Warning of power blackouts unless UK prepares for Electric car revolution

The UK’s electricity network needs urgent investment to prepare for an electric vehicle future or risk blackouts, a report for the government has warned.

The Electric Vehicles Energy Task Force, commissioned by ministers, urges a “smart charging” approach – utilising times of weak demand – along with a power network able to adapt to shifts in electricity use.

Its report said there must be a greater emphasis on power storage to support the grid as part of the investment.

It stated: “The electricity produced by generators, or supplied from storage devices, must exactly balance the demand for electricity on a second-by-second basis.

“This is generally referred to as maintaining system stability. If this balance is not maintained the system can fail.”

It cited the widespread power failure which hit the grid back in August as demonstrating the need to focus on power provision to meet new challenges.

The popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles is growing though they continue to make up a fraction of total UK sales.

However, industry data suggests it is the main area for growth as sales of conventionally-powered vehicles wane – especially those using diesel engines.

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) report earlier this month showed 229,000 electric and hybrid variants were sold in 2019.

Of those, 37,850 were purely electric – a rise of 144% on the previous year.

Almost 1.5 million petrol-powered cars were sold – a rise of 2%.

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The global industry has been forced to switch its attention towards electric technology as governments globally demand zero-emission transport to improve air quality and fight climate change.

It is a costly investment – and, for the UK car industry, it comes at a time it is fighting to maintain frictionless trade with the EU after Brexit following three years of declining car sales.

There was some rare cheer for the sector on Wednesday when Hyundai and Kia announced an £85.5m investment in UK electric vehicle unicorn Arrival to jointly develop commercial electric vehicles including vans.

The SMMT is expecting 23 new battery-powered car models to hit UK showrooms this year.

It has also called for government help to ensure drivers can jump on board.

Its chief executive, Mike Hawes, said when the new car sales figures were released: “We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long term purchase incentives to put the UK at the forefront of this technological shift.

“Industry is playing its part with a raft of exciting new models in 2020 and compelling offers but consumers will only respond if economic confidence is strong and the technology affordable.”

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