When it comes to EVs, it’s the economics that stack up

Philip Heathcote of UK Power Networks Services talks the future of rail, road and flying as we take on the decarbonisation challenge

Philip Heathcote, Head of Markets at UK Power Networks Services, joined me for a conversation all about the challenges to decarbonise our transport sector.

We started with trains – Philip tackled the two-pronged approach most recognise facing the rail networks.

“Which technology takes the lead in rail? Well, you’ll see talk of electrification and talk of hydrogen.

“In parts of the German network hydrogen is already proven. As for classic electrification of lines, it’s over a million pounds per kilometre so it’s not a small investment!”

Philip says there can be a compromise and that’s using batteries.

“I think there is a third way. Which is not electrifying the lines but modifying the stock so it’s battery-powered.

“Battery-operated trains have been trialled in the UK, the range is about 50 kilometres and the cell technology is improving all the time. So I do think there’s a third way and we are working with Network Rail looking at charging infrastructure.”

What about cars? I am in the ‘dirty diesel’ camp right now though my diesel motor is actually much cleaner and low emission than my previous petrol motor. But of course I would like to shift to electric or should that be hydrogen-powered?

“I personally think electric vehicles will be ahead of hydrogen vehicles. There’s a first-mover advantage.

“Yes, we need the charging infrastructure. We’ve been doing a lot of work in the commercial vehicle space. We’ve worked with UPS who have been electrifying their Camden depot which has  170 vehicles.

” We’ve worked with them to prove the technologies and linked it into storage.  And some smart software to charge when its cheapest and greenest. That trail was successful and now they are rolling out the solutions across Europe.

” The van drivers have to think differently, have to charge the vehicles but UPS came back and said the drivers love EVs as they’re quieter, less vibration and so they got an employee engagement kicker out of it too, as well as environmental and economic kicker.”

And that Philip pointed out is the key factor in transition.

“The business case is changing, the capital costs is coming down, the economics stack up as well as the environment and, at the end of the day, if you’re a hard-headed business person it’s the economics that matter.”

Listen to the full podcast where we also discussed decarbonising flying and shipping.

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