Charging forward

Ian Cameron, Director of Customer Services and Innovation at UK Power Networks, discusses the company’s new EV strategy and how to make electric vehicle connections business as usual.

We will see millions more electric vehicles on UK roads by the turn of the decade. Every one of them represents a single customer who made the unique decision to switch to an EV. 

Diana’s challenges to EV adoption in rural Kent differ significantly to Kyron’s in suburban Clapham. Diana’s questions around rural restoration times are no less valid than Kyron’s on available on-street charging availability. The reasons why someone chooses to go electric differ with every individual situation, and it is these customers who are at the heart of UK Power Networks’ new electric vehicle strategy.

At UK Power Networks, the electricity grid operator for London, the East and the South East of England, we want to make the transition to electric vehicles as smooth as possible for everyone. Simply put, this means connecting as many charge points as they require, as quickly and cheaply as possible, whilst maintaining the smart, robust network they need to go about their every-day lives.

Whilst this may seem simple, the ever-evolving jigsaw of low carbon technologies, and their effect on the existing energy infrastructure present a complex challenge to navigate. Helping those puzzle pieces fall into place requires a clear approach to help turn grand ideas into reality.

Our first two EV strategies have helped us connect 400k EVs so far, it is now time to make connecting EVs a BAU offering that can scale to any customer need. This is where this third evolution of our strategy comes in. Through innovation and collaboration, our new strategy looks to take advantage of the sector’s exciting developments with smart charging, flexibility services and vehicle to grid technology. We want to harness and work together with as many likeminded people as possible to find the best solutions to the new challenges that EVs bring. With over five million EVs predicted to be in our network area by 2030, so there is no time to waste in facilitating the infrastructure needed to support these vehicles.

Advanced data science will help paint a clearer picture for the future of electric vehicle charging. We’re working alongside vehicle manufactures to map the uptake of EVs nationally and determine the most efficient places to install smart charging units. Our industry-leading Open Data Portal is also constantly growing, allowing us to enhance network visibility faster and cheaper, facilitate the EV revolution and forecast the ever-increasing uptake of domestic purchases.

Acting on the findings from this forecasting must be done at least cost to our customers. Which is why we’re investing in non-traditional methods of finding electricity capacity through flexibility procurement, alongside other innovative technology solutions. We’re contracting flexibility providers to help balance the load across our network, with an estimated £410 million to be saved by our independent Distribution System Operator due to saved infrastructure upgrades.

We’re also collaborating with industry to explore the possibilities of vehicle to building technology. We imagine a future where buildings can be supported by fleets of electric vehicles, working alongside other low carbon technologies such as solar generation and battery storage to reduce demand during peak electricity hours. It’s exciting new tech and could demonstrate the immense benefits of low carbon technologies working in unison across the network.

Ensuring everyone has an opportunity to access charging infrastructure is key to enabling the net zero transition, and that means making sure no one is left behind along the way. We’re making sure the needs of our disadvantaged customers are met and encouraging charging infrastructure to be put in places that are affordable and accessible to all. We’ll continue to work alongside those customers, as well as stakeholder groups such as local authorities, to best understand their needs.

As customers continue to adjust to this new decarbonised reality, the way they interact with us will evolve. Moving away from a world where the electricity network was stable and mostly invisible infrastructure, we are now growing rapidly and at the forefront of technological and digital innovation. Electric vehicles, heat pumps, wind and solar generation, the shift towards visible infrastructure and low carbon solutions puts more emphasis on the role of the customer. Our new EV strategy sets out how we propose to make sure that customers get the most out of this shift, by putting them and their EV journeys as the centre of our plans. 

We want everyone to get involved, and to start a conversation to enable real progress. Working together, we can deliver the infrastructure and services needed to facilitate an affordable, fair and innovative transition to EVs. 

You can read our full strategy here

Image courtesy of UK Power Networks/Nigel Bowles.

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