We all know the vision: electric cars silently charging overnight outside rows of homes, ready for the next morning, without a petrol station in sight.
We know it’s coming too, one way or another. The recent huge investments in electric vehicle plants in the UK haven’t been made by accident. Once the government announced new petrol and diesel-only cars couldn’t be sold in the UK from 2030 something had to change.
But that doesn’t make things simple. As any electric car owner who has ever nervously eyed their dashboard will tell you, worrying where the next charge is coming from is just part of the owner’s experience.
So far in the UK we have installed just 15% of the 150,000 public electric vehicle charge points set as a goal for 2025 by the Climate Change Committee.
There’s a long way to go, and for now we don’t quite have the chargers to get there and, as the Commons Transport Committee recently noted, without expanding the supply of chargers, the current increase in demand for EVs will overwhelm the system and risk blackouts unless the supporting infrastructure is also upgraded.
The good news is there are answers, plenty of them. And they don’t all involve electric vehicle visionaries or vast Gigafactory investments. Some of them just require decent builders and planners with an eye to the future.
Forward-thinking councils working on urban regeneration projects are already exploring adding an EV charge point to every visitor parking space in new developments.
And now the housing policy experts are getting involved. They might not seem like the obvious people to turn to when you can’t charge your car, but as most people’s cars spend most of the time outside the front of their houses, they have solutions.
Years ago we realised that petrol cars belched carbon and would, eventually, have to be phased out. Change would demand overhauling both existing infrastructure and consumer sentiment. We also needed to make the core product – the electric vehicle – more affordable.
Something similar is now happening with homes. We know buildings contribute 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. To hit net-zero goals we need to sort that out, not just decarbonising the energy supply that houses consume from the national grid, but also replacing polluting gas boilers and – ideally – installing on-site renewable electricity generation.
In short, existing houses have to become electric homes. And because the technologies underpinning electric vehicles and electric homes would be interoperable, there would be significant synergies and cost savings on offer in powering your car and your house.
The vehicle industry will benefit most from this change if we ensure that all electric homes are also ‘active’ – if they can intelligently store and redistribute the surplus renewable electricity that they generate. Motorists could then charge their cars via the national grid in periods of low demand and lower energy prices, and via surplus energy from their homes in periods of peak demand.
In time, these charge points would also offer EV drivers a third option, of selling surplus electricity from the car back to the grid, as active homes are specifically set up to do. The government is actively exploring this avenue. This month it issued a call for evidence on how EV batteries could top up the grid, ease national demand peaks and earn hundreds of pounds annually for motorists.
The Future Homes Standard will come into effect in 2025, setting out the technical specifications and required sustainability standards of all new-build homes. We believe it would be an oversight for the government not to mandate that a minimum proportion of all new build houses have EV charging built in, ideally with a home based battery. Those homes will be more appealing and the owners immediately incentivised to invest in an electric car.
To ease the supply-chain pressures created by these new requirements, there could be an escalator – a staggered deployment – beginning with 50% of dwellings in new schemes with five-plus homes having to have EV capability, for example, while clearly signalling that standards will be raised to the more ambitious level of all new homes needing one.
Despite hard work and good intentions, we are not currently on track to electrify either our vehicle fleet or our housing stock as quickly as required.
But electric houses can be part of the solution for electric vehicles, and vice versa. We just need to keep sight of this bigger picture, as we deliver EV charging infrastructure and set the regulations for future new-build homes.