UK charges toward carbon neutrality

UK charges toward carbon neutrality

A landmark deal to install 100MW of energy storage in the UK is an important step forward in the country’s drive to reach net zero emissions.

Text: Tom Rodgers Photo: 123RF

The UK is moving forward with ambitious plans to become carbon neutral and combat climate change. The country already has a legally-binding commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in February that his government would bring forward to 2035 the country’s planned ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars.

A deal between energy storage and electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure developer Pivot Power and Wärtsilä will make the transition to environmentally sound transportation a little easier. The agreement will see energy storage systems installed at two projects totalling 100MW in Oxford and Kent.

From the outside, the energy storage systems look like normal shipping containers, but inside are filled with the latest lithium-ion battery technology linked to a whole host of Wärtsilä’s advanced energy management software solutions. Energy storage will provide flexible capacity to balance electricity supply and demand and support mass-scale, rapid EV charging infrastructure, so that drivers of electric cars, vans, and buses can charge quickly and easily, according to Pivot Power engineering director Adrien Lebrun.

Charging forward

The number of electric cars on UK roads is already rising rapidly. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, as of January 2020 there were 27,838 new registrations of electric battery-powered and hybrid cars on UK roads. 

The trade body’s research shows that 36% fewer diesel cars were registered in 2020 compared to 2019, and the number of new registrations of petrol vehicles dropped by 9.5%. In contrast, the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles spiked by 111% between January 2019 and January 2020, and across the same 12-month period, 203.6% more battery-powered cars were registered in the UK. 

But the charging infrastructure to keep these cars, vans, and buses moving has not always been readily available. It is certainly not as prevalent as the number of petrol stations that dot every UK main street and motorway service station.

Pivot Power is helping to change that. The company has 40 energy storage projects totalling up to 2GW in the pipeline up and down the country. These projects will include high-volume power connections providing essential capacity to support the roll-out of rapid EV charging stations at scale. The first of these projects – at Cowley in Oxford – is very exciting, says Lebrun, because it involves working with Oxford City Council to not only power private cars but also to recharge municipal vehicles and buses.

“Our mission is really to accelerate the transition to a clean electric future,” says Lebrun. “It’s interesting to note is that wholesale changes, such as the introduction of mobile phones, solar photovoltaics, or the rapid expansion of battery storage, they take a while to come to maturity, but when they do, they rise exponentially, and at speeds that were unforeseeable beforehand.”

“That’s what we see both for the battery storage market as well as the electric car market. We think it’s an exciting time where both of these technologies are starting their revolution. It’s going to get incredibly busy so fast.”

Net zero is now big business

The automotive sector isn’t the only major UK industry investing in a cleaner climate.

Media company Sky, which owns Sky News, pledged on 5 February 2020 to help fight climate change by eradicating carbon emissions from its operations by 2030.

Sky’s announcement was swiftly followed by energy giant BP, which unveiled its own plans on 12 February 2020 to reach net zero CO2 levels across its business no later than 2050. 

The massive oil and gas producer said the net zero goal would equate to a reduction in emissions of 415 million tons of CO2 equivalent each year.

To reach this ambitious target, the company admitted it would have to increase investment into non-fossil fuel businesses while encouraging its supply chain to decarbonise.

Royal Mail is also expanding its fleet of electric vehicles and recently awarded a major contract to install charging infrastructure for the vehicles in south eastern England.

“That big companies are making these kinds of statements makes it a lot easier for the rest of society to follow,” says Jan Andersson, Senior Market Development Analyst at Wärtsilä Energy Business. “It also speaks to the fact that if a large corporation, which is there to make profit for its shareholders, wants to do this, it makes financial sense.”

Powering the next steps

The roadmap to net zero carbon emissions will inevitably be powered by entire sectors switching to renewable energy. Thankfully the UK has a head start here. It is already the world’s largest offshore wind market. 

But innovative solutions will be needed to meet the target, and that will require finding connections between industries, according to Andersson.

“I believe the UK needs to focus on flexibility and do more sector coupling,” says Andersson. “So, not only optimising the electricity system to integrate everything, but also introducing more heating electrification and transport electrification. This is where you will find synergies, like having excess wind and solar power that can then be utilised for charging vehicles or turned into heating, for example.”

The deal between Pivot Power and Wärtsilä sets an example for this kind of ambitious alliance that will keep UK’s push for carbon neutrality moving forward.

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