UK to electrify new vehicle fleet by 2040

| Transport

UK heads for zero emissions in 2040

Jonathan Newell asks the experts for their opinion on the UK Government plan to electrify all new road vehicles by 2040.

Following France’s recent announcement that it was banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the Republic from 2040, the UK Government has now announced similar plans with an all out ban of petrol and diesel engine cars from 2040 coupled with local authority financial incentives to clean up the most polluted roads with immediate effect.

To achieve such an aim requires massive cooperation involving local authorities, infrastructure providers and the international motor industry. I spoke to some of the key players in the UK to get their opinion.

Automotive engineering and testing giant, HORIBA MIRA sees the move as being in line with the way the industry is generally moving and sees the announcement as being positive. “Automotive manufacturers are already developing vehicles with electrified powertrains so this announcement won’t necessarily impact the industry from an R&D point of view, but it may well accelerate activity,” said Geoff Davis, Chief Strategy Officer at HORIBA MIRA.

A period of transition

An acceleration of activity is needed not only in the automotive industry as a more multifaceted approach is needed, according to Robert Evans, CEO of Cenex and Chairman of UK EVSE. He told me, “The journey to phasing out the internal combustion engine is now underway but the announcement lacks clarity as to the short to medium term initiatives that are needed to tackle poor urban air quality and to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles.”

According to The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), it is working to support Local Authorities in implementing policies and schemes that are more far-reaching and ambitious than presently implemented for tackling pollution from diesel vehicles in the shorter term as an interim measure. “Implementing these changes as early as possible is key to tackling the air quality issue quickly and mitigating negative impacts on human health,” said Denis Naberezhnykh, TRL’s Head of ULEV and Energy.

The Government is also sinking money into local schemes to the tune of over £250 million to cut pollution immediately through local air quality plans that could involve such actions as speed bump removal and changes to road layouts.

However, such measures alone are causing concern in the road safety community. Whilst strongly supporting measures to improve air quality in our towns and cities, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) is urging the Government not compromise road safety in the name of air quality and to avoid erroneous comparisons between death rates through air pollution and road accidents.

“PACTS urges councils to think very carefully before removing speed humps in the name of public health. Speed humps are proven to be one of the most effective and inexpensive forms of speed control measure and have prevented large numbers of deaths and injuries, particularly for children, the elderly, cyclists and other vulnerable road users,” said David Davies, PACTS Executive Director.

Alternative fuels

Within the transitional period, there will certainly be a move away from internal combustion engines, but not entirely, according to the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC). As battery technology and charging structure improves, more hybrid vehicles will take to the roads as well as other alternatively fueled vehicles such as LPG.

According to John Beasley, Director of Technology and Projects at the APC, the organization supports this through facilitating a number of projects to make combustion engines more efficient and reduce their emissions.

“This is important as it must be recognised that the internal combustion engine coupled with ever increasing levels of electrification is still needed as a transitional technology for cars and vans in the coming years, and may remain a long-term solution for the Heavy Duty sector,” he explained.

Larger vehicles

Ministers will introduce a fund to help councils tackle emissions from diesel vehicles, as part of a £3bn package of spending on air quality. They had wanted government-funded and mandated clean air zones, with charges for the most-polluting vehicles to enter areas with high pollution, included in the plans.

“The UK Government will push down onto local authorities to come up with local solutions. I strongly believe that spending money on local authorities and forcing them to charge vehicles on the most polluted roads is backwards. Investment into the industry to develop new technologies would be a direct, effective and efficient solution,” explained Gary Hayes Eco Campers.

The company has invested heavily on hybrid and LNG tribid powertrain variants on its range of ecologically cleaner leisure camper vehicles, using innovations such as regenerative braking to store energy for equipment such as stoves and heaters.

HORIBA MIRA sees the latest announcement as a huge opportunity for the commercial vehicle sector, which are at the heart of every day logistics and make a significant contribution to every day emissions both inner city and intra-urban.

“HORIBA MIRA’s engineers have recently worked on a project with Dennis Eagle to develop a 20-tonne Hybrid Integrated Urban Commercial Vehicle which delivered a 50% reduction in the CO2 emissions of refuse vehicles per tonne collected. Solutions like these, along with brake regeneration, will enable greater electrification of medium-duty vehicle powertrains,” explained HORIBA MIRA’s Geoff Davis.

Infrastructure anxiety

The shadow hanging over mass electrification proposals is the ability of the electricity supply infrastructure to cope with the additional load.

TRL places emphasis on the need for a charging infrastructure strategy that maximises zero-emission driving potential. “TRL’s work is playing a critical role in identifying solutions for smart charging and demand-side management that will help address the potential challenges for electricity transmission and distribution networks due to increase in requirement for electric charging in the future,” said Naberezhnykh.

Welcoming the Government’s commitment of £100m to the UK’s charging infrastructure, energy and power engineering company, Eaton believes that consumers and property developers also need to think about preparing their homes for the future of electric cars.

“We need smart power systems in place to cope with the increased demand that electric vehicles will place on the grid. Solar panels, home energy storage and car charging points, for example, will ensure people have a consistent, reliable and eco-friendly power supply that future-proofs homes and enables them to charge vehicles without causing a nationwide blackout,” said Eaton’s distributed energy segment leader, Louis Shaffer.

Currently, one barrier standing in the way of the adoption of electric vehicles is that they’re too expensive. “We expect that as adoption increases, costs will come down. Combine this with government incentives and grants, the potential of vehicle-to-grid technology to earn money with electric vehicles, plus self-driving and ride sharing economies we will see an increase in interest in electric vehicles. Electric vehicles will certainly become as affordable or cheaper than conventional vehicles,” concluded Shaffer.

Leading the charge

It’s clear that such a gutsy decision from the Government to tackle air pollution in an increasingly mobile world will take massive effort from consumers, energy suppliers and the automotive industry. 2040 may seem a long way off but to make the change happen, the transition has to start now.

Jonathan Newell
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