’s Chris Evans looks at the infrastructure requirements for integrating electric vehicles into our cities.


People in the UK are 64-times as likely to die from the effects of air pollution as those in Sweden and twice as likely as those in the US, according to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) based on 2017 data.

Little wonder then that the UK government has made cutting emissions in cities a priority, working faster than any other G7 nation to do so and fast-tracking public uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) with tighter deadlines.

Despite the push, the government has admitted that the UK will fall short of its ambitions – to make three-fifths of new cars electric by 2030 to meet greenhouse gas targets – unless ministers do more to turn pledges into reality, putting smart charging points on the map as we evolve our smart city infrastructure.

The race is on

The electric revolution has been on the government’s agenda for some time – the British plug-in fleet has grown to become the fourth largest in Europe (a positive trend that shows no sign of slowing) and the ban on sales of new, solely petrol and diesel cars by 2040, means the clock is now ticking for transport and energy ministers to ensure our cities are EV-ready.


Responses from the UK engineering and construction industries indicate that 2040 is a realistic and welcome timeframe to cement this infrastructure in cityscapes, particularly as climate change continues to rise up the international political agenda.


It is now predicted that EVs will saturate the passenger vehicle market and will account for 69 per cent of all vehicles in the UK by 2050.


This forecast mirrors the global outlook provided by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which predicts that worldwide, EV sales will reach 41 million by 2040, representing 35 per cent of all new, light-duty vehicle sales. The race is on to implement an infrastructure that fully supports EV adoption – one that will ease the pollution epidemic in cities.




A growing number of countries have established targets for EV sales, driven in part by international environmental aims and, in the UK, this has been further enhanced by the issuing of various reports and papers including the Clean Air Strategy, The Road to Zero and the National Infrastructure Assessment 2018. These will hopefully lead to legislation beyond those laid out within the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018.


However, some countries are setting more aggressive targets. Norway for example has instigated the ambitious goal of selling only zero-emission cars from 2025. Similarly, the Chinese government’s war on pollution includes a target of 20 per cent EV car sales by 2025.


EV Battery Tech and ICE Commercial Parity vs EV Uptake Projections -
EV Battery Tech and ICE Commercial Parity vs EV Uptake Projections -

As EVs become cheaper than their petrol and diesel equivalents and more readily available, it’s even predicted that the whole-life-cost of EV ownership – including charging and maintenance – could fall below conventional car ownership in Europe this year. At Rolton Group, however, we predict this change happening in 2020 [as shown in the graph above].


The whole-life-cost of EV ownership – including charging and maintenance – could fall below conventional car ownership in Europe by 2020, or sooner.


Although, in theory, the UK grid has the capacity to meet the predicted demands, increased EV uptake in certain areas - combined with a lack of investment in infrastructure - has the potential to create significant local challenges, including a greater likelihood of brownouts.


So, what are the key considerations and potential solutions for our cities to ensure we avoid this pitfall?


Future-proofing smart cities


EV and autonomous vehicles (AVs) - in time - will have significant influence over the infrastructure and layout of the cityscape as we know it.


In July it was announced that the UK is to seek to mandate charging points for EVs in new homes, offices and residential streets in an attempt to spur public adoption of zero-emission vehicles. So, as we fire ahead with plans to implement EV charging points within the wider smart city infrastructure, developers will need to consider their placement in both new-build and regeneration projects.


Leaders of these projects should provide EV infrastructure to ensure they are future-proofed. Otherwise, they may find they need to retrospectively upgrade systems to suit the EV revolution, which will not come cheaply.


With respect to AVs, one example of city evolution will be the changing landscape and demands of car parks and parking provision.


With respect to AVs, one example of city evolution will be the changing landscape and demands of car parks and parking provision. When AVs become common-place, the way we store cars in both the short and long term is unlikely to remain the same. Given the huge reduction of on-site car parking requirements thanks to the vastly reduced number of vehicles, the demand for power will also differ due to extended travel times associated with shared vehicles.


In terms of the cityscape infrastructure as a whole, we will need to reconsider its overarching design to make optimum use of space in central locations, including allowing for designated AV drop-off zones and the need for buildings to be flexible in their parking requirements.


This could enable any parking areas to be re-purposed efficiently in the future. As we see this reality unfold, we will certainly begin to question the economic viability of providing below grade car parking in current developments.


The National Infrastructure Assessment 2018 also highlights several recommendations for UK infrastructure that relate to EV and AVs integration in cities and across the UK. Its findings can be broken down into five key considerations:

  1. Developers need to prepare to offer a stable 5G infrastructure

The challenges of bringing a 5G infrastructure, which will enable AVs in rural areas, needs to be understood. Otherwise we could end up with limited 5G distribution that only covers AVs whilst they are in cities and on major designated highways – a very different scenario to the AV (almost) everywhere landscape thought ideal.


  1. Smart charging and appropriate EV electrical infrastructure is required

It has been decided (to limit impact on the grid) that most EV charging should be carried out slow and smart at home or work. To address range anxiety - which is one of the main reasons consumers are dissuaded from making the transition to an EV - a network of rapid chargers across the UK should be implemented.


It is predicted that such a network would need to be in place by 2022 to meet the anticipated EV demand. The cost of delivering a rapid charging network like this has been quoted at around £10million. This seems a small price to pay for the removal of range anxiety to aid EV take up, and exceptionally good value when compared to the cost of HS2 at £9.3billion.


  1. Adapting a global view to apply best lessons learnt

Ofgem and the new sub-section of the Deptartment for Transport will need to regulate and legislate the infrastructure improvements for EVs. To achieve this effectively, their research into the future demands will be imperative and they should not just rely on UK leaders in the field but also consider European countries’ policies to encompass best practices and understand the valuable lessons learnt from other nations. It would also be appropriate to consider the impact of the provision of electric heating demands, because as and when the grid continues to decarbonise, this will become a viable alternative to gas heating and is likely to be increasingly rolled out.


  1. We will require a holistic approach to charging and it’s costing in order to compensate for the deficit created by lost fuel taxes

Over time the government is predicted to lose tax revenue due to the increase of EVs on the road. We estimate this to be approximately £3.5 billion by 2030. This will require the increase of taxation, possibly by putting a ’charge per mile’ on vehicles. Muted before, this solution is a lot more palatable than the alternative of a ’tax on electricity’, which would have a negative impact to those that are already fuel poor, and who often rely on electricity for heating and hot water generation.


  1. Legislation is key in terms of EV infrastructure integration

The Greater London Authority has already put its 20 active and 20% passive charging provision strategy into motion, and this will likely have a knock-on effect for other local authorities in the near future, creating a domino effect as the UK’s largest smart city paves the way for the EV evolution.


However, this needs to be validated to ensure the new smart charging requirements infrastructure is not overestimating the actual demands. We have already seen for example in Ofgems two degrees scenario that a smart charging infrastructure will limit the peak grid demand increase by 2040 to 8MW across the UK, compared to the initial estimate of 20 MW – and with V2G this increase could stabilise or even reduce.


A matter of urgency


If we as a nation are to limit pollution and usher in EVs and AVs, we must prioritise and target the above key considerations as a matter of urgency so that we are able to support global and UK visions for an EV smart city or country of the future.

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