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Insight | UK sleepwalking towards 'electric car crisis'

Toyota plug-in hybrid

The UK needs to change its approach to the roll out of charging infrastructure to avoid an electric car crisis. 

Electric cars are expected to replace diesel and petrol vehicles, which will be banned from 2040 onwards. A total of 100,000 charging points will be necessary by 2020, one report suggests, to keep up with the demand.

Ramboll building services director Adam Selvey told New Civil Engineer that constructing the necessary infrastructure should be based on how long a person is expected to stay at any one location. 

In other words, high-wattage chargers are needed at short-stay places such as motorway service stations and supermakets. While lower-wattage chargers can be installed at home and work places.

“I don’t think the UK has necessarily got its head round what it needs to do. At the moment when you look at charging infrastructure, it’s just been thrown in,” Selvey said.

“Basically, people will say they want a connection of a certain size but people aren’t understanding the size that they need.”

If everyone has the highest watt charging point possible then it could place an excessive load on the power grid. Selvey estimated it would require an extra eight gigawatts of power generating capacity by 2030. 

“We will need really big infrastructure for motorway service stations, but we shouldn’t be putting big infrastructure in buildings. At the moment everyone is assuming that big is beautiful,” he said.

“All that’s doing is encouraging people to hit the peak charge at the same time that you want to charge.

“If we do not act to charge our vehicles at the most appropriate time we will need something like eight gigawatts of extra generating capacity. That is something like 2.6 Hinkley Point Cs by 2030. No one is going to build eight gigawatts of extra generating capacity in the next ten years.”

Engineers should also avoid spending large amounts of money on constructing electric car infrastructure in homes and at work, as the requirements could change with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, he warned.

“If we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve got more autonomous vehicles, and we’ve got all this charging infrastructure, we could find that it’s obsolete by 2040, because it’s not in the right place.

“Let’s say AV does take off, they’ll take off and charge themselves. The infrastructure will look completely different to what it does now.”

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