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Electrification: an implausible pathway to reach Net Zero

Michael Kelly Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology University of Cambridge Cambridge
26 June 2020
 

David Metz (Letters 12 Jun) chides LTT for citing my report on electrifying the UK economy to meet the Government’s Net Zero ambitions (“Country’s battery electric car strategy is ‘doomed to failure’” LTT 29 May). He then cites his own analysis on the feasibility of electrifying transport in the UK economy. 

I concluded my original report by challenging anyone to undertake a comprehensive takedown of my analysis, not to undertake quibbling at the margins. My challenge still stands. I will take down David’s arguments quite simply as follows.

First, he considered transport in isolation from all the other changes – electrifying heat is an even greater challenge to the grid than electrifying transport and both have to be undertaken simultaneously for Net Zero.

Second, if all UK vehicles were electrified now, the extra electricity needed is 70 per cent of all electricity generated today (and considering heat, we need 150 per cent more electricity than we use now to cope with peak heating in winter, if every building has a heat pump, and even more otherwise assuming the use of radiant heaters).  

If we exclude electric vehicle charging in the mid-evening as David suggests (say, four hours every day), the average amount of electricity needed at all other times to electrify transport goes up to 84 per cent of the current total electricity generated today. 

The day/night variation in electricity demand is only about 20 per cent on average, and less in winter. Assuming the continued growth of renewable sources of electricity at the prevailing rate, and without any technology to store electricity at a large scale to cover periods in winter when there is no wind and little sun, personal mobility would be severely curtailed by 2050.

Once we add in the electrification of heat, David’s thesis is totally untenable.

 
 
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