On the road to a cleaner future

Whilst travelling to the RWM19 conference and exhibition in Birmingham, it was encouraging to see that the majority of service stations were equipped with a decent number of EV charging stations. With government commitment to achieve zero emissions by 2050 and the announcement of more than £500 million in EV infrastructure investment, the UK certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.

But as history has shown, ambitious plans are often tripped up by complications when it comes to implementation. And no matter how good the intentions, promises and plans hold no guarantee that targets can and will be met. So what are the things that could prove to be stumbling blocks in the transition to a zero emission economy?

Linear thinking

If you’ve read previous articles you’ll know that I’m a strong supporter of the circular economy. It is linear thinking that has gotten the world in this mess and there’s little hope of sustainable change unless it includes implementing projects with the circular economy as the central focus.

Creating an effective EV charging infrastructure is going to require expertise from many different sectors. It’s going to require strong project management skills to create a collaborative working environment that’ll be able to draw on the right expertise at the right time to meet project targets. Unless everyone is on board with a circular economy mindset it will be difficult to close the loop.

Challenge of combining old and new

While there may be existing energy infrastructure we can tap into, it may not be the best solution if we truly want to achieve zero emission targets. EV charging stations certainly are a step in the right direction, but if the electricity supplied to these charging stations is still derived from coal and other fossil fuels, it’s not achieving as much as it could.

As much as electric vehicles reduce carbon emissions, coal fired power stations still emit high levels of CO2. It’s not much progress if one is simply offsetting the other. The energy needs to be sourced from local, renewable and clean energy alternatives.

Clean energy infrastructure connections

One of the arguments that is often cited against clean energy generation is that it is far more complex, requiring more connections, more switches and more safety mechanisms. Does it all add up to a greener solution in the end?

A recent BBC article highlighted a little known fact about the use of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) in clean energy installations. SF6 is used to prevent fires in switches and circuit breakers and has proven to be highly effective for this purpose. The problem is that the gas has a warming effect 23500 times more than C02. Even the smallest leak can have a significant impact as it doesn’t disperse easily.

The good news is that while it might be an established and widely used safety mechanism, there are cleaner alternatives available. Scottish Power Renewables have implemented systems that combine oxygen and the use of a vacuum as safety mechanisms in their East Anglia wind farm.

Political uncertainty

While there have been big promises from government to support their commitment to achieving zero emissions, this could easily change if the powers that be decide that it’s no longer a priority. After all, the bulk of funding for EV infrastructure at this stage would be coming from public coffers. The current political turmoil concerning Brexit is just one example of the chaos that can result when different parties are pulling in different directions and there is no cohesion or commitment to achieving targets that have been set.

The one good thing in the UK’s favour is that the zero emission targets are not just nice sounding goals, they have in fact been legislated – one of the few countries to do this. Public awareness of the effects of climate change are also driving demand for cleaner energy infrastructure, and innovators such as Tesla are making clean energy alternatives more accessible to the general public. I for one am excited about the possibilities and opportunities ahead for the renewables and energy sector.