Blog: Renewable transport – finally out of neutral

Posted: 3 July, 2018. Written by REA News

At the REA, we see electric vehicles as representing a great opportunity for decarbonisation, for air quality improvement, and for reducing the total cost of car ownership.

With EV car sales growth rates at nearly 30% and around 2% of the UK’s vehicle parc now with a battery element, we seem to be going in the right direction. Progress is crucial as emissions from the transport sector are rising; it is now the UK’s largest source of carbon emissions (following a dramatic plunge in output from the power sector, which is now at Victorian-levels of CO2 pollution).

We believe that for the car and van market segments, change is coming quickly. Costs for EVs are falling and a reliable, affordable, and strategic national infrastructure is achievable with existing technology and supportive public policy.

A plethora of companies and market actors, ranging from National Grid to Tesla, ABB, Flexi Solar, and numerous regional developers such as Alfa Power, are rising to the challenge to deliver the full range of charging solutions – ultra rapid hubs next to motorways, fast chargers at destinations such as supermarkets, home and on-street chargers for primary use overnight, and workplace chargers for the day.

While it’s in the nature of our organisation to champion change, it’s also in our nature to develop roadmaps on how to get there. It will take time to reach the UK’s Committee on Climate Change’s aspirations of 60% electric vehicle sales by 2030, and there is urgency to reducing our emissions and improving air quality today.

Going forward, a portion of such EV sales will include Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) – low-carbon fuel will be important in them as well. Heavy goods vehicles are also an area of growth for the fuels sector and biomethane has a role to play in long-distance haulage.

This year’s landmark agreement from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 (compared to 2008 levels), in addition to the global agreement struck by the aviation industry in 2016 to reduce or offset its emissions by 2050, are also creating new markets for the UK’s resilient and innovative fuels sector.

The passage of new legislation this April widens the scope, increases the size and sets out targets to 2032 for the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO). There is considerable interest in supplying biomethane and other novel and waste-based fuels.

The increase in the obligation is expected to result in fuel suppliers making E10 (petrol with a 10% mix of bioethanol) available, but the question is when. This is vitally important to the UK’s two bioethanol refineries which need the switch to happen soon. The fuel suppliers want to make the switch, but it’s not without its challenges and none of them want to be the first to act.

Every new petrol car sold since 1st January 2011 has been fully warranted to use E10 and the majority of new cars since 2000 are also warranted to use it. Although the number is falling away with time, at present there are some 500k older (pre 1997) cars on the road for which E10 may not be suitable and which will continue to need E5 (petrol with a 5% mix of bioethanol).

Increasing the amount of ethanol in the UK’s petrol is the cheapest means of meeting the Obligation, and the move from E5 petrol to E10 would save an additional 0.76 million tonnes of carbon from road transport.

Will we get to 60% EVs in the UK, and will it radically decarbonise the majority of transport emissions? That seems certain. Yet for now at any rate, and for those sectors where electrification may not be an option, we must employ all the low-carbon solutions at our disposal.

Gaynor Hartnell, Head of Renewable Fuels and Daniel Brown, External Affairs Officer, REA

This blog is an excerpt from the influential Renewable Energy View 2018 (REview 2018) report released last week; the full study reflecting the performance of the renewable energy sector over the past year can be read here.