Skip to content

Britain faces huge costs to avoid power shortages with electric car plan

September 5, 2017

By Paul Homewood


I mentioned a recent Wood Mackenzie report into the implications for our power supply from electric cars.

It now has started to get some media traction, for instance from the Independent and the following report from Reuters, which widens the debate:


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain must plough billions of pounds into new power plants, grid networks and electric vehicle charging points if it is to avoid local power shortages when a planned ban on new diesel and petrol cars begins.

Supporting millions more battery-powered vehicles over the next two decades is technically feasible, and if drivers can be persuaded to recharge them overnight – when spare power capacity is abundant – the huge infrastructure cost could be kept down.

Local networks particularly face problems, so the country will need a range of technologies for managing consumption to meet an estimated rise of up to 15 percent in overall demand and prevent spikes of up to 40 percent at peak times.

“It will be a challenge and a lot of investment is required – in generation capacity, strengthening the distribution grid and charging infrastructure,” said Johannes Wetzel, energy markets analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

In July, the government said it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. The aim is to reduce air pollution, a source of growing public health concerns, and help Britain to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels – the target it has set itself.

Although some conventional cars will remain on the road, numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) could balloon to 20 million by 2040 from around 90,000 today, experts estimate. Charging them all will require additional electricity.

Britain already faces a power supply crunch in the early 2020s as old nuclear reactors come to the end of their lives and remaining coal-fired plants are phased out by 2025.

Four years ago, well before the conventional car ban was raised, the government said over 100 billion pounds ($130 billion) in investment would be needed to ensure clean, secure electricity supplies and to reduce demand.

That looks optimistic. The cost of Hinkley Point C alone, the only nuclear power station now under construction in Britain, is estimated at 19.6 billion pounds.

Gas plants are cheaper and faster to build but investment in new ones is flat, and they still produce carbon emissions. Renewable energy presents problems of matching supply and demand; solar panels for instance produce no power in the night when drivers would ideally recharge their electric cars.




Estimates vary on future numbers of electric vehicles, as well as hybrids and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells which do not require mains electricity. However, several analysts surveyed by Reuters said anything up to an extra 50 terrawatt hours (TWh) would be needed for them by 2040.

Bernstein analysts say overall demand could increase by 41-49 TWh, or 13-15 percent of current levels. However, a 15 percent rise would translate into a 40 percent jump in peak demand if drivers charged their cars between 6 and 9 pm, when electricity consumption is at its highest.

This problem can be eased by encouraging charging at night, when demand is currently only about a third of during peak periods. “We do not see the transition to EVs as posing a significant stress on peak demand if charging were incentivized to happen at off-peak times,” they said.

Britain has made progress in energy efficiency. Overall and peak power demand fell by around 14 percent between 2005 and 2016, even though the economy grew by the same amount.

“There is definitely some slack in the transmission and distribution system to tolerate an increase in the peak demand,” according to Bernstein.

Its “extreme scenario” projection of a 40 percent rise in peak demand equates to 24 gigawatts (GW). But National Grid, which operates the transmission system, has said the rise in peak demand can be kept to 5 GW if there is smart charging and time-of-use electricity tariffs.

Such encouragement of off-peak EV charging by making power cheaper than at peak times of the day will be essential.

“A very large peak demand could be the outcome if other things don’t happen, such as smart grids, smart charging and energy storage, although we expect these technology solutions to be developed to support increasing power demand within sensible peak levels,” said Richard Sarsfield-Hall, director at Poyry Management Consulting.



While nationally there may be some slack, local grids and distribution networks could feel the pinch. A trial by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks found that uncontrolled EV charging would double the usual domestic load to 2 kilowatts (kW) when using a 3.5 kW charger. More powerful chargers would exacerbate the load strain further.

The company’s head of asset management and innovation, Stewart Reid, said up to 30 percent of its local networks could experience problems such as power loss if 40-70 percent of its customers have EVs, based on 3.5 kW chargers.

Spreading out charging through the night could save around 2.2 billion pounds of expenditure in replacing or upgrading cables or transformers, he added.

Capacity problems could also start in the home. National Grid says that drivers charging their cars at home might not be able to use items such as kettles, ovens and immersion heaters at the same time without tripping their house’s main fuse. “The house electricity supply is one ‘pinch point’,” it said in a background article.

The piece raised another difficulty: it estimated that 43 percent of households have no off-street parking, meaning drivers could not recharge their cars overnight in their garage or driveway as they slept in their homes.

An alternative is more public power points at supermarkets, allowing cars to be charged while their owners shop inside. However, few drivers would probably want to buy groceries in the dead of night, the best time for easing grid loads.

Even if the grid can bear the burden, increasing charging points from the current 13,000 won’t be cheap.

“The UK by 2040 needs 1-2.5 million new charging points. An average public charging point costs 25-30,000 euros so it would need to invest 33-87 billion euros from now until 2040,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Wetzel.



All but one of Britain’s existing nine nuclear plants, which can together produce around 9 GW, are set to close by 2030 unless their lives are extended. On top of this, 12 GW of coal capacity will shut by 2025.

At the end of last year, gas-fired capacity totaled 32 GW and the government has said more such plants could help fill the gap left by coal. However, weak wholesale power prices have stunted new development.

Britain’s largest gas plant to open for three years, at 884 MW, came online last year in Manchester at a cost over 700 million pounds. But plans for a 2-GW gas plant nearby have stalled as the developer struggled to find investment for the 800 million pound project.

One risk is that by using this fossil fuel to meet extra power demand, Britain could end up emitting more greenhouse gases in charging EVs than conventional cars do already.

Norway has proportionately the largest EV fleet in the world, and in January they accounted for 37.5 percent of new car sales. However, the country relies on carbon-free hydropower for almost all electricity supplies.

The government has projected that almost 140 GW of generation capacity is needed by 2035 to replace ageing plants and as electricity demand increases. This is around 30 GW higher than current levels.

Sources could include onshore and offshore wind, gas, biomass, nuclear and power links with Europe.

But Britain has struggled to get nuclear projects built, mainly due to the high costs. EDF’s 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C plant is expected to be operational by 2025 at the earliest.

Much of the necessary investment will fall on the private sector. But experts say the state, including energy market regulator Ofgem, must ensure the country achieves a reliable mix of power sources and builds infrastructure such as more interconnectors. These links with continental Europe allow the import and export of power to match supply and demand.

“If we get an increase in renewables, interconnectors, some new gas and nuclear (plants), we can get the power required, but you need the government and Ofgem to help deliver that,” said Simon Virley, UK head of power and utilities at KPMG.

“And there is a question mark over localized pinch points and grid stability issues,” he added.


Reports like this put to the shame the sort of pathetic cut and paste jobs we are used to seeing from the likes of Jillian Ambrose.


I did have to laugh at this statement!

An alternative is more public power points at supermarkets, allowing cars to be charged while their owners shop inside. However, few drivers would probably want to buy groceries in the dead of night, the best time for easing grid loads.


On a more serious note, can you imagine the aggravation when one driver leaves his car on charge for an hour or so, and a queue build up behind it?

  1. Dermot Flaherty permalink
    September 5, 2017 11:21 am

    Yep. All good stuff and if more of the media are discovering (and publishing) the pretty basic facts implied by Gove’s science fiction future then that is a step forward.
    (Although when the BBC will give it airtime is another story).

    And of course, Gove and the Environment Dept have leapt into this fantasy world by using (abusing) the FES 2017 Two Degrees Scenario which was explicitly drawn up to meet Climate Change targets –
    Two Degrees has the highest level of prosperity. Increased investment ensures the delivery of high levels of low carbon energy. Consumers make conscious choices to be greener
    and can afford technology to support it. With highly effective policy interventions in place, this is the only scenario where all UK carbon reduction targets are achieved.

    Of course, stating this vision doesn't make it so which is why I am stunned that the media aren't calling for Greg Clark (BEIS) to tell us how we are going to get to the sunlit uplands.

  2. September 5, 2017 11:41 am

    I would love to see all these so-called “clean” technologies form a separate energy system, for example wind/solar directly charging batteries and producing hydrogen. Just imagine the joy of the right-on when almost their entire lives can function without carbon, and the dismay when they find out that they will have to pay for it all themselves.

    Will never happen of course, since utilities are now the new taxation, the only source of revenue that political parties now allows to increase, given that the MSM egg them on, and that they can blame the utility companies for price rises.

  3. Joe Public permalink
    September 5, 2017 11:51 am

    Place your bets now:

    Option #1:

    “Such encouragement of off-peak EV charging by making power cheaper than at peak times of the day will be essential.”

    Option #2;

    Such coercion of off-peak EV charging by making power DEARER at peak times of the day will be essential.

    • September 6, 2017 3:05 am

      The revenue lost by not taxing cars for polluting the atmosphere has to be recovered from somewhere. Once we are all constrained to use electricity to power our vehicles energy taxes will skyrocket.

  4. September 5, 2017 11:54 am

    The enormous effort that seems to being put into the development of driverless cars, and the enthusiasm in some quarters for the elimination of private car ownership completely, suggests that the future might be driverless taxis or “pods” as they like to call them.
    The vision seems to be that that pods will be operated to maximise the number of passengers in the vehicle, compulsory car sharing if you like.
    Such a scheme, enforced by prohibitive costs of car ownership, would reduce electricity required for car charging and help eliminate charging logistical problems like homes with no space to park whilst charging.
    Thinking about all the other advantages government would see in a brave new pod word, less crime, terrorism, motoring offences and on and on, I suspect we are heading not just to electric cars but pods.

    • roger permalink
      September 5, 2017 1:36 pm

      Your description of pods more than resembles the present day bus services.
      These may appear to be adequate for the sheeple who live in cities, but not to those of us who live in the country and have to contend with sparsely spread rarely connected infrequent subsidised services whose utility can be judged by their paucity of passengers.
      Banks, surgeries, hospitals shops and a myriad of other essential services have been centralised over recent years in the name of efficiency to such an extent that villagers and even some townies often have to travel in opposing directions to avail themselves of these facilities.
      This becomes increasingly more difficult to an aging population, to whom a hospital appointment for 30 minutes can often entail a 10 hour day when travel and waiting time are added in. Will my hospital, 13 miles away and a Centre of Excellence of course, send a pod to pick me up and return me home I wonder?
      I think not and thank god for my car and the fossil fuel that propels it!

      • Colin permalink
        September 5, 2017 6:10 pm

        “Sheeple living in the cities”. Sounds like a townie, relocated to the sticks, commuting to a pointless job in the city and assuming the airs of a country squire.

      • roger permalink
        September 5, 2017 10:02 pm

        Yep! Lived in a city till sixteen and then left home for the sticks with four white fivers and a suitcase where I developed a manufacturing business, exported to most of the world and provided employment for quite a lot of young people fot thirty odd years.
        And your claim to fame is?

    • September 6, 2017 3:10 am

      Eliminate private car ownership and reduce the people’s ability to move freely about the country at will. Force people to use “public” transport and the authorities can further erode our independence. Thank you brave new world.

  5. dangeroosdave permalink
    September 5, 2017 12:57 pm

    Joe Public Option #3-

    -Add to the grid the x gigawatts currently burned as petrol for x horsepower in petrol vehicles (double? triple?)
    -The peak usage period will obviously change from daytime, when vehicles are operating and expending their stored energy, to nighttime, when vehicles are charging.
    -Battery gigawatts are about 65% efficiency of direct generation, transmission and use, so add in a factor for that.
    -Maybe you can drive your vehicle downhill to work and generate electricity rather than consume. Both ways.

  6. Tom O permalink
    September 5, 2017 12:59 pm

    Interesting statement –

    “Britain has made progress in energy efficiency. Overall and peak power demand fell by around 14 percent between 2005 and 2016, even though the economy grew by the same amount.”

    My guess is the first half is from loss of industry, and the second half is from the inflation they pretend isn’t there.

  7. Bitter&Twisted permalink
    September 5, 2017 1:17 pm

    The crass, ignorant and near suicidal stupidity of the “greens” and their “useful idiots” in Government never ceases to amaze me.

    Of course the “smart” Oxford English, PPE and History graduates will be unable to grasp the meaning of the Wood Mackenzie report because of their prejudice and scientific incompetence.

    “Genius” Michael Gove (who attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,where he took a BA in English, graduating with an upper second) fits the “Intellectual but idiot” profile, perfectly.

    • September 5, 2017 3:02 pm

      Fortunately Gove won’t be around to implement his cunning EV plan. Long before 2040 either sanity will have returned or the country will have gone bust.

      • September 5, 2017 6:15 pm

        While reading this post I was wondering what would happen when the increasingly overwhelming evidence that CO2 has damn all to do with climate finally permeates the ministerial brain. I hope that it happens before the country goes bust, Phillip, but it could be a “damn close-run thing”! Made more so by the Nippy Sweetie’s announcement today that she plans to have Scotland phase out petrol and diesel by 2032!

        Meanwhile, here in sunny Burgundy, autumn has arrived with a vengeance. 24s and 25s may still be the maxima order of the day (and there’s no real “body” in that, either; the contrast between sun and shade is marked) but Meteo France is offering us nothing better than 12 or 13 for minima and already we have had two nights as low as 8, a figure we have not seen for at least another three weeks in the seven years we have been here. And then only spasmodically until late October.

        Surely something’s got to give, soon!?

  8. September 5, 2017 1:30 pm

    So it’s only a 22,000% increase to get already highly subsidised EV’s from 90K to 20 million?

    I’m sure they’ll be no problems there.

    What we don’t tend to see in even good articles like this one from Reuters are the lost opportunity costs. This will require spending billions of pounds and using tens of millions of people hours for subsidies/building new infrastructure. Then there are the millions of acres for all the wind turbines and solar parks, that still need fossil fuel back up (or magical batteries that don’t exist).

    What could that be spent on instead? What could be built instead? How many people or real environmental challenges could be solved instead?

    The UK is a negligible factor in Global Climate, nobody is following our legal insanity of mandating magical CO2 targets (except maybe the EU), and it is at least plausible that the so-called “social cost” of CO2 is either very small or even negative (if you tweak adaption discount rates, challenge PM2.5 death links and add CO2 greening benefits). So this could well be wasting vast resources, potentially for little benefit/nothing, or it may even cause harm.

    • Robin Guenier permalink
      September 5, 2017 2:06 pm

      And it isn’t just that “The UK is a negligible factor in Global Climate” (about 1% of global emissions), but that – as I’ve pointed out here several times – countries responsible for about 75% of emissions don’t regard their reduction as a priority. Indeed, many developing countries are happily installing new coal-fired power stations – many funded by China.

  9. Vernon E permalink
    September 5, 2017 1:59 pm

    All the alarmist talk about the impracticality of EV’s seems, as far as I can see, to assume that all private road users will do maximum range journeys of about 300 miles daily. In fact, the average vehicle usage is about 10,000 miles per year i.e. around 30 miles per day. I don’t know how many KVA that equates to but with advanced control of re-charging I don’t see why it is such a huge problem especially off peak. (I still won’t buy one though.)

    • September 6, 2017 3:16 am

      Our pool cars at work are electric. Their maximum reliable range is about 90 miles, at which point they have to be recharged for 8 hours. They are so dependable that they have to be reconnected to charging points after every journey, most of which are short duration local ones. The idea that people will arrive home and hen wait until sometime later to recharge their cars shows an ignorance of human nature that beggars belief.

      • dave permalink
        September 6, 2017 6:24 am

        “…hen wait…”

        The women will be angry.

  10. Stonyground permalink
    September 5, 2017 2:21 pm

    Most of my journeys are short but I do regularly take longer trips too, round trips of about 300 miles. My diesel car has 131,000 miles on the clock. It takes both the long and short trips in its stride and returns about 45 mpg. The range is about 600 miles, during the summer when I’m cycling a lot I hardly ever have to put fuel in it. When I do have to fill it up it takes me two minutes. So, yes Vernon, compared to my car, EVs are utterly impractical, no alarmism required.

  11. markl permalink
    September 5, 2017 3:36 pm

    Another “shoot, ready, aim” proclamation by the UK government that is being analyzed after the fact. Thank you UK and Australia for being the renewable energy guinea pigs of the world.

  12. Robin Guenier permalink
    September 5, 2017 4:16 pm

    And Scotland’s going petrol and diesel free by 2032:

    As Nicola Sturgeon says: “We face rapid advances in technology; a moral obligation to tackle climate change… These challenges are considerable, but in each of them we will find opportunity. It is our job to seize it.” Wow: that’ll make China review its policy.

    • roger permalink
      September 5, 2017 6:17 pm

      Nichola Sturgeon, another product of the Central Belt which is tightened around their heads at birth to produce microcephaly.

    • Alaskan Sea permalink
      September 5, 2017 6:38 pm

      I will be buying several diesel vehicles and stockpiling them for 2032!

    • September 5, 2017 8:32 pm

      Good news for car dealers over the border in England 😀

    • September 5, 2017 9:46 pm

      And those EVs in Scotland might as well be called GV’s – gas powered vehicles – since that is where a large part of the electricity is going to be coming from.

      Here is a quick comparison:

      Whitelee Windfarm in Nicola’s Scotland – the largest onshore wind farm in the entire UK – 135,090 acres. Produced a measly 56MW last year.

      Seabank CCGT (Natural Gas) Power Station in England – one of largest in the entire UK – 1,012 acres. Produced around 500MW last year.

      Ten times more electricity, taking up 135 times less of the environment, no need to poison Chinese workers to get the rare Earth metals, no birds chopped to pieces, and probably even lower CO2 when you factor in making the cement/steel/cfibre in the wind turbine manufacturing process. Oh and way cheaper so we don’t plunge people in Scotland and the UK into energy poverty and instead invest that money into the productive economy.

      If Nicola is serious about climate change how about she severs the interconnects between Scotland and England and tries to run even just Edinburgh on the unreliables of wind and solar (sorry, no biomass, it produces more pollution than the ICE cars she demonises)

    • Robin Guenier permalink
      September 6, 2017 5:56 am

      Also: In a sweeping set of policy announcements, Sturgeon also said her government would finance a carbon capture and storage project in the North Sea.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        September 6, 2017 12:59 pm

        When she says ‘her government would finance’ does that really mean English taxpayers again?

  13. It doesn't add up... permalink
    September 5, 2017 5:04 pm

    One point I’ve not seen widely discussed is that connecting a large number of inverters to the grid could easily prove destabilising. Avoiding that will add a whole different layer of expense.

  14. Robert Christopher permalink
    September 5, 2017 8:37 pm

    New models of smartphones can charge faster, turbocharging, while the battery is well below a full charge, so I am sure this technique will be used on electric car charging, but each improvement that will made as time passes will need to be backward compatible, and that will need management.

    Given how well Smart Meters have been built to a standard that allows people to switch between suppliers, the future looks interesting?

  15. John F. Hultquist permalink
    September 5, 2017 9:28 pm

    People have the wrong idea about charging the battery of an EV.
    Stop with the analogy of the old fashioned petrol station !
    Think instead of the cold climate region where autos have block heaters and parking spots have an electrical outlet. The purpose of the block heater is explained here: Link
    and there is a photo of the cord coming from the unit on the engine.
    Many places, and many autos, in North America use these. Always, one of our autos is fitted with one, and when buying a new car we have the dealer install one before taking possession. The heater costs less than the labor to install it.
    When our local temperature is expected to go below -26°C (-15°F) I will park close to an outlet and plug in. The car will start and the fluids will be warm – defrost works on start up. Public parking spaces from Iowa to Saskatchewan have had such outlets for many years.
    Workplace or shopping parking lots will, in the future, have outlets and a means of paying for the charge.
    Note: an EV is not in my future – but the image of a refueling petrol-style station is not necessary for mass adoption of EVs. That said, something new may come along. Recall that cell phones negated the idea that every residence had to have copper wires to make phone calls.

    • dave permalink
      September 6, 2017 6:27 am

      “…something new may come along…”

      Hello Mr Micawber. I thought you were back in in debtors prison.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        September 6, 2017 1:01 pm

        I think Mr Micawber is in the Tory government – so much of their policy is blind aspiration including Brexit.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      September 6, 2017 10:10 am

      A block heater is a nice, well behaved resistive load. An inverter can be rather rogue, especially when they hunt in packs.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      September 6, 2017 12:42 pm

      Erm… This is a post about Britain, where the temperature rarely gets below -10C even in the north of Scotland. I can’t think I’ve ever seen a car with a block heater, and can’t find any for sale apart from specialist outlets. So, no, there are no power outlets for them anywhere here.

      In any case, the current required to charge an EV is maybe 50 times as much as for a 100W heater and needed for far longer. If everyone shows up at the local mall and plugs into infrastructure designed for block heaters, it will surely blow the fuse!

      So I suspect in both the US and the UK we still need a substantial rollout of EV chargers and the ability to drink a lot of coffee while waiting at rest stops.

      Is an EV in my future? Maybe. I rarely travel more than 100 miles in one trip and I may still be driving in 2040. For the moment, my 10 year old diesel Toyota suits me fine.

  16. Gerry, England permalink
    September 6, 2017 1:02 pm

    Would the late night trip to the supermarket need to last 8 hours so the battery can charge? Will they be adding accommodation to all supermarkets or will the next generation EVs come equip with a bed? Are VW ahead of the game with their proposed new EV campervan. Look nice – wonder if you can fit an engine?

  17. Coeur de Lion permalink
    September 7, 2017 8:11 am

    I think we can keep calm. It will never happen. There will be a lot more ICEs on the roads in 2030.

  18. September 7, 2017 9:35 am

    The point I haven’t seen addressed by these electromaniacs is just how all those millions of householder/car owners are going to be able to charge their cars when they live in blocks of flats, or any other housing, i.e. terraces etc, where they cannot, usually, park just outside. And, even if they may be able to, what is proposed for all those trailing cables running all over the place ? It’s just not going to work, is it ?

    • nigel permalink
      September 7, 2017 11:31 am

      When I visit a hotel in Brighton, I have to leave my vehicle overnight in a public carpark . I am not aware that the Council have plans (or any money) to run a charging cable to each marked space. Just one of the thousand nonsense aspects of this “plan.”

  19. Max Sawyer permalink
    September 7, 2017 3:35 pm

    Any stats. on current night-time car use? Shift workers, early commuters, late-night shopping, going on holiday etc. – all would require day-time charging.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: