The road to electrification | AltEnergyMag

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All of us are probably aware of the UK’s initiative to bring forward the ban on fossil fuel powered vehicles to 2030 from 2040 , to speed green recovery plans generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the days remaining to electrify the UK’s road network are rapidly running out. Here, Steve Hughes, managing director of power quality specialist REO UK, points out some potential potholes on the road ahead.

At the core of the initiatives for a green recovery, there are the plans for green energy and efficient electrical infrastructure. In the UK, the Government plans to invest £73.5 million in the automotive sector alone. The Government also intends to stop the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and vans by 2030. Nevertheless, the sale of hybrid vehicles that can operate for substantial distances solely on electrical power will continue until 2035.

According to Auto Adviser, the number of hybrid and other ultra-low emission cars registered in the UK rose by 22.6 per cent in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period last year. A green recovery in the transport sector could increase the figures even more and for a longer period. For manufacturers in the UK, this is a steppingstone towards changing the industry and developing more environmentally friendly vehicles.

While electric vehicles (EVs) could indeed speed up a green recovery, the world is still hooked on oil and its derivatives. This has been the case for over a century now, arguably going as far back as the 1850s. Petroleum is truly a wonder-material, almost by any metric — in its crude form it can be refined into oils, fuels, lubricants, plastics and much more besides.

The usefulness of petroleum derivatives is hard to match. This is especially clear in the context of transportation. For instance, a 40-litre tank of petrol contains over 1.3 gigajoules of energy. Creating a vehicle with this battery capacity, with a reasonable weight and cost, has been beyond the reach of EV manufacturers until high energy-density battery chemistries came to the fore in recent years.

Cost

When mentioning EVs, people often think of high end Tesla cars and the price tag that comes with them. While it is true that EVs cost more to make, the savings and benefits from EVs will vastly outweigh the costs of transitioning to them. From reducing carbon emissions to improving air quality and saving up on fuel, EVs present many advantages. A combination of government policies and market expansion could tip the scales in favour of EVs.

An analysis by Deloitte predicts that by 2024, the cost to own an EV will be on par with that of a petrol or diesel vehicle, which could boost demand further. Government incentives might become a decisive factor as well, with strategies such as the Plug-in Car Grant that covers 35 per cent of the cost of an electric car or 20 per cent of the cost of an electric van. Pure electric vehicles costing less than £40,000 are also exempt from the Vehicle Excise Duty (annual road tax).

There is no doubt that EVs will continue to grow in popularity, due in part to government incentives, but also to citizens’ awareness for environmental issues. However, even as EVs reach parity with traditional vehicles, the infrastructure issues persist.

Charging points

Arguably one of the biggest challenges for EV owners is the limited amount of charging points. For long distance journeys, a lack of charging stations — or a disproportionately low amount of charging points for the volume of EVs on roads — will cause problems.

In 2019 there were around 15,500 charging points and 26,500 EV charging plugs across the country, five times the number from 2011. In 2020, the figures doubled to around 30,000, becoming a competition for the 68,000 petrol pumps in the country.

The UK Government’s strategies also include incentives both for individuals and businesses to facilitate the implementation of more charging points. For example, the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) enables individual buyers of eligible EVs to receive a grant for up to 75 per cent of the total purchase and installation costs of one EV charger for their home.

These incentives are distributed on top of the extra £500 million dedicated to EV charging infrastructure and the new £400 million charging fund. A further £80 million will go to EV charging as part of the Road to Zero strategy’s £290 million budget.

With these developments, the EV market is quickly maturing. To that end, the Institution of Engineering and Technology has streamlined standards for charging port construction. Undoubtedly a great step towards electrifying the road network, but moving such vast amounts of energy around is never going to happen without certain problems creeping in.

If you’ve ever passed under high-voltage powerlines while listening to a radio, you’ll know the phenomenon of electromagnetic interference first-hand. That 50 Hertz buzz is caused by a magnetic field created by the alternating current (AC) in the transmission cables. The interference emitted can affect sensitive electronics from remarkable distances.

The 50 Hertz mains buzz is largely unavoidable, as it’s a built-in feature of the grid. However, while we cannot avoid this interference altogether, electrical engineers can limit its incidence at the source with the correct components.

Rectification

While EVs are green and environmentally clean, they’re typically electrically dirty. EV batteries must be charged and discharged with direct current (DC) power, in contrast to the AC the grid provides. EVs will have the equipment for rectification on board, but even with the most stringent manufacturing parameters, no component is perfect.

Millions of EVs will go onto charge in one day, especially after rush hour. That is millions of separate instances of not-quite perfect rectification processes, all imposing subtle perturbations on the grid.

In such a situation, the cumulative effect is that we would have a fully electrified road network, but the grid would become highly unstable.

The solution to this problem is to filter these unwanted signals out of the AC signal at the charging point, ideally with a high-quality electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) filter. Filters such as these remove disruptions caused by the rectifier onboard the EV, only allowing the smooth, sinusoidal signal the required back into the grid at large.

REO UK is using its expertise in the e-mobile solutions to create durable and innovative solutions for contributing to a greener automotive industry. The broad range of filters tailored to each need, ensure that we can continue to use EVs in an electrically viable way and speed up the development of EV infrastructure in the UK.

For all the negatives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has brought benefits for one particular area: the environment. The drop in carbon emissions during the pandemic has shown that modern life can be sustained in a more environmentally friendly way. With the new policies put together by the British Government to invest in an electrical infrastructure and ban the sale of ICE vehicles, the UK could pave the way for a fully electrified and viable infrastructure.

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