In early January, the price of electricity per megawatt hour twice spiked from the usual £40 per megawatt hour to first £1600, and a day later to £4000. That second, spectacular 10,000 percent increase was the result of a lull in renewable energy generation. It suggests that the National Grid’s sanguine view of its ability to generate enough power not only to reliably supply the country’s energy demands, but also to meet the need of an exponentially expanding fleet of EVs, must be tempered against the actual costs of inconsistent generation. An electricity trader quoted in a Guardian report on this power lull suggested that the UK “is at much greater risk of blackouts this winter than the National Grid has forecast”.
The problem of such power shortfalls is not insurmountable, the country needing to develop much greater capacity for the storage of surplus energy from renewables. EVs can indeed be part of the solution, if they have a bi-directional connection to their wallbox chargers, enabling the grid to draw energy from an EV to support the grid during a renewable lull. That this facility has not yet been mandated is an unfortunate oversight.
More regrettable is that the headlong rush to EVs necessitated by the urgency of reducing CO2 emissions, and the UK’s ICE-eliminating legislation, runs the risk of smothering other solutions. In California, for instance, part of the natural gas pipeline network is to be experimentally used to transport hydrogen, this element extracted from the gas mix at the point of use - potentially, fuel stations. It’s a solution that could dramatically ease the difficulty of transporting hydrogen, this one of the major impediments to the wider take-up of fuel-cell vehicles. Natural gas is piped all over the UK, of course.
Another solution is synthetic fuel, which can be produced in multiple ways, one of them using surplus renewable energy to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it to petrol. It’s an infant technology, but has the merit of actually removing our problem gas – CO2 – from the atmosphere, besides enabling the world’s car parc to keep running. That will matter a lot in countries less wealthy than the UK.
There are other potential solutions too, such as generating hydrogen from algae, this project an Anglo-Chinese collaboration, but all are more distant than the take-up of EVs. The EV solution is far from perfect, however, from the challenges of on-street charging to its rare earth needs, its still disputed whole-life CO2 impact and the challenge of end-of-life disposal. For these reasons alone, other technologies must be championed.