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Industry roundtable: decarbonising transport

Energy systems are evolving to incorporate new clean technologies, with research underway to prepare for the potential opportunities and challenges.

Clockwise from top left: Patrick Erwin (PE), David Gill (DG), Chris McDonald (CM), Professor Phil Taylor (PT)

Clockwise from top left: Patrick Erwin (PE), David Gill (DG), Chris McDonald (CM), Professor Phil Taylor (PT)

This is demonstrated by projects like InTEGReL, the UK’s first incubator for integrated energy system technologies, and Northern Powergrid’s Customer-Led Distribution System (CLDS) project which puts its eight million customers at the heart of the smart grid future.

With a myriad of hurdles brought to the fore in these ground-breaking projects, Northern Powergrid brought together leaders from industry academia and business for an exclusive roundtable discussion.

  • Patrick Erwin, Policy and Markets Director, Northern Powergrid (PE)
  • David Gill, Head of Customer Energy Solutions, Northern Gas Networks (DG)
  • Professor Phil Taylor, Head of Engineering and Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering, Newcastle University, and, Director of the EPSRC, National Centre of Energy Systems Integration (PT)
  • Chris McDonald, CEO, Materials Processing Institute (CM)


Behaviour change will be necessary to support the decarbonisation of transport. This is notoriously difficult, so how can this be achieved?

CM: “Innovators must recognise that running with the grain of current behaviours will always accelerate the adoption of technology and so the real prize is to achieve decarbonisation in a way that keeps behavioural changes to a minimum.”

PT: “Yes, Chris’ observation reflects the two major schools of thought on how behaviour change can be achieved for transportation. The first suggests we should try to make change invisible. This is the approach of hydrogen car manufacturers as the refuelling process is similar to the fossil fuel vehicles we use today.

“The second school of thought suggests making the change beneficial to the consumer. The huge reduction in cost-per-mile is advantageous for EVs, and the ability to charge at home or work versus visiting petrol stations is much more convenient.

“For rail, aircraft and marine transport users, passenger behaviours are fairly independent to fuel type so the main barrier here is the cost of electrification and the disruption caused.” 

PE: “Yes, and new technologies are also becoming available that encourage behaviour change. We’re running a project with GenGame, which is demonstrating how a simple mobile game could become an important tool to help balance the grid. With cash prizes of up to £350 available, results are promising, with the average household reducing energy consumption by 11%.”

DG: “Interesting, but when it comes to transport, if EVs are the only solution, then customer behaviour must change. But such a single-form strategy may introduce risk to the UK in terms of its comprehensive reliance on electricity, something we currently do not have.

“So, a diversified portfolio of solutions will be necessary to provide versatility and reduce the need for behaviour change. Compressed natural gas (CNG), for example, allows us to reduce emissions from HGVs and buses. It’s cleaner than diesel and contains less particulate matter.”


What opportunities are there with the electrification of transport? What about hydrogen?

PE: “National Grid predicts that there could be as many as 36 million EVs on British roads by 2040. This is a huge opportunity for investors, innovators and industry to come together to drive this change. There is also a significant opportunity for us to use the batteries in these vehicles, through vehicle-to-grid systems to provide flexibility services and allow us to maximise network bandwidth.”

DG: “Yes and to add to that, a hydrogen gas network can support decarbonisation of transport. As well as cars, hydrogen offers huge potential for decarbonising HGVs and diesel trains.

“For haulage fleets undertaking long journeys, short range electric lorries aren’t cost-effective. CNG is a cleaner alternative to diesel that can make a difference to air quality while reducing range anxiety.”

CM: “I find the lack of attention on hydrogen, versus electrification puzzling. In many ways, hydrogen could help us mimic the oil-based economy, just without the carbon. This would keep behavioural and technology change to a minimum. Hydrogen also offers solutions in domestic heat, energy storage and rail, where electrification is less convenient, or not proven.

PT: “Electrification can lower carbon emissions, provide better air quality and quieter vehicles. It also allows for increased renewable electricity integration. The UK is also home to the largest EV battery manufacturer in Europe – Nissan – which proves we can also support jobs and industry.

“Unfortunately, most hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels but it certainly has a role to play if this challenge can be met. InTEGReL will investigate this in detail.


How can the government support? What regulation might be useful?

CM: “To support the hydrogen economy, government can provide funding to bridge market failures in the development and deployment of technologies. But most of all, the government can help create the market by promoting the transition to a hydrogen-based economy. With the market in place, private industry will have the confidence to fill the space.”

PE: “The ban of all new ICE cars post-2040 certainly makes a strong statement. However, to ensure the new EV fleet is powered by clean energy, we must have policy that supports renewable energy.”

PT: “Yes and there are six ways this can be done:

  1. Legislation that promotes ultra-low emissions vehicles, penalising highly polluting vehicles.
  2. Providing detail on how the tax burden will be switched from the current model of diesel/petrol duty.
  3. Outlining who will pay for the charging infrastructure.
  4. Ensuring road users are educated about switching.
  5. Leading by example – switching the public sector to ultra-low emission vehicles where practical.
  6. Encouraging traditionally siloed industries to collaborate. For example, aligning the gas and electricity networks’ regulation funding cycles will encourage collaboration that benefits both sectors as well the consumer.”
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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.