When it comes to future mobility, the UK government has set us firmly on the road to electric and autonomous vehicles (EV and AV). First it was announced that they want to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles from 2040. Then, earlier this year, they proposed the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which will provide £1.2bn worth of investment to support charging point infrastructure and AV development. Now, in its Autumn budget, the government has promised £200M for necessary infrastructure, an extension to the plug-in car subsidy of £4,500 until 2020 and the commitment to remove tax for employees who charge their vehicle at work. This is all very encouraging, however what realistically needs to be done to achieve this vision?
We need a plan for the next 20 years to ensure that the roll-out of emerging vehicle technologies addresses numerous critical factors. Crucially, this plan must also look at the bigger picture of how these new technologies fit within and disrupt an already rapidly changing society, one with an increasing population, urbanisation and changing consumer needs.
In the short-term, issues surrounding EV costs and charging point provision need to be resolved. In the longer-term, autonomous vehicles promise to shake up the mobility landscape, but trials are needed to resolve ongoing concerns around safety, insurance and liability.
Battery costs have halved in the last five years. The technology has also improved to provide vehicles with a range that is sufficient for most people’s needs, in some cases they can be driven over 250 miles on a single charge. Nonetheless, infrastructure is needed to support wider usage and to encourage continued take-up. Transport for London is currently increasing the stock of rapid chargers across the capital to support legislation requiring that all new taxis are electric or hybrid from 1 January 2018.
The widespread take-up of EVs will place additional pressure on UK energy systems. In some cases, local electricity network capacity could be insufficient to cope with rapidly increased demand. EVs require a high charging load spread across long periods of time, meaning energy must be supplied at the right place and time to maximise efficiency from the network. Part of the solution will be smart grids, which offer the ability to control the timing of charging. This will also create opportunities to balance electricity demand with variable supply from sources such as wind power. Planning for this is required prior to mass take-up of EVs.
An autonomous future
If automation converges with sharing and people don’t own their own EVs, then residential charging may not be needed, taking pressure off the local distribution grid. AVs can also transform how we travel in the future, with the opportunity to summon vehicles and allowing passengers to use their travel time more effectively. New and existing driver aids including self-park, lane keep and self-braking are bringing us ever closer to full autonomy, which will likely bring changes to how we access vehicles. On-demand mobility services including e-hail taxis and car clubs will lead to changes in parking demand, parking proximity to destinations, increases in drop-off space requirements and kerbside activity.
How AVs interact with other modes of transport remains to be seen. They may sit within a shared and on-demand economy environment, which could lead to autonomous car travel being so attractive that public transport comes under threat. To make sure this doesn’t happen, there needs to be a balance that ensures new autonomous technology does not detract from transport conditions. There needs to be clear governance with the aim of societal good, ensuring that AVs complement other modes and enhance the complete transport offering.
What are the next steps?
We believe there are five key steps to achieving the EV and AV vision in the UK:
Support the rollout of charging points: This is crucial to enable large-scale take-up of electric vehicles.
Upgrade the electricity network: Identifying where reinforcement of power supply is needed to handle EVs at a local level.
Provide an enabling regulatory environment: This will support the roll-out of autonomous and shared vehicles, and should include a legal framework and the boundaries to operation.
Test the technology: We need further trials of autonomous taxis, private vehicles, shared vehicles, freight, shuttle and bus services prior to 2021; the UK government’s target for allowing autonomous vehicles on our roads.
Build the infrastructure: This includes physical changes to parking capacity, drop-off/pick-up space, and digital requirements for vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications.
The UK government has an ambitious vision for the take-up of EV and AV transportation which will help us drive down our carbon emissions while helping to accommodate an increasing population. However, achieving this requires targeted investment and strong collaboration between government and the infrastructure industry.