09 May 2024

There is now real urgency to decarbonise our transport system to meet the UK’s 2050 Net Zero commitments. Recent government statistics show that transport produces 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – making it the largest emitting sector. A large part of the solution lies in accelerating the uptake in electric vehicles (EVs) and other zero emission vehicles (ZEV). Transportation will be increasingly reliant upon (green) generation, resulting in a growing symbiotic relationship between the Transport and Energy sectors.

With our market-leading expertise and connections across both sectors, we took the opportunity at the recent Interchange UK conference to bring together a diverse range of Transport and Energy stakeholders to discuss the barriers to mass EV-uptake, sharing insights and suggestions during a roundtable conversation. The discussion reinforced that neither sector can achieve Net Zero alone and greater collaboration is a necessity to moving forward.

These are the key messages.

What would a more collaborative landscape look like?

The roundtable identified a number of perceived benefits of greater co-operation:

  • More opportunity for strategic thinking to improve charging infrastructure. Charge point location follows readily available grid capacity to allow installation at pace, rather than tracking actual demand. This results in a counterproductive need for motorists to drive out of their way to charge.
  • A joined-up approach to engaging with local and national government. Building greater understanding of energy demand within the Transport sector would produce the data needed to inform more effective energy infrastructure planning, better prioritising where to invest in capacity.
  • Accelerating technological solutions. Greater collaboration could expedite technological improvements already in the pipeline, particularly around multi-modal charging and payment.
  • Pooling resources will uncover skills and insights to power real behavioural change. As the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate (more on this below) only restricts the volume of new petrol/diesel cars, collective effort is required to convince drivers to voluntarily switch to EVs in place of second-hand petrol/diesel vehicles.
  • An opportunity for supply-side stakeholders to upskill their demand-side collaborators. The Energy sector innately understands the challenges and constraints facing the electricity system – the Transport sector doesn’t have the same history and would benefit from knowledge sharing.

Everyone agreed that collaboration would be a good thing – so what is getting in the way?

What are the key blockers, and how can we overcome them?

Transport needs a “seat at the table” to discuss grid reforms

Electricity is a highly regulated industry. A shared concern at the roundtable was the extent to which regulated systems and processes slow progress. A key example is the queueing system for new grid connections, which is delaying projects on both the demand- and supply-side. (We addressed this in a previous blog). Regulatory changes are already being made in an attempt to relieve the gridlock, and the market expects that further reforms are in the pipeline. Now is the time for Transport to add its voice to the push for improvement.

However, participation in stakeholder groups discussing regulation, electricity demand, and grid reforms is heavily weighted towards the electricity generation industry (supply-side). It has a track record of engagement with National Grid and electricity network operators and an ability to “speak the language” of grid specialists. Transport stakeholders (demand-side) should increase their presence and participation in existing forums.

The knowledge gap, exacerbated by the need to keep up with technological innovation, was identified as a particular challenge. Although attendees were clear that money alone would not bridge the gap, the Government is providing some financial support through the ring-fenced LEVI capability fund which aims to empower local authorities to build the talent pool they need.

Geographical disconnect

Another blocker is the diverging needs between urban and rural users. Transport options for urban areas vary from rural ones, and geographical availability of grid capacity does not necessarily align with areas of high demand for EV charging. By collaborating, Energy and Transport have a better chance of finding decarbonised transportation solutions for all.

Roundtable attendees noted the importance of platforms facilitating the sharing of inter-regional best practice. Although many challenges are unique to individual regions, shared challenges could be resolved collaboratively. Subnational Transport Bodies are particularly well-placed to do this.

A lack of collective vision, leadership and buy-in

Meeting Net Zero targets requires collective vision, agenda and buy-in from all stakeholders. If Energy and Transport present a united front and demonstrate a collective vision, commercial and political progress should follow. If either sector tries achieving this in isolation, there will be less chance of hitting the Net Zero targets on time – or at all.

What does a collective vision look like? Consensus from the room was, “Whatever gets the most carbon off the network quickest!” The roundtable was, however, divided on whether this gives industry enough clarity and drive to move forward. There were fears that we are lacking the dynamic leadership needed to shape and fuel a productive and innovative culture to deliver real change.

Some organisations are proactively moving ‘off the mark’ by aligning their brand with Net Zero or leveraging it to drive forward transportation decarbonisation. For the rest, it’s unlikely Net Zero targets or the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate alone provide the impetus needed. Last autumn’s moving of the goal posts - by delaying the total ban on sale of new petrol/diesel vehicles from 2030 to 2035 - is unlikely to have helped motivation.

Examples of successful collaboration

We have seen many successful examples of the growing trend towards collaboration – both between Energy and Transport and between Transport stakeholders with different, complementary use-cases. By working together, parties can maximise the benefit of existing infrastructure, increase the value and versatility of new infrastructure, and (in both cases) mitigate grid delays and constraints.

Some examples that we have been involved in include:

  • The SolarCatcher project, co-locating solar-powered canopies with EV chargers on public land, is a perfect illustration of holistic thinking. It uses onsite generation to mitigate grid issues/unavailability, with surplus generation not consumed by the chargers being supplied to nearby buildings.

Attendees at the roundtable also mentioned:

  • schemes offering overnight access for local residents to charge points in long-stay car parks (when commuters don’t need them);
  • similar to the First Bus example, allowing EV users access to fleet infrastructure to charge during the day when it is often unused; and
  • flexible charging solutions offering daytime fast-charging and slow-charging overnight to provide cost and time-effective solutions for different use-cases.

Key takeaways

 Behaviours and attitudes have to change – fast.

The Net Zero target means that we are all faced with a faster approaching deadline than those of conventional infrastructure projects - and time is of the essence. An encouraging takeaway was the accelerating speed at which collaborative conversations are increasing. As one attendee put it: “The invisible hand of 2050 is pushing us along here - and has an effect”.

Greater collaboration between Transport and Energy will help accelerate the action the UK needs right now to drive behavioural change – as well as providing joined-up, carbon-free, affordable solutions to keep the UK moving and thriving.

If you would like to discuss the future of Net Zero transport or any EV / collaboration opportunities within your business, please contact Chris Lewis or Charlotte Robinson.

Key contact

Chris Lewis

Chris Lewis Director

  • Projects
  • Rail
  • Transport

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