Is the UK grid ready for electric vehicles?
The UK government is aiming for all new car and van sales to be electric in 2035. Can the electrical grid cope, and how clean will that energy be?
What is the carbon intensity of the UK grid?
Electric vehicles are only as clean as the energy they use, and UK grid electricity is decarbonising quickly. National Grid ESO, which is responsible for moving electricity around the country, is targeting a 100% zero-carbon supply by 2025 - and that includes capacity for meeting peak demand .
With a growing share of renewable sources, electric vehicles registered today will become gradually less carbon-intensive over the course of a three or four-year lease.
Understanding UK grid carbon intensity
Average carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour (kWh) reached an all-time low of 181g/kWh in 2020 - a 65.8% reduction compared to 529g/km in 2013 . For a typical mid-size electric car returning 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour, that would equate to 32g/km CO2 emissions in 2020, with only 1.6% of that energy produced from burning coal.
But the UK grid carbon intensity can be much lower than that. In April 2021, the grid recorded a record low carbon intensity of 39g/kWh, equivalent to 6.9g/km for that same vehicle, including energy production and distribution . That's significantly lower than the tank-to-wheel figure for a petrol or diesel car.
Grid carbon intensity April 2021
Can the UK grid support electric cars?
A common concern about electric vehicles is the effect of drivers returning home and charging early in the evening, when demand is already at its highest. However, peak demand has fallen during the last 20 years.
This offers some headroom for National Grid Group's projected 10% increase if every UK household switched to an electric car . That's in part because of smarter EV charging.
Foundations for a greener future
The groundwork is already being put in place. Grant funding for home and workplace chargers already requires units to be capable of exchanging usage data anonymously and adjusting charging rates to reduce demand spikes [5,6].
Announced as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 'ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution?, the UK Government will also invest in facilities to store excess renewable energy and release it when demand is at its highest . This reduces the need for fossil fuels a backup, which is what happens today.
Electric vehicles are expected to play an active role in this ecosystem, reducing the need for additional generation capacity. By 2050, National Grid ESO predicts 80% of households will smart charge their electric vehicles, automatically pausing charging to stabilise demand.
The report adds that 45% (5.5m cars and vans) could utilise 'vehicle to grid' (V2G) technology  by the same date. This would enable them to supply energy from their batteries back to the grid when extra capacity is needed.
Vehicle to grid trials
OVO Energy, Octopus and DriveElectric will begin V2G trials within months [9,10,11], while EDF Energy already offers a solution for fleets . However, not all vehicles are compatible.
V2G services tend to require vehicles to use the CHAdeMO charging standard, most common on the Nissan LEAF and Nissan e-NV200. The CCS connector used by most new electric vehicles sold in Europe does not have the communication protocol required for V2G yet .
How can I minimise my electric vehicle's carbon impact?
Small behaviour changes can make a big difference to your electric vehicle's CO2 emissions, and could save money too. Here are some simple steps:
1. Get a Smart Meter
The UK Government is offering smart meter upgrades for every household in England, Scotland and Wales by 2025, and they're an important component of a cleaner energy system.
A smart meter provides a live display of energy consumption for users, while automating the billing process and generating data that can inform wider integration of renewables into the grid. Installation costs are included within your energy bills and you can request upgrades here.
2. Watch the Grid
UK grid carbon intensity varies by region and the time of day, as increased demand relies on a larger share from non-renewable sources.
To help consumers understand those fluctuations, National Grid ESO has a live calculator that tracks and predicts CO2 emissions and suggests the best times to plug in. It's available as a free app for Apple and Google devices, and at carbonintensity.org.uk
3. Change Your Tariff
The lowest-carbon electricity can also cost less. Switching to a Dual Rate tariff introduces much cheaper unit costs (per kWh) for charging overnight, when demand on the grid and CO2 emissions from generation are lowest. Several utility companies also offer specific tariffs for renewable energy.
4. Plan Your Charging
Most plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles have a feature that enables charging to be scheduled for off-peak tariffs or periods when grid carbon intensity is at its lowest. This could help mitigate demand spikes and reduce running costs for drivers too.
Find out more
To find out more about electric vehicles please speak to your LeasePlan Account Manager who will be happy to help. Or visit our EV hub to learn more about electric vehicles.
 National Grid ESO. (n.d.). Zero-carbon explained. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgrideso.com/electricity-explained/zero-carbon-explained [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 National Grid ESO. (2021). Record-breaking 2020 becomes greenest year for Britain's electricity. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgrideso.com/news/record-breaking-2020-becomes-greenest-year-britains-electricity [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 National Grid ESO. (n.d.). Easter Monday sees record low carbon intensity for GB electricity. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgrideso.com/news/easter-monday-sees-record-low-carbon-intensity-gb-electricity [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 National Grid Group. (n.d.). 5 Myths about electric vehicles busted. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/journey-to-net-zero/5-myths-about-electric-vehicles-busted [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 OZEV. (2020). Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme: minimum technical specification. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/electric-vehicle-homecharge-scheme-minimum-technical-specification/electric-vehicle-homecharge-scheme-minimum-technical-specification [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 OZEV. (2020). Workplace Charging Scheme: guidance for applicants, chargepoint installers and manufacturers. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/workplace-charging-scheme-guidance-for-applicants-installers-and-manufacturers/workplace-charging-scheme-guidance-for-applicants-chargepoint-installers-and-manufacturers [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. (2020). The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (HTML version). [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution/title [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 National Grid ESO. (2020). Future Energy Scenarios in Five Minutes. [online] Available at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/621114/1 [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 OVO Energy. (2019). OVO Vehicle-to-Grid Charger | OVO Energy. [online] Available at: https://www.ovoenergy.com/electric-cars/vehicle-to-grid-charger [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 Octopus EV. (n.d.). Powerloop-V2G | Octopus Electric Vehicles. [online] Available at: https://www.octopusev.com/powerloop [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 DriveElectric. (n.d.). Vehicle to Grid Charging. [online] Available at: https://www.drive-electric.co.uk/v2g/ [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 EDF Energy. (2019). EV: Business >, V2G. [online] Available at: https://www.edfenergy.com/electric-cars/vehicle-grid [Accessed 5 May 2021].
 CharIN. (2021). Vehicle to Grid (V2G). [online] Available at: https://www.charin.global/news/vehicle-to-grid-v2g-charin-bundles-200-companies-that-make-the-energy-system-and-electric-cars-co2-friendlier-and-cheaper/ [Accessed 5 May 2021].