Exclusive: Taking an ‘outside the box’ approach to the EV revolution

Cordi O’Hara, President of National Grid Electricity Distribution, highlights the need to think outside the box when it comes to delivering the energy networks needed for the electric vehicle (EV) revolution.

If you ask the average person on the street what best represents the net zero transition, the electric car is likely to be one of the first things that will come to mind. As sales of EVs have increased and green edged number plates have become more prevalent on UK roads, EVs have become the most ubiquitous representations of the move towards a low carbon economy. As EV sales grow year on year, the EV transition is going to bring challenges and opportunities to energy networks not only within the UK, but across the globe. 

At National Grid we expect over 4 million EVs to be connected to our distribution network, which spans the Midlands, South West and South Wales, by 2050. Our RIIO-ED2 business plan, which sees over £6bn invested in our network between now and 2028, lays the foundations for this and will connect an additional one million EVs to our network over the next five years. That’s nearly 10 times the number connected today. Our transmission network’s Great Grid Upgrade is further future-proofing the grid in readiness to meet increasing electricity demand from transport.

Ensuring that communities and businesses on our network have access to an EV charger wherever and whenever they need it is a key outcome of our mission to ‘rewire’ the communities that we serve and support the drive to net zero.

To deliver this, it is vital that we, along with Britain’s other distribution and transmission networks, are directly engaged in the EV debate with manufacturers, installers, local authorities and others in this space. Whether it is by ensuring that private businesses have the capacity required to install rapid chargers in places of work, making sure that customers can install a charger in their own home or delivering the necessary energy supply to power EV manufacturing plants, we have to make sure that energy networks are enablers and not blockers of decarbonising transport. 

Part of our approach is to listen. We want to hear from EV manufacturers, business groups and local authorities about their plans and ambitions in relation to EV charging infrastructure so we can make sure that their needs are reflected in our forecasts and investment plans. Together, the relevant stakeholders in this space, need to come together and communicate their plans. It is only by sharing plans, ambitions and ideas that the net zero transport future will be realised. I am looking forward to continuing these important conversations, which are taking place, over the course of the upcoming Transport + Energy Forum

As an industry we need to think differently about routes to decarbonise road transport . It is clear that we are not going to get to net zero by working the same way we always have or by adopting the same old solutions. National Grid has always taken an ‘outside the box’ approach to EV charging. Whether it is our Electric Boulevard project in Milton Keynes back in 2014, demonstrating the UK’s first ever use of inductive charging infrastructure, or Electric Nation that broke down barriers around the understanding of vehicle-to-grid charging in homes, we have been innovators in terms of EV charging solutions. 

Most recently, the successful delivery of our Take Charge project has demonstrated that there is an altogether new way to facilitate the growth in rapid EV charging infrastructure that we need to see – it is a true game changer. The Take Charge solution can provide the equivalent electrical capacity of a small town in a plug and play module no larger than two shipping containers. It provides 12,000kW of capacity for up to 80 rapid EV chargers. 

The concept is proven. It is plugged in, working and currently powering thousands of EV customers as they travel through Moto’s Exeter services. Compared to traditional EV infrastructure its modular nature means it is quicker to deliver and can easily adapt to future needs. It also has a multitude of further uses, whether it’s to deliver capacity to motorway service stations, e-HGV charging facilities, city centre car parks or even airports and seaports and we’re now working with site owners, landlords and facilities management operators to understand how we can bring this technology to a wider market. 

Road transport is one of the quickest and most impactful ways people can engage with and deliver net zero. The pace of change is rapid, the demand for growth is high. We know electricity networks need to meet that challenge and I for one am committed to addressing it head on. 

Cordi O’Hara will be delivering an update on behalf of National Grid at this year’s Transport + Energy Forum, which takes place on 16 November at the Birmingham Conference & Events Centre. National Grid are the platinum sponsor of this year’s event.

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