Electric vehicles are just the start – cities need to prepare for a more connected world

The Paris Agreement in November 2016 brought nations together seeking to keep global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The UK has set its own legally binding obligation of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels). Any attempt to meet these ambitious targets will require commitment from all major industries.

Increases in the UK in recent years can largely be attributed to the power sector where almost a quarter of the emissions stem from the domestic transport sector.

Electrification of the network is central to reducing its impact and moves to switch light vehicles, which on their own emit 16% of total CO2, to a more sustainable fuel supply are already underway. It is estimated that 60% of new cars in 15 years’ time will need to be electric to meet the 2050 promise.

Advances in technology, including wireless charging, and supportive government policies are increasing sales of electric vehicles (EVs). Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that we are just six years away from what will be the start of a real mass-market ‘lift-off’.

Such an expected increase in the number of EVs has wide-ranging implications. In particular, ahead of a widespread adoption of EVs we need to understand when and where people will be recharging their cars and the climate impact of the source of the electrical power.

Planning for a more connected world

A report by the Energy Technologies Institute shows that drivers of EVs are most likely to plug in at home at around 6pm, a time when the grid is at its least resilient.

Government projections show that this added pressure could be accommodated for with new nuclear capacity as well as carbon capture and storage capacity, but the timescales for this new technologies may not collide.

One approach to addressing the potential strain on the supply would be to encourage people to avoid the peaks in demand, and take advantage of the dips in energy use, by charging their EVs overnight.

But 30% of UK residents do not have off-street parking, with the figure undoubtedly higher in many cities. Providing all drivers with the infrastructure for overnight charging would come at a significant cost and involve a wide range of interdependent issues.

The emphasis should be on reducing demand, rather than increasing supply. We need a significant shift in the way we use electricity – in our homes, in our workplaces and on our roads.

However, to effect a shift away from the use of peak time electricity will require the adoption of a demand pricing model for vehicle recharging, backed up by legislation, to incentivise people to change the way they live their lives. But for some people without off-street parking even this would not suffice and will also require a significant investment in new charging infrastructure.

At an infrastructure level, we need to think beyond EVs and start planning for a more connected world. There is no doubt that connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are going to be a reality on our streets with the prospect of optimising network capacity, reducing congestion and carbon emissions, and bringing stress-free, safer journeys. But the technology itself doesn’t offer all the answers. CAVs will still need a power supply.

Something more profound is needed – to pursue the benefits offered by the sharing economy, using CAVs as the basis on which to grow a new public service. Our cities will need to react to this change and grasp the opportunities it offers.

  • For a copy of Atkins’ study Connected and autonomous vehicles – the implications for the energy network, visit:

Photo by jurvetson


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top