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Mass EV Charging: Is A Can Of Worms Hiding Under The Bonnet?

Transport Xtra

The Government’s push to electrify road transport and domestic heating could place major cost burdens on consumers, says a new report

Electric vehicles have become something of a panacea for politicians as they grapple with how to decarbonise the transport sector. But for some engineers, the headlong rush to electrify road transport and domestic heating too is a major cause for concern. LTT reported in May the top-down analysis of Michael Kelly, the former chief scientific adviser to the Department for Communities and Local Government (LTT 29 May & Letters 26 Jun). Now a more bottom-up analysis has been prepared by retired engineer Mike Travers. Both reports have been published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank.  

“It is clear that the costs of supporting all the plans the Government has for transport and homes is going to be very high, and it is going to be made worse by the fact that the changeover is not being thought through, let alone planned effectively,” says Travers. “Part of the problem is that there is no institution or organisation in a suitable position to do so. The distribution companies own the transformers and cables, but may or may not be responsible for the smart meters. They therefore have little interest in some form of smart control [of electricity demand]. As profit-making companies, they also have no interest in investing for the future load increases, as they can charge for all the upgrading work as it is required.” 

Decarbonisation will place huge new demands on the electricity network, with homeowners installing electric vehicle charging points, heat pumps and electric showers. “The extra demand for electricity will overwhelm most domestic fuses, thus requiring homeowners to install new ones, as well as circuit-breakers and new distribution boards,” says Travers. “Most will also have to rewire between their main fuse and the distribution network. In urban areas, where most electrical cabling is underground, this will involve paying for a trench to be dug between the home and the feeder circuits in the street.”

The Government wants millions of electric vehicles on Britain’s roads within the next decade. Those residents lucky enough to have off-street parking, will have two main choices for charging their EVs, says Travers: slow charging using a standard 13-amp supply, or fast charging using a special 7kW (32-amp) supply. 

“For those with time on their hands, the 12 hours needed to fully charge a typical battery car on a 13-amp connection may be acceptable, although there is still the cost of fitting earth fault protection, which will set the homeowner back around £250. Most people will require fast chargers, however, and indeed the Government is considering making their installation mandatory in new homes. Homeowners will therefore need to install a charging pillar.

“These will cost £1,200 to install in new homes, or twice that to retrofit to old ones, because the household distribution board is likely to require upgrading.” 

Travers says home chargers will present residents with new social dilemmas as friends and relatives ask to recharge when visiting. “Should you charge visitors for a recharge? You might gift the cost to friends and relatives, but what about the plumber or the carer?”

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