Britain must plough billions of pounds into new power plants, grid networks and electric vehicle charging points if it is to avoid local power shortages when a planned ban on new diesel and petrol cars begins.
Supporting millions more battery-powered vehicles over the next two decades is technically feasible, and if drivers can be persuaded to recharge them overnight – when spare power capacity is abundant – the huge infrastructure cost could be kept down.
Local networks particularly face problems, so the country will need a range of technologies for managing consumption to meet an estimated rise of up to 15 percent in overall demand and prevent spikes of up to 40 percent at peak times.
“It will be a challenge and a lot of investment is required – in generation capacity, strengthening the distribution grid and charging infrastructure,” said Johannes Wetzel, energy markets analyst at Wood Mackenzie.
In July, the government said it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. The aim is to reduce air pollution, a source of growing public health concerns, and help Britain to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels – the target it has set itself.
Although some conventional cars will remain on the road, numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) could balloon to 20 million by 2040 from around 90,000 today, experts estimate. Charging them all will require additional electricity.
Britain already faces a power supply crunch in the early 2020s as old nuclear reactors come to the end of their lives and remaining coal-fired plants are phased out by 2025.
Four years ago, well before the conventional car ban was raised, the government said over 100 billion pounds ($130 billion) in investment would be needed to ensure clean, secure electricity supplies and to reduce demand.
That looks optimistic. The cost of Hinkley Point C alone, the only nuclear power station now under construction in Britain, is estimated at 19.6 billion pounds.
Gas plants are cheaper and faster to build but investment in new ones is flat, and they still produce carbon emissions. Renewable energy presents problems of matching supply and demand; solar panels for instance produce no power in the night when drivers would ideally recharge their electric cars.