How electric vehicles and smart meters could accelerate Scotland’s transition to a greener economy

The first thing to strike you about driving an electric vehicle (EV) is the noise – or rather, the lack of it. No combustion engine-style roar, no emissions.

Energy Saving Trust has estimated that 100 miles driven in an EV would cost £4 to £6 when charged domestically, while it would cost £13 or £16 to journey that far in petrol or diesel. Picture: Shutterstock
Energy Saving Trust has estimated that 100 miles driven in an EV would cost £4 to £6 when charged domestically, while it would cost £13 or £16 to journey that far in petrol or diesel. Picture: Shutterstock

It is subtle, a gentle whirr which on the outside is close to silent, betrayed only by tyres crunching on the ground.

The second is the phenomenal acceleration. Unlike its elder petrol and diesel cousins, an EV doesn’t need a run up to get going. In many ways it is the physical embodiment of what has been happening with the EV car market.

Very quietly it has been growing, cruising along unnoticed until now, as it suddenly hits the open road at pace.

Newly released data shows that electric cars sales have tripled across Europe this year in the race to comply with new rules on CO2.

First-half year projections show market share reaching 15 per cent by early 2021 as manufacturers try to meet regulations to reduce emissions from vehicles to 95g of CO2 per km.

The first six months of this year saw emissions fall from 122g to 111g – the largest half-year drop in a decade, but still short of target. Failure would see car makers hit by huge fines.

CHANGING HABITS

Yet all the indicators are that it is not the car industry itself but a growing consciousness among savvy consumers that is leading the change in buying habits. They want to help with the environment, save money and leave a new energy legacy for their children and grandchildren.

In Scotland, that appears to be more pronounced. Some 46 per cent of new vehicles were registered as electric or plug-in hybrid in the latest official Scottish audit, compared to the UK average of 33 per cent..

In all, more than 10,000 people in Scotland now use ultra-low emission vehicles and the numbers are growing.

A new generation of car owners are concerned about their impact on the planet and of how motoring fits into their wider social responsibility.

It also comes in an era of the ‘enabled citizen’, exposed to new smart technologies for more than a decade now. Mobile phones loaded with banking apps that round up their change into savings to fridges that can order the soya milk.

People have emerged from the fug of best-guess shopping to data-led decisions and are alert to the fact that they can make their money work not just harder, but smarter. Car buying is no exception to that new trend.

The Scottish Government has made it clear it expects Scotland’s road networks to be decarbonised by 2045, and it wants to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston has indicated that he could reach this goal by 2030.

Consumers, like car manufacturers, are aware of this too, which goes some way to explaining the surge in EV sales.

Buying a house aside, purchasing a car is among the next biggest expenses a household will have. No-one now wants to be left with a fossil fuel-powered clunker. We are now firmly into the realms of a plug-and-go society..

Energy Saving Trust estimates that driving an EV for 100 miles would cost £4 to £6 to charge at home, compared with a cost closer to £13 or £16 for a petrol or diesel model. A clear saving.

SELLING ELECTRICITY BACK TO THE GRID

The even better news is that when combining a smart meter with a smart charger, life with an EV becomes even easier. Smart meters can unlock tariffs that reward consumers who use energy at off-peak times. Combined with smart charging, they will enable EV owners to charge their cars during cheaper or greener periods.

Unlike standard electricity tariffs, where the same rate is paid at all times, a smart tariff works in conjunction with a smart meter to supply electricity at different prices, depending upon the time of day. This could mean that people could take advantage of cheaper electricity overnight, when demand is low and supply is high, which is very beneficial for EV owners.

In future, by installing a smart meter and a smart charge point, consumers may be able to earn money from ‘vehicle to grid’ services. This technology essentially enables energy stored in EVs to be fed back into the grid to help supply energy at times of peak demand.

Crucially smart meters – available from suppliers at no extra cost – not only help the end-user, but are also playing a key part in upgrading GB’s energy infrastructure.

That’s because smart meters are a first step in creating a smart energy system. One that could help us better plan the energy we need nationally, and which can pinpoint where faults are occurring more quickly. A system that will, in conjunction with smart meters, help consumers to take action to lessen their carbon footprint.

This is crucial in helping Britain hit its goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Energy Saving Trust hailed the use of smart charging, saying it could save users an additional £230 per year.

It said: “The idea of smart charging is to shift energy demand from peak times to minimise peak demand and network congestion. This will allow the use of cheap, low-carbon energy generation to be utilised. Smart charging will reduce the cost and carbon emissions of charging electric vehicles.

“Encouraging drivers to charge their EVs overnight (or other off-peak times) when energy demand is low will help balance the grid, reducing the need to use fossil fuel plants to cover peak demand.

“In the long run, smart charging of EVs in this way will make it cheaper for consumers to charge their vehicle and integrate the mass uptake of EVs into the national grid in a sustainable and affordable way.”

Anthony Hinde, managing director of EV charging firm Gronn Kontakt estimates that Scotland is about three years behind countries like Norway for EV demand where 60 per cent of all cars are already EVs because they are exempt from VAT.

He said: “Where smart metering becomes important to EVs, is help with lessening pressure on the grid and enabling people to charge up easily.

“You can imagine if everyone in Scotland had an EV, the load that might require if they all decided to charge up at the same time.

“This is more critical with the addition of more and more renewables into the grid which can be variable in their production.”

He added: “Given that EVs are crucial to net-zero targets, they will inevitably outpace petrol and diesel cars in terms of being greener and better for the environment.”

That perhaps is the nub of the issue. Every journey no matter how long eventually comes to a fork in the road – a choice. For the car user of the future, this is one decision that can be fuelled not by blind faith but smart thinking, whatever the eventual destination.

This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB. Smart Energy GB is the organisation tasked with informing Britain about the benefits of the smart meter rollout.