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Quantifying the impact of transport electrification on EU power networks

By Paris Hadjiodysseos
Aug 20, 2020

There are three decades left until the European Union’s goal for a climate-neutral economy by 2050. ICF looks at how increased transport electrification solutions could help the EU succeed—and at what cost.

Just three decades remain until 2050, when the European Union’s (EU) long-term climate strategy hopes to finally achieve a climate-neutral economy. A series of actions are therefore required for the EU to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets.

Since transportation accounts for a quarter of the EU’s total EU GHG emissions, climate neutrality will require a 90% reduction in transport emissions across road, rail, aviation, and waterborne transport. Given that road transport accounts for almost three-quarters of these emissions (see Figure 1), low and zero-emission vehicles have a significant role to play. meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets.

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share of greenhouse gas emissions

It is anticipated that by 2025, at least 1 million public recharging and refueling stations will be needed for the 13 million zero- and low-emission vehicles expected on European roads while other reports suggest 1.3 million and 3 million public charge points alone by 2025 and 2030 respectively. A simple extrapolation of the installation rate of normal and fast public EV charging points over the last five years across the EU (including the United Kingdom) suggests this anticipated number is well within reach (see Figure 2).

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Widening the network for EVs

Facilitating this transition, and accommodating different vehicle types (as well as the likely dwell time of drivers at different locations), requires a combination of off-street residential, on-street, destination, and en-route charging infrastructure. A dense EU-wide network of charging points for EVs and refueling stations for other zero-emission vehicles is therefore key.

According to an assessment commissioned by the European Economic Area, if the share of EVs across the EU by 2050 reaches 80%, we will see the share of the total electricity consumed by EVs increase from approximately 0.5% in 2014 to almost 10%. The high EV penetration will have a significant impact on European power systems and requires power management and flexible strategies that reflect the generational mix of each region or country, as well as the local grid’s available capacity. Connections such as home or destination charging, where the EV is expected to remain connected for a long period (or even overnight), may use smart charging (a facility that allows for a third party or autonomous control of charging). This can ensure efficient utilization of available grid infrastructure—and even balance the output from renewable energy sources.

While valuable and efficient, this solution is not always feasible or optimal in locations that require unmanaged, rapid en-route charging (such as motorways). The deployment of charging points in these locations, as well as in less populated rural areas, typically coincides with weak grid infrastructure; therefore, it could be expensive to accommodate. On the contrary, despite the high general load, most urban areas have a grid infrastructure typically adequate to accommodate the additional EV load.

EU power network arrow

Solutions for transport electrification

Driving and incentivizing the deployment of charge points across all locations will require a mixture of policy and regulation changes, as well as stimulus packages. Studies suggest a pan-European recharging infrastructure will require €1.8 billion a year by 2030, whereas in the United Kingdom alone the cost to meet the country’s 2050 “net-zero” target is £48.5 billion (albeit it accounts for the electrification of heat as well as transport). This cost is for the replacement of cables and transformers supplying buildings, neighborhoods, towns, city centers, or even whole areas.

Effective planning and coordination of the EV infrastructure as part of the wider energy system, as well as aligning anticipatory investment with asset replacement programs, can result in potential efficiencies. For example, aging assets in areas where there is a reasonable anticipation of increased electricity demand due to EVs can be replaced with higher capacity ones. Open data and data sharing within the EV and electricity sectors, as well as data on wider demographics, are, therefore, critical to enabling the efficient use and deployment of EV infrastructure.

Equally important is the role of smart charging, which transforms the static EV demand to a flexible resource and reduces the required capacity and impact on the grid.

Although useful and potentially more economic, smart charging also comes with a financial burden in the form of telecommunications infrastructure (to facilitate remote control) or through the compensation offered by system operators to drive certain behavior. Therefore, to be cost-effective, the ceiling price of a smart solution should always be less than the cost of conventional network reinforcement.

telecommunication infrastructure

The role of the Green Deal

The EU Commission recently committed to supporting the deployment of public charge points where persistent gaps exist. The Green Deal is the vehicle to make this happen.

Appropriate policy and effective planning that enables efficient, economical, and coordinated investment will ensure the right balance between adequate charging infrastructure deployment and appropriate investment that encourages EV uptake but, at the same time, does not lead to underutilized and obsolete assets.

The U.K. government has recently consulted on altering building regulations for new residential buildings, as well as new and existing non-residential buildings, to include requirements for EV charge points, as any additional upfront capital expenditure outweighs the costs of a retrofit. Similar policies, backed up where required by finance packages, can support the deployment of charge points where it may not be economically viable (but necessary) to facilitate uptake.

EV owners should not have to wait months before they can install a charge point at home, or before they can have one available at work or en-route to their destination. Insufficient planning and financing may lead to potential connection delays and higher costs as well as be a stumbling block on the path toward the 2050 emission reduction target.

By Paris Hadjiodysseos