Electric Vehicles – Can the National Grid Cope?

Electricity pylons in a green field

One of the biggest myths I have come across in recent times is “the grid cannot cope with everyone switching to electric vehicles”. Stories of rolling blackouts or enforced brownouts have circled at an alarming rate.

What is the real story? Can we cope with the electric vehicle take up? How much more electricity will be needed? What is being done in the world of electric production ahead of 2030? Hopefully these questions will be addressed.

How Much Electricity Does the UK Use?

Electric vehicles have really taken off in the UK and, as you would expect, the usage of electricity per capita has increased. However, as a nation we are not massive users of electricity when compared to some other developed nations. The United States of America, for example, are huge consumers of electricity with the per capita usage being more than double that of the UK. Certainly things such as air conditioning, which we don’t have too much of in the UK, will be a factor in this.

Even in the UK itself, our usage has dropped considerably in the last 20 years. According to the National Grid, the UK was using 62GW of electricity in 2002. This has dropped to around 50GW at present and could drop even further.

Solar panels

How Much More Electricity Would Electric Vehicles Need?

Once again I defer to the National Grid statistics. After all, if anyone knows what they are talking about it is going to be them. They have stated that if everyone in the UK were to switch to an electric vehicle tomorrow, the UK would only need to produce an extra 10% of electricity.

Going back to where I discussed how much electricity the UK uses at present, this means that we would need to produce 55GW of electricity to compensate for everyone going electric overnight. This is less electricity than the UK was using just 20 years ago. So, as you can see, the grid is more than capable of handling the switch if you want to hire an electric vehicle from EVision (just putting that out there).

One other point that needs to be made is that not everyone will be driving electric from 2030. Although new petrol and diesel cars will not be sold, we will see them on our roads for years to come. At a conservative estimate, we have probably until around 2045/2050 to prepare for the total, or near total, changeover.

Off shore wind farm

What Other Developments Are There in Electric Production?

Although the National Grid is happy that there is enough electricity being produced for everyone, this doesn’t mean that energy producers are standing still.

The next challenge is to move away from fossil fuels and imported energy as much as possible. It is here where the UK is ahead of the curve when compared to most other nations. Firstly, the UK hardly ever burns coal for electricity production. We haven’t needed to for many years. Countries such as Germany and the USA are heavily reliant on coal and will find the struggle just a little harder.

Imports too are something the UK is better prepared for losing than European nations. We don’t import a great deal of energy from abroad. European nations still import from many countries across the continent.

Our biggest downfall is the use of oil in energy production. This is where we need to make the biggest changes. However, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Alternative Energy – Where Are We?

This is a very rapidly developing area and one that I have been following closely for a number of years. For the UK the two main sources of alternative energy are solar and wind power.

As an island nation, the UK is perfectly positioned for wind power. One company, Orsted, has announced that their latest wind farm in Yorkshire is fully operational and is producing 1.3GW of electricity. Altogether, Orsted owned wind farms are producing 6.2GW of power in the UK.

It is not just Orsted who are building wind farms though. In total, the UK is hoping to produce 50GW of wind power alone by 2030, which is a mighty increase on the 40GW target that had previously been set. Wind power on its own will meet nearly all of the UK’s electricity needs in the next 8 years, with more wind power being planned by 2035.

When it comes to solar power, many wouldn’t think that the UK would be a great producer. However, the UK is the third biggest producer of solar power in Europe. Only Germany and Italy are currently ahead of us.

By the middle of June 2019, the UK was producing 13.1GW of solar power. It is expected that this figure will rise to 15.5GW by the end of 2023. This number will only continue to grow before 2030.

So we can see that solar and wind power will produce at least 65.5GW of electricity by 2030. This is more than the 62GW produced at the UK’s highest peak in 2002. We haven’t even factored in other methods of power generation, such as biofuel. If everyone drove an electric vehicle in 2030 we would have nothing to be concerned about.

Car charging points in front of solar panels

Changing Attitudes on a Changing Planet

Over the last 20 years there has been a huge shift in how we perceive energy usage. Our own actions are having a big impact on the amount of energy we consume and where we obtain that energy from.

Firstly, homes are changing. More and more homes are utilising solar power. The beauty of solar power is that you can sell unused energy back to the grid which contributes to the grid output. Some properties are using energy saving wall boxes to help power the home. Tesla, for one, manufactures these boxes for home use. This is a great example of an electric vehicle company looking at other green initiatives. Some old electric vehicle batteries are repurposed to provide energy for homes as well.

Even at many workplaces we are seeing a big shift to greener energy and self-producing energy, such as solar panels and biofuel. EVision uses solar power to charge our cars on site, and we also use biofuel for heating the buildings.

Our vehicles, particularly electric cars, are also working towards energy efficiency. There are also vehicles coming out that use solar power to add to the range of the vehicle. Some solar powered cars are better than others, but it is still early days. With the developments and advances being made in the solar panel industry, there is a strong chance that your electric vehicle could be running purely off solar power at some point in the future., This, again, means less reliance on the national grid resources.

Another point that should be made is that there is less reliance on using cars than has previously been seen. Walking, running and cycling are becoming much more popular methods of making shorter journeys.

A Final Word

As you can see, the myth that the electric grid is not going to be able to cope is just that, a myth. The UK is in a very good position ahead of the switch over. Even if everyone switched over on day 1 in 2030 we would still be in a comfortable position.

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