Comment: How the UK Government is driving the electric revolution
Here in the UK, the Government has ambitions to make the country a global leader in electrification: technology which will permanently change the ways we move people, goods and services. Dr Will Drury, challenge director of UK Research & Innovation’s ‘Driving the Electric Revolution’ (DER) programme, discusses how the Government intends to make this ambition a reality.
We launched the ‘Driving the Electric Revolution’ challenge in August 2019, funded by £80m from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The funds, awarded to winning projects, will support the work being completed in the UK, appealing to trade industries overseas and securing our position as a global research, development and manufacturing leader in the electric revolution.
The central purpose of the challenge is to aid the UK’s move towards electrification by investing in the core technologies which support it: power electronics, electric machines and drives (PEMD). Importantly, it will also accelerate the growth of PEMD supply chain in the UK.
By 2050, Driving the Electric Revolution will have helped address climate change, building new businesses, protecting legacy businesses, and developing supply chains worth £80bn in GDP of the necessary clean technologies.
Electrifying the UK’s road and rail network would dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants. Congestion would be reduced through higher density use of road space enabled by automated vehicles, transport services and personal mobility. By investing in electrification now, we aim to catalyse the UK’s delivery of the next generation of electric vehicles, whether on land, sea or air, as well as industrial machines and energy generation systems that are key to the UK’s Net Zero ambitions.
PEMD are essential to create greener technologies and PEMD supply chains are vital for attracting investment across sectors as they move towards a greener electric future. In the automotive sector alone, there is a £12bn opportunity for PEMD by 2025. This will help protect the 30,000 internal combustion engine (ICE) jobs that may be lost with the global move to vehicle electrification.
Without building and investing in these supply chains, we cannot capture the full economic benefit created by other ISCF challenges, including the Faraday Battery Challenge and the Future Flight initiative, which enables the UK to build, use and export new, greener ways of flying through advances in electric and autonomous flight technology.
Driving the Electric Revolution encourages industries to invest and collaborate with academia to establish PEMD supply chains, driving down costs and delivering a volume supply chain necessary for low carbon technologies designed for businesses of all sizes to succeed in the global shift to clean growth.
The DER challenge will be delivered through four areas of activity:
Industrialisation Centres – £30m investment in four national centres of excellence in PEMD, based in Strathclyde, Sunderland, Nottingham and Newport. The centres will support businesses and researchers to develop and scale new PEMD technologies and manufacturing processes. These centres will bring together world-class technology and manufacturing research to provide a catalyst for growth.
Collaborative research funding – £20m programme of collaborative research funding to help businesses create future supply chains in both the high volume and low volume PEMD supply chains needed across various sectors. These projects will develop innovative new processes for the next generation of PEMD technologies.
Filling gaps in the supply chain – £19m for projects to fill gaps in the PEMD supply chain and deliver quick benefits to the UK’s economy.
Talent – £6m to support skills and training provision which will focus on activity from school leavers and undergraduates, to experienced engineers and technicians looking to retrain to address the acute shortage of skills in PEMD.
The challenge-winning projects from the latest round of funding are due to be announced this autumn, and we can expect to see major advances in PEMD. These include plans to develop and help scale up UK manufacturing capability of electric machines used in motorcycles, boats and wind turbines.
Driving the Electric Revolution supports development across sectors, from energy to rail and robotics to industrial processes. Through the winning projects supported by the Challenge, the UK can make vital steps closer to delivering the technology required to achieve our Net Zero targets. Last year total UK carbon emissions were 45.2% lower than in 1990 and 3.6% lower than 2018. Transport remains the largest source of carbon emissions in the UK, accounting for 34% in 2019.
To reach our goal of Net Zero we must build a resilient PEMD supply chain to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions from transport, energy and industrial sources. Without PEMD, Net Zero is not possible and without this challenge, PEMD manufacturing will not happen at scale in the UK. The world is on the cusp of an electric revolution; it is crucial that we are not only part of it, but leading it.