Rapid Rise of UK Electric Vehicles Sees National Grid Double Its 2040 Forecast
By Simon Evans
There could be as many as 36m electric vehicles (EVs) on UK roads by 2040, double the number expected just a year ago.
That's according to the latest National Grid Future Energy Scenarios, published today. Yet despite raising electricity demand, National Grid now said the rapid rise of EVs will help the UK shift towards more renewable and low-carbon electricity generation.
Smart charging and vehicle-to-grid technology means EVs will be able to help smooth electricity usage through the hours of the day, National Grid said. They will be able to charge mainly when demand is low and even feed back into the grid when demand is high.
"Growth in EVs supports the continued trend towards more low-carbon generation," said National Grid. "[They] will be able to support the continued growth in renewables by storing excess generation and releasing it back onto the network when it is needed."
Future Energy Scenarios
Each year, National Grid publishes a set of four scenarios for the UK's future energy supply and demand built around the company's own modelng and consultation with the energy community. The scenarios help the company plan for an uncertain—but rapidly changing—energy system.
Fintan Slye, director, UK system operator at National Grid wrote in a foreword:
"It's impossible to accurately forecast a single energy future over the long term. However, creating a range of credible futures allows us to continue supporting the development of an energy system that's robust against different outcomes."
This year's scenarios include a stronger focus on the UK's transition to low-carbon. "We've refreshed our scenario framework to reflect the increasing importance of decentralization and decarbonization in our industry," Slye wrote.
Nevertheless, only two of the four scenarios meet the UK's legally binding greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050—an 80 percent cut on 1990 levels. This target is likely to be raised in response to the 2015 Paris agreement. These points form important context for National Grid's conclusions.
In previous years, only one of the four scenarios met the UK's 2050 target.
Twice as Many EVs
One of the most striking changes in this year's scenarios is the much more rapid adoption of EVs. This can be seen in the chart, below, which compares scenarios that meet the 2050 target and were published in each year between 2013 and 2018.
Above: Number of EVs on UK roads in National Grid scenarios published between 2013 and 2018. Source: "Gone Green" or "Two Degrees" Future Energy Scenarios 2013-2018. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts
Between 2013 and 2015, National Grid consistently said there would be around 5m EVs on UK roads by 2035. It raised that 2035 outlook to 8m in its 2016 work, rising to 10m in 2040, as Carbon Brief reported at the time. The outlook grew again last year to 13m in 2035 and 17m in 2040.
This year, National Grid said there could be up to 25m EVs by 2035 and 36m by 2040, effectively doubling its outlook from last year. The figures represent a tripling compared to 2016's figures and a five-fold increase from the 2015 numbers. By 2040, National Grid now said EVs will reach saturation point, with all possible vehicles electrified and new EVs replacing old ones as they retire.
A June 2018 brief on transport modeling said:
"We have been working hard to develop a much more holistic road transport model that takes into account the whole cost of ownership of vehicles. Our new model is much more granular in its detail and consequently it is more robust than previous ones."
The same June brief explains how National Grid has been working to understand the way that people will use and charge EVs. The electrification of transport—and, potentially, also heat—is set to raise UK demand for electricity, meaning more generating capacity will need to be built.
Last year, National Grid's earlier work on the impact of this new electricity demand was widely misreported as showing that the transition to EVs would be unmanageable. Since then, it has been working to expand its evidence base and to more realistically explore the impact of EVs.
The brief explained:
"We have been gathering large amounts of evidence to help us formulate views on some of the more uncertain variables associated with vehicle use and charging preferences. The 'how and what' type of chargers that people use is all being considered.
"We anticipate that most consumers will avoid peak time charging although some may still choose to do so. Vehicle to Grid technology is also a new input into our model … In our scenarios, we show that this is going to have significant impacts on the energy landscape of the future."
Combining these new insights on deeper EV penetration, smarter charging and vehicle-to-grid, National Grid now says peak electricity demand could be increased by between 3-8 gigawatts (GW in 2030 (4-14 percent) and by 3-13GW in 2050 (6-22 percent). This is shown in the chart, below.
Above: Net increase in peak UK electricity demand due to electric vehicles, in four different scenarios. Note that only "Community Renewables" and "Two Degrees" meet the UK's current climate goal for 2050. V2G is vehicle-to-grid. Source: National Grid Future Energy Scenarios 2018
These ranges can be compared to last year's future energy scenarios, which saw 2050 peak demand increasing by at least 6GW and as much as 30GW as a result of EVs. The top end of this range assumed that all charging was "dumb," taking place during peaks. National Grid now thinks the majority of chargers will be "smart," enabling most consumers to shift demand off-peak.
Note that the largest increases in 2050 peak demand are in scenarios that do not meet the 2050 carbon target ("Steady Progression" and "Consumer Evolution"). The target-compliant scenarios ("Community Renewables" and "Two Degrees") see earlier increases in peak demand, due to more rapid uptake of EVs, but also faster adoption of vehicle-to-grid technology.
The main difference between the two target-compliant scenarios is what National Grid calls "engagement." This reflects whether consumers choose to charge their EVs during peak demand or whether lower tariff prices encourage them to charge during periods of low demand.
(More broadly, the shift to EVs will reduce energy demand, as they are more efficient than combustion-engine vehicles. An interactive tool developed by the Carbon Tracker Initiative shows how much EV adoption will cut into global oil demand.)
Balancing the Grid
This year's report says the use of smart chargers and vehicle-to-grid technology means EVs can "supports the continued trend towards more low-carbon generation" by smoothing supply and demand.
Smart charging shifts "engaged" consumers to use off-peak electricity for their EVs (shown in the orange areas of the chart, below). Vehicle-to-grid technology charges EVs using off-peak electricity then feeds it back into the grid at times of peak demand (red areas).
Above: EV charging impact on UK electricity demand through the hours of each day. Blue: Non-transport demand. Purple: EV charging by "unengaged" consumers, adding to peak demand. Orange: Off-peak EV charging by "engaged" consumers. Red: Vehicle-to-grid technology that shifts demand from peak to off-peak periods. Source: National Grid Future Energy Scenarios 2018
National Grid said a range of commercial developments support its updated views on EV charging behavior: "A number of energy suppliers have launched EV specific tariffs that have a time of use element [pricing to encourage off-peak charging]."
There have also been innovations and trials in vehicle-to-grid technology, it added.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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