Hydrogen fuelled off-grid charging can support the EV rollout

Hydrogen fuelled off-grid EV charging is a much more effective way of tackling air pollution than grid-connected infrastructure, writes Adam Bond, CEO of AFC Energy.

The UK government announced earlier this month its plans to require every new home and office built to include EV charging provisions.

It is a welcome statement of intent from the UK that we want to lead the world in low emissions transport. Following on from the news earlier this month that sales of low emissions vehicles fell in this country for the first time in two years, a renewed focus on EV charging infrastructure is needed.

The deployment of new charging systems comes with its own consequences; grid-connected infrastructure can be expensive and difficult to deploy, particularly in remote areas, it can sometimes cause more emissions than EVs save depending on the source of power, and could have unintended consequences for the stability of the national grid.

Before we can successfully roll out EV charging infrastructure across the UK, we must face up to the challenges posed by existing technology and look for complimentary charging solutions to help support the widespread adoption of low emissions vehicles and ease the emerging gridlock.

Targets

The UK government has set clear and aggressive targets for the decarbonisation of the country’s transportation sector through, amongst other things, the roll-out of electric vehicles over the next two decades.  The recommendations of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), state that all new vehicles on the road by 2035, if not earlier, should be electric.

This policy objective brings with it tremendous challenges for the grid operator in meeting the vast increases in power needed to be transmitted to urban and regional centres – particularly in areas where the grid is simply not available or near capacity.

Further, with range anxiety amongst prospective EV owners, together with increasingly faster-charging capability mitigating the risks of EV ownership through technology breakthroughs in on-board battery storage and rapid charge points, the challenges faced by the grid are only going to become more pronounced as the number of EVs on the road and the power they pull from the grid exponentially grows.

Whilst grid connectivity can be a challenge, the use of power from large centralised energy sources to charge EVs can actually cause more emissions than it saves.

Last year, the UK’s power sector produced over 18 kilotonnes of CO2 per gigawatt hour at peak demand, despite coal power being slowly phased out.

If a large number of new EV charging systems are connected to the grid, the increase in demand must be met with increased investment in renewable sources – a further issue for grid stability and availability.

These considerations must be part of the wider strategy for effective, EV charging if we as a nation are to deliver on our Net Zero decarbonisation targets.

Demand

The need for the majority of charging systems to be connected to the grid also risks increasing electricity demand to unrealistic levels.

A 2019 House of Commons Electric Vehicles and Infrastructure briefing paper suggests that the number of EVs on the UKs roads could reach up to 10 million within the next decade and hit 36 million by 2040.

The same paper claimed that peak demand for EV charging may create a shortfall in grid capacity due to the projected 10 new power stations needed to satisfy demand.

Put simply, the National Grid, and the power sector as a whole, will need help from alternative, zero-emission, rapidly deployed, distributed power sources to deal with the new and prolonged peak demand generated by the widespread adoption of EVs.

If the UK is to meet its emissions target to replace diesel and petrol cars, then it needs to urgently begin looking at complementary solutions to help ease the pressure on the National Grid created.  One obvious solution is through the deployment of off-grid connected charging systems.

Off-grid charging systems offer a range of innovative solutions to the problems caused by traditional grid-connected infrastructure.

Adoption of hydrogen power systems, allowing localised power generation which can be run efficiently and without the large footprint of solar or wind, affords one such opportunity to mitigate the risks on the grid to large scale EV deployment.

Not only are off-grid systems such as hydrogen power systems able to be deployed anywhere, many are also able to generate 100% zero-emissions electricity. This technology helps to make the move to EV dominated roads a truly zero-emissions transition.

Alternatives

Perhaps most importantly, off-grid charging systems can not only be used to successfully relieve some of the pressure on the grid from EV charging, but also have the potential to feed excess green power generation back into the National Grid to help mitigate peak demand without the need to revert to investments in diesel and gas turbines currently dotted across the country to meet peak demand scenarios.

This would allow the government to meet its EV targets without compromising the lights in our homes or the power in our schools and hospitals and in fact increasing the National Grid’s ability to deal with new surges in peak energy demand.

No doubt the nation’s energy regulator, OFGEM, will also wish to consider such alternatives as it also looks to innovative ways of supporting low cost, zero-emission distributed power that is in the best interest of today’s energy customer.

Traditional EV charging infrastructure poses a number of tough challenges for the UK and for the National Grid. Without innovative solutions, the challenges posed by grid-connected systems could stunt the rollout of EVs on our roads at a time when air pollution is a more serious problem than ever before.

The government must take seriously the challenges to our grid capacity, emissions targets and EV adoption posed by grid-connected EV charging infrastructure.

By encouraging the rollout of complementary off-grid distributed power solutions, such as that afforded by the emerging hydrogen sector in the UK, we can overcome these challenges and continue to move towards a cleaner, low emissions future.