Are we there yet? The challenges on the Road to Zero
The Department for Transport’s Road to Zero policy, released last year, outlined the UK’s ambitions to be at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles, with the aim for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040. A year on from these commitments, the market share for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations has almost doubled from 0.6% (2018) to 1.1% (2019). This seemingly small increase is a notable success in the context of the relatively flat growth in the BEV market share over previous years - that said, it also highlights the amount of action that needs to be taken in order to meet the 2040 target.
The largest share of alternative-fuelled new vehicle registrations is for hybrid electric vehicles, at 6.8%. This would suggest that battery vehicles, despite the recent surge in interest in zero emission options, aren’t quite meeting the needs of those looking to switch over to cleaner vehicles.
Earlier this year, a report published by Deloitte indicated that the adoption of BEVs continues to be hampered by concerns related to driving range, price and charging infrastructure. These concerns provide valuable insight into why consumers continue to favour the more established plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). PHEVs and HEVs offer greater range and less dependency on public charging networks thanks to their back-up energy sources from fossil fuelled electricity generators and internal combustion engine drivetrains. The greater security and longer distances that these vehicles are able to cover make it likely that consumers will continue to select PHEVs and HEVs until more acceptable battery-only ranges are on offer.
This is not a new issue: vehicle range has long been a problem when it comes to BEVs. Some manufacturers claim to have achieved ranges of 200 miles and above on a single charge. However, under real-world driving scenarios BEVs have been found to achieve ~80-90% of their stated range. Such discrepancies increase driver range anxiety; until next-generation batteries, which promise ranges of 300 miles and above, are available, the only way to allay these fears is to address range issues with an extensive network of rapid chargers.
The UK charging network currently comprises more than 25,000 charging points nationwide. However, grid capacity still poses an issue, often requiring upgrades to the local energy grid infrastructure to support connections and meet energy demand. While smart charging systems can provide a means to manage the electricity demand for charging vehicles against the grid supply, and alleviate the pressures of a widescale electric switchover, large energy distribution improvements are still required.
It is becoming apparent that, in order to move the UK towards a zero-emission vehicle future, we need to think beyond the concept of the car. Switching all vehicles on UK roads over to battery power would address tailpipe emissions – but it wouldn’t solve the issue of fine particulate matter (PM2.5, solid particles 1/40th the diameter of a human hair) which originate from brake, tyre and road wear. Such sources have been found to generate more than half of the total PM2.5 from transport.
Based on our current understanding of vehicle emissions, the capabilities of BEV, and the energy generation and distribution network, it is becoming apparent that BEVs are not a panacea for our transport woes. A more holistic approach to this problem requires the overall reduction in the number of vehicles on the road and decarbonisation of the remaining fleet. This will have a direct and immediate impact on vehicle emissions, and decrease the potential peak electricity demand. Moreover, a reduction in traffic volumes on the road network will reduce congestion, resulting in less of a requirement for road building – which will in turn protect natural capital and avoid the embedded carbon emissions associated with road construction.
Reducing motorised travel demand has never been an easy task. There are a multitude of barriers to consumers choosing to make the switch to more sustainable travel which, combined with pushback from the automotive industry, can make it difficult to progress the transition to cleaner transport. The advent of new technology will undoubtedly make this transition smoother – new solutions like mobility-as-a-service, which enables connected end-to-end journeys through a single ticketing solution, and micro- and e-mobility solutions (such as e-bikes and e-scooters) are just some of the emerging technologies on offer.
What we need to move towards an operationally – and environmentally – sustainable transport system is support for a solution which isn’t highly dependent upon a single mode of transportation. On the individual level this can be achieved through transport users challenging their own choices, and trying something else on offer. At an organisational and governmental level, it requires decision makers to move towards long-term intelligent and adaptive design.
HyNet North West and InterGen to build Zero Carbon plant
Expected to begin in the mid-2020s, the partnership could reduce the CO2 emissions from the Runcorn power station by over 150,000 tonnes each year, the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road every year.
Situated across one of the UK’s largest industrial areas which supports the highest number of manufacturing jobs of any UK region, HyNet North West will bring clean growth to safeguard jobs, and create thousands of new employment opportunities.
Following a commitment of £72 million in funding, HyNet North West will transform the North West into the world’s first low carbon industrial cluster, playing a critical role in the UK’s transition to ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the global fight against climate change.
HyNet North West will begin decarbonising the North West and North Wales region from 2025, replacing fossil fuels currently used for electricity generation, industry, heating homes and transportation with clean hydrogen. The project will also capture and lock up carbon which is currently emitted into the atmosphere.
It anticipates that by 2028, Rocksavage will have enough hydrogen produced by HyNet to move towards a 100% net zero power generation power station as the Gas Turbine technology becomes available.
InterGen’s Rocksavage Plant Manager Dan Fosberg said Rocksavage has been safely generating energy to power the north west for nearly 25 years, but in order to meet the UK’s net zero targets, traditional generation needs to adapt.
"HyNet North West will allow us to pivot our operations as we transition to a low-carbon world. The proximity of the Rocksavage Power Plant to the HyNet North West hydrogen network provides us with an exciting and unique opportunity," he said.
As soon as the first stage of the hydrogen network is available at Runcorn, InterGen intends to modify the existing generating plant to consume a blend of hydrogen with natural gas and start to reduce our emissions.
The HyNet North West project milestones mean that Rocksavage could be the first plant in the UK to blend Hydrogen with natural gas, a step forward for the industry in the target for net-zero. Once the gas turbine technology becomes available, it will explore options with HyNet North West to create a zero emissions power station using 100% hydrogen.
The project will play a big part in supporting Liverpool City Region in its commitment to reach zero carbon by 2040 and accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: “Putting the Liverpool City Region at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution is one of my top priorities. With our existing strengths in green energy, we have the potential to become the UK’s renewable energy coast.
“I am committed to doubling the number of green jobs in our region and exciting projects like HyNet will be a key part of that. We’re going to lead the way, not only in doing our bit to tackle climate change, but in pioneering new and innovative technology that in turn attracts more jobs and investment to our region.”
David Parkin, HyNet North West Project Director, said HyNet North West will play a big part in tackling climate change regionally. "It will ensure the region remains an attractive location for investment and for companies to grow through the establishment of a clean economy, protection of skilled jobs and creation of thousands of new long-term employment opportunities.
“Our partnership with InterGen at Rocksavage shows just how great an impact HyNet will have on the region – decarbonising homes, workplaces, travel and industry.”
HyNet North West is a low carbon energy project at the forefront of the UK’s journey to a Net Zero future, being developed by a consortium comprising Progressive Energy, Cadent, Essar, Inovyn, Eni, University of Chester, CF Fertilisers and Hanson.