National Grid: Mass EV adoption key for UK net zero goal

Immediate action, including a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles, is needed for Britain to achieve the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to a new report from the operator of the country’s electricity system.

It estimates that up to 11 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be needed on the roads by 2030.

The National Grid Electric System Operator has produced a new Future Energy Scenarios report to highlight the changes needed, including government legislation, industrial action and consumer behaviour, to achieve the ambitious target. 

Produced with input from 600 experts, the report looks at the future of the electricity and gas industries in Britain, setting out four possible scenarios showcasing that showcase the differing speeds at which the transformation could occur with varying levels of consumer engagement.

While the required actions span the whole energy industry, a number are related to transport.

The report says that electrification is vital to decarbonising our roads. Even in the slowest scenario outlined in the report, no new cars would be sold in the UK with an internal combustion engine (ICE) after 2040 – although this is behind the current government plans to faze out sales of combustion engined cars by 2032.

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Halting the sale of ICE cars by 2040 would result in all cars on the road being ultra-low-emissions by 2050, according to the report, which would reduce the total energy demand of road transport in the UK by up to 75%.

The scenario featuring the highest level of consumer engagement – which would achieve the net-zero target by 2048 – estimates there would be 11 million EVs on UK roads by 2030, rising to 30 million by 2030. That scenario also says that 80% of EV owners would utilise smart charging to balance demand on the grid.

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Nearly half of EV owners would also adopt vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging, where energy stored in EV batteries can be deployed back into the grid to smooth demand. The report estimates that 5.5 million vehicles using V2G charging would provide up to 38GW of flexibility for the grid.

There are currently around 32 million cars in the UK, but the most ambitious scenario laid out in the report suggests that will fall to around 20 million by 2050, with societal change sparking a switch to autonomous shared mobility solutions and public transport. The report also anticipates that larger vehicles, including buses and trucks, will make a widespread shift to hydrogen or biofuels. 

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