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Royal Academy of Engineering Report Says EV Success Depends on Low-Carbon Electricity, Universal Broadband Provision and Smart Grids

The introduction of electric vehicles on a large scale in the UK can only have a beneficial effect on CO2 emissions if low-carbon electricity, universal broadband provision and smart grids are in place to support the transition, according to a new report published by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering.

While technical development of electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles is proceeding—driven by an industry than sees their potential as the future of personal transport—market success will rely on a number of infrastructural improvements and early agreement on standards and protocols, the report says.

EVs and PHEVs can only be as ‘green’ as the electricity used to charge their batteries. Recent results from EV trials show a typical carbon dioxide emissions rating to be around 100g/km, when the car is charged from a typical power supply in the UK. Given that a brand new Volkswagen Polo turbo diesel injection has an emissions rating of 91g/km, it is difficult to see how electric vehicles fed from today’s UK electricity generation supply are significantly better than petrol or diesel vehicles. To have a major effect, the introduction of electric vehicles must be accompanied by an almost total decarbonization of the electricity supply.

—“Electric Vehicles: charged with potential”

In preparing its report, the Academy identified four major technical issues:

  • The availability of high energy-density batteries at a price and with a long enough cycle life for electric vehicles to be economically viable;

  • The practicalities of charging vehicles, particularly for users without off-street parking;

  • The electrical distribution infrastructure to provide power to millions of charging points; and

  • The need for a national energy system and smart grid that can recharge millions of electric vehicles using low-carbon electricity without overwhelming local distribution circuits.

Swapping gas guzzlers for electric vehicles will not solve our carbon emissions problem on its own. When most electricity in Britain is still generated by burning gas and coal, the difference between an electric car and a small, low-emission petrol or diesel car is negligible. We welcome the fact that the motor manufacturers are so ready to take on the challenge of developing mass market electric vehicles. We also welcome the new Government’s commitment to mandating charging sockets for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, but establishing these as the technology of choice for personal transport is only one aspect of what is needed to reduce transport emissions.

—Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University, Chair of the Academy’s Electric Vehicles working group

The current contribution of renewable and low-carbon generation to the UK’s energy supply is one of the lowest in Europe, the report points out. If the UK is to meet its renewables targets and ensure a greener power supply to electric cars, a range of new low-carbon energy sources will be needed, including new nuclear power stations, wind farms and tidal barrages.

As the Academy recognized in its recent report Generating the future: UK energy systems fit for 2050, creating this new energy system will require a massive change program and robust leadership by Government.

Delivering all four programs will be more challenging than any other engineering project of the last century. We have a unique opportunity just now to ensure that all the policies work together and to recognize the critical links between them. For example, recent discussions on introducing smart meters to every household did not include the functionality required to manage electric vehicle charging, which could render the first generation of smart meters obsolete as the electric vehicle market grows.

—Professor Kemp

There are ways to allow electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to take over most of the present uses of gasoline and diesel vehicles but these are unlikely to develop without financial incentives for early adopters, the report finds. In the medium term, the new Government will need to indicate how it intends to replace road fuel taxation as electric vehicles gain market share, to allow manufacturers and potential users to make informed decisions.

Electric vehicles could provide a major contribution to meeting the target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, they will only be built in mass production numbers when there is a compelling sustainable social and business model for their use to allow manufacturers to plan for a long-term market and when the new vehicles have a real carbon efficiency benefit over the latest internal combustion engines.

—Richard Parry-Jones, a member of the working group and former Group Vice President of the Ford Motor Company

A more likely alternative to widespread adoption of pure electric vehicles with their infrastructure requirement would be the plug-in hybrid. While hybrids have most of the environmental benefits of electric vehicles, they do not rely on such a comprehensive network of recharging points at multiple destinations. Plug-in hybrids could be adopted quickly as family cars or executive cars, leaving pure electric cars to achieve initial market penetration as second cars, doing low mileage and thus having little impact on carbon emissions.

The report makes five specific recommendations to advanced electric mobility:

  • The UK Government needs to outline its long-term policy direction for EVs in order to provide the right incentives for early adopters as well as providing a stable policy environment for the EV market to develop over time. This policy needs to extend into strategies for the timely investment in the required infrastructure, the ownership of that infrastructure and the timescales over which it must be implemented so as not to delay the development of EVs and PHEVs as mass market solutions. Government also needs to map out intentions for the funding of road networks in the medium term as tax revenues from conventional road fuels reduces.

  • The integration of low-carbon energy, universal broadband provision and smart grid policy areas to adopt a fully systems-based approach to ensure that all work together and the critical links between them are explicitly recognized.

  • The automotive industry, with the support of other interested parties, including UK and European governments, must proactively develop international standards for charging EVs and billing protocols.

  • The Government, Ofgem and the UK electricity industry must develop protocols to integrate the long term needs of EV charging into current plans to roll out smart meters and smart grid technologies country wide. Not doing so will risk either stifling growth in the EV market or being faced with early obsolescence of the first generation of domestic smart meters.

  • Further research and development of EV batteries, energy management systems and fast charging is needed to maintain and increase the carbon advantage that EVs currently enjoy and to reduce costs of the battery and EV drive train relative to internal combustion engine vehicles. This needs to be achieved in parallel with continued decarbonization of the UK electricity system.

Electric Vehicles: charged with potential was prepared by a working group consisting of the following group of Academy Fellows, commenting in a personal capacity and not necessarily as representatives of their respective organizations:

  • Professor Roger Kemp FREng, Lancaster University (Chair)
  • Professor Phil Blythe, Newcastle University
  • Dr Chris Brace, Bath University
  • Pete James, Prodrive
  • Richard Parry-Jones FREng, RPJ Consulting
  • Davy Thielena, KEMA Consulting
  • Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng, Martyn Thomas Associates
  • Professor John Urry, Lancaster University
  • Richard Wenham, Ricardo plc

The Academy is sponsoring a debate at Cheltenham Science Festival on 13 June entitled Electric dreams: the future of cars. Professor Roger Kemp will join psychologist Harry Witchel and electric car enthusiast Robert Llewellyn to explore the future of battery powered vehicles.




Gee, shocking. Nothing that we didn't know already.


The question becomes - can you usefully integrate wind with EVs.
You can certainly integrate night time electricity with EVs, for those who can charge at home, but wind is more problematic as it may not blow when you want it, if at all.
You will be able to predict when the wind will blow reasonably accurately a few days out, but can you make use of this information ?
How many people would postpone an EV charge for 2 days (say from Tues and Weds to Thursday) if a weather forecast said it would be windy on Thursday - I am not sure that many would.
Most people would probably rather keep their expensive batteries at a safe discharge percentage, and not run them down too much.
Also, there are suggestions that if LI battery supply is constrained, we are better off building many Hybrids and small battery PHEVs rather than a few full EVs (for a give amount of battery supply).

[ So we won't be using so much grid electricity for EVs anyway ]


The alternative would be for cars to be powered using on-board generators and charged from homes and stations where hydrogen is produced via on-site electrolysis.

For example, at-home generation of energy using roof-top solar arrays and micro-wind turbines can be convereted to hydrogen and then stored for either conversion to on-demand electricty consumption and/or to refill a car powered with a hydrogen fuel cell.

It allows electricity to be stored as hydrogen when there is the wind and the sun to generate electicity and for the energy to be realeased when it is needed. This could take away the concerns about the reliability ofthe wind and sun and also put less strain on the energy generating capacity of a centralised system.

Better still however, is just to go down the biofuels route, which makes sense when most of the current vehicle fleet has the capability of running on biodiesel, butanol, biogasoline etc.

In truth I think there will be a rising combination of both biofuel, hydrogen and direct electric as a gradual low carbon replacement of the vehicle fleet.

The 'either' and the 'or' rather than the 'all' and 'and' is like putting too many eggs in one basket. So lets not get too obsessed with the complexities of electric vehicles in place of biofuels - It should be as well as.


Cleaning up power generation plants should be the next worldwide green project.


One thing I noticed: "the difference between an electric car and a small, low-emission petrol or diesel car is negligible" should be read as 'the difference between an electric car [with no qualifiers] and a [small, low-emission] petrol or diesel car is negligible.'

The problem of postponing an EV charge until the wind blows is a non-problem when you start thinking of cars collectively. It may be true that a single EV driver may not be able to predict when the wind is going to blow the grid doesn't need to make such predictions because it sees the BEVs as a fleet.

The average car is actually on the road [or not parked] for a very small percentage of its life. It is such a small percentage that for every EV that is on the road there will be 50 that are parked and plugged in.


Interesting report but what else is new.

Sanity Chk

Scott: Forget H2. It's too inefficient to produce and too heavy and bulky to carry in a car.


If thats the case, best to go down the biofuels route instead then.


The average car is used for less than 300 hours/year or about 3.4% of the time. The other 8466 hours or 96.6% of the time it is parked somewhere, mostly in the home garage or work place parking. This will not change that much with electrified vehicles. In other words, with charge points at work place + home garage, an e-car could be on charge for an average 23.1 hours/day. Since the average energy used for e-cars will be between 10 and 12 Kwh/day, a charge rate of 0.5 Kwh would be enough in most cases. This can be done with 115 VAC @ a bit less than 5 Amps. A low grade extension cord and a cheap charger can support that.


I see ai_vin caught the deception in the original article.  What's the difference between a gas Rolls Royce and its electric equivalent?  Considerable, I'll bet, not just in CO2 emissions but also the ratio of imported energy to domestic.

Will S

If the wind is not blowing, then use solar (daytime charging), geothermal, hydro, and natural gas (peakers or CC) when all the above are not sufficient. Yes, wind can be predicted fairly accurately hours in advance, and with reasonable reliability over 24 hours in advance.


ai_vin, EP:
The original article specifies a small four car, which is what the Polo is. Also says 81 g CO2/km for an electric Smart, so there is relevant empirical evidence for the electric car figure.


In reading the pdf I've come across some telling text. They specify small ICE cars like the Polo but when they talk of EVs they say things like:

"A small EV with a range of 100 miles could be recharged in a few hours from a normal domestic socket. To recharge a high-performance, long-range EV would
require a more powerful electricity supply." Which says to me they're thinking about a range of EV sizes.

Farther down they confirm this by saying: "A few million small electric vehicles kept as second cars for shopping and the school run would have negligible effect on overall transport emissions; we therefore concentrate on vehicles likely to be used by the general population, not on vehicles from specialist suppliers destined for a niche market.

This report is about passenger cars and, by inference, car-derived vans. There will be many more applications of electric and hybrid technology – one of the most
suitable applications for hybrids could be for refuse disposal lorries. The manufacture of light commercial vehicles with electric drive is already established
and a longer report would have included more information from this sector."

Like I said 'they're comparing small gas/diesel powered car against ALL electrics' - even vans and trucks.


And yes they do talk about the electric Smart but they only do this after they talk about other larger EVs. They even put the E-smart at the far end of the range of EVs with the line: "At the other end of the scale, there will be a market for affordable city cars, such
as the Smart Move (Figure 5) used for commuting and urban living. However, these will be used for low mileages and will not make a major difference to
national emissions."


There is a valid point on town versus commute cars. If the town car puts on 3000 miles per year, but the commuter car puts on 15,000 miles year, you make the best gains with the EV commuter car.


Yes, but that's not the comparison they're making, is it?


I don't care what point they are trying to make, I care about important points.


New LCD panels requiring 3600 less energy (from 200 watts average divided by 3600 = 0.06 watts). In other words, if you save about 200 watts per HDTV you could save about (500 million HDTV x 200 watts x 6 hours per day) = 600,000 million Wh/day or 600 million KWh/day. That minor technology change could save enough e-energy for about 60 million e-vehicles. If you include all other LCD displays such as Laptops, Games, phones, GPS, etc... the total potential saving may be enough for 100 million e-vehicles. Simple but possible....

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