Electric vehicles – supporting power distribution companies as the UK shifts its focus to renewable energy

Supply chain risk and performance management firm, Achilles

Sustainability is a prominent feature on everyone’s agenda – we all understand the importance of tackling the climate crisis. Ambitious government targets are now in place to achieve zero carbon status and businesses measure their environmental impact via investor-linked ESG measurement tools. But, while slashing carbon emissions is essential, and we all understand the need to introduce new tactics to support that goal – including switching to renewable energy sources – it’s a huge shift that brings many challenges.

Transport is one of the most pressing concerns, not least due to the scale of the task ahead. Most UK households now run more than one car; then there are commercial vehicles to add into the equation.

The phasing out of petrol and diesel cars and the introduction of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) by 2030 is essential to attain zero carbon status by 2050 – but is the UK positioned to make it happen?

Making the switch to electric vehicles  

6.5 million households plan to purchase an electric car or a plug-in hybrid within the next five years; 1 in 4 UK households. By 2030 no new internal combustion vehicles will be sold, at which point the government anticipates around 18 million battery and hybrid vehicles to be on the road. By 2035, all new cars and vans must release zero emissions from the tailpipe. 

The figures illustrate the scale of the challenge for the utilities industry, with increasing pressure on power networks and infrastructure as the number of charging stations grow, along with battery storage for ULEVs. Networks and dated infrastructure must be able to support new forms of power and the increased demand.

Will UK power companies be able to support the shift?

Future-proofing UK power networks 

The reality is, most of the UK’s power grids were designed many years ago for a much simpler set-up, with large fossil fuel plants delivering power in one direction only; infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose when managing a system with large-scale, intermittent energy generation and new technologies including electric vehicles, batteries, wind turbines and solar panels.

However, UK utilities companies are focused on ensuring that the country’s networks and infrastructure is fit for the future, yielding extraordinary innovation and exciting new technologies.

These new innovations are underpinned by notable capital investment – Ofgem has channeled millions into the creation of a more flexible energy system to support the electrification of vehicles, renewable energy generation and low carbon heat, supporting the huge transformation expected in the coming years. 

Supply chain assurance

At a time of significant change and huge investment in innovation programmes and new technologies, it’s more important than ever for utility companies to maintain transparency within the supply chain, ensuring that their suppliers are supporting their wider sustainability priorities while adhering to the utility sectors’ stringent regulations.

As power companies strive to deliver exciting new projects and ground-breaking new technologies, Achilles’ UVDB pre-qualification system is helping utility firms to achieve the highest standards of supply chain assurance.

Achilles supports the utilities supply chain with the data tools needed to find the right suppliers for the job, with buyers sourcing partners via UVDB. It allows power companies to make better, more informed decisions about their suppliers, leaving them free to focus on the innovations that will transform society.

UK Power Networks – transforming infrastructure  

UK Power Networks (UKPN), a buyer within the Achilles UVDB scheme, is an excellent example of the work taking place to create new technologies and ensure energy infrastructure remains fit for purpose.

UKPN recently announced the creation of a ‘virtual power station’ to aid in managing increased demand for electricity at peak times at lower cost, helping to manage the shift towards low carbon energy technology.

Sul Alli, director of strategy and customer services at UKPN, said: “Britain is leading the world at harnessing the power of all these electric vehicle batteries that are going to be connected and using them for public good. Three years ago, this market didn’t exist and now it’s offering as much capacity as a gas-fired power station. We’re working with some of the most exciting start-ups out there, and we’re proving it in the real world. There’s a long way to go and no silver bullet, but the way we’re using technology and data is going to be a big part of the answer to meeting the challenge of reaching Net Zero.”

Our ability to embrace renewable energy rests on these new technologies, re-defining what is possible.

Battery storage and distribution 

Along with energy generation and managing power through the grid, battery storage and distribution must also evolve to support an electric-powered society. Homes will need to be altered to facilitate at-home charging, with curb-side charging installed for millions of people who don’t have a driveway.

Britain’s energy regulator approved a £300m capital injection to help triple the number of ultra-rapid electric car charge points across the UK as part of its efforts to accelerate the shift to clean energy.

Ofgem has also given the green light for energy network companies to invest in more than 200 low-carbon projects across the UK over the next two years, including the installation of 1,800 new ultra-rapid car charge points for motorway service stations and a further 1,750 charge points in towns and cities.

In addition, Foresight recently announced an investment of up to £12.7m in a new battery storage project in the UK, which is expected to be completed and ready for commercial operation by October 2022.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration

Knowledge sharing and collaboration will play a major role in driving new innovation and creating new technology as we target a zero carbon future – Northern Powergrid’s project to create the UK’s first ‘silent power van’ illustrates the benefit of collaboration in tackling a challenging and complicated issue.

Northern Powergrid is responsible for delivering power to 3.9 million homes and businesses across the North East, Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire. It created the SilentPower vehicles in partnership with British energy storage SMEs, Hyperdrive Innovation and Offgrid Energy, revolutionising temporary power restoration in the UK. Its on-board energy storage system eliminates noisy, polluting diesel generators, cleanly restoring power to homes and businesses during temporary maintenance or power outages.

As part of Achilles’ UVDB network, Northern Powergrid was able to ensure that supply chain partners met the right criteria, reducing risk and giving the business confidence to press ahead with the project.

Supply chain assurance

With significant capital investment at stake as the utility industry makes the switch to renewable energy and the mass introduction of ULEVs, it’s vital that utilities companies understand their supply chain capabilities, pinpointing weaknesses and ensuring that suppliers share the same sustainability credentials.

The industry is tackling one of the biggest shifts in its history – while the UK is not quite there yet, exciting new technology and emerging capabilities will facilitate the transition to ULEVs, including fit for purpose power networks, new infrastructure and the capacity to meet additional demand for electricity.

Creating and maintaining a sustainable, innovative supply chain will be key to success.