Britain's Internal-Combustion Engine Ban May Cost Billions in Electric Infrastructure

The U.K. is about to learn a lesson about supply and demand.

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Back in July, the United Kingdom announced a ban on the sale of new cars and vans powered by gas and diesel engines (with hybrids exempt from the ban) going into effect in 2040. Britain has an air quality problem on their hands, and they’re making an effort to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

While ambitious and one of the more realistic sounding engine bans we’ve heard so far, it will still come at a great cost—especially in terms of infrastructure. If the U.K. is going to demand such an influx of new electric cars, they’re going to need a power grid able to accommodate the change in how cars are fueled.

Reuters estimates that the number of EVs on British roads could go as high as 20 million by 2040. Today, that number is only about 90,000. That will make for a massive increase in demand for electricity and charging stations, and it’s up to the U.K. to meet that demand. That means not only do they need to put up many more charging stations, but they need to generate more energy so people can charge their cars.

According to Bernstein analysts, the overall increase in demand for public electricity will jump 15 percent overall, going all the way up to about 40 percent at peak times, mainly in the evening. Britain is considering ways around this like charging less for electricity for EV charging at off-peak times and encouraging people to charge their cars at home overnight in order to spread out the public demand for juice.

However, charging at home overnight is harder than it sounds. In the U.K., about 43 percent of homes don’t have a driveway or garage. That means a lot of drivers are going to be depending on charging stations being publicly available to keep their cars running.

So, how much is this going to cost? Johannes Wetzel, energy markets analyst at Wood Mackenzie predicts, “The U.K. by 2040 needs 1-2.5 million new charging points. An average public charging point costs 25-30,000 euros so it would need to invest 33-87 billion euros from now until 2040.”

Will facing the economic cost of engine bans make European leaders change their minds, or is this a small price to pay to reduce emissions? We'll have to wait and see.