Consumer needs should dictate low-emission vehicle market, says ETI

The ongoing decarbonisation of the transport sector is unlikely to create a short-term market share for hydrogen vehicles, although current low-emission vehicle manufacturers need to develop a "greater understanding" of consumer needs, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has found.

The ETI has claimed that the transition to a low-carbon transport sector should be facilitated through the uptake of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) – both hybrid and battery – and that hydrogen vehicles are unlikely to match the scale needed for a mass-market transformation until at least 2050.

With EVs accounting for less than 1% of the UK’s vehicle market, the ETI has called for the electricity network to adapt in order to absorb a predicted increase in demand, brought forth by the delivery of new smart charging solutions and infrastructure.  

ETI’s strategy manager for light duty vehicles Liam Lidstone said: “Such a large transition will take time and it will be necessary to cater for the mixture of vehicle types that will exist at any one time during the switchover. To be successful, electric vehicles need to be designed to meet the needs of “mainstream” consumers not just people with an interest in this area.

“A large scale uptake from the mass market will have a major impact on the country’s electricity supply and future systems have to be designed today to incorporate any such dramatic movements in demand, because of the lifetime of the assets involved.”

ETI analysis revealed that a combination of home and workplace charging was the most “sufficient” method to catering for consumer needs without adding pressure to the grid. Using domestic and private-based charging stations with a 3Kw charge rate was less of a high-risk investment compared to public charging options. Rapid charging points which charge in minutes rather than hours would also be needed as a “medium-term” option.

As part of consumer appeal, ETI stressed that any tax system aimed at punishing less-efficient and heavily-polluting vehicles would likely impact poorest families hardest due to the high capital costs of EVs.

“The key point is that the energy supply for electric vehicles has to provide effective solutions delivering enough charge in the time consumers need it – and cater for occasions that are unexpected,” Lidstone added. “So a clear understanding of both consumer needs, the likely demand this will create and how the energy system should be designed to accommodate them are vital to enable any successful low carbon vehicle transition.”

According to the ETI, consumers must be willing to participate in the transition, creating the need for manufacturers to offer solutions that are “unobtrusive”. The ETI claims the growth in autonomous vehicles will likely enhance public willingness, but that the growth must be understood in terms of numbers, lengths and efficiency of car journeys.


The dismissal of hydrogen vehicles as a viable and immediate option appears to go against current trends. Last year, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) announced a £2m funding pot to cover up to 75% of new hydrogen vehicle costs purchased by April 2017, in an effort to triple the number of hydrogen vehicles on UK roads.

In fact, Welsh hydrogen car manufacturer Riversimple has claimed the decarbonisation of the transport sector hinges on the ability to “make efficiency profitable” rather than overcoming technological barriers often associated with hydrogen cars and EVs.

Business management consultant E4tech recently revealed that fuel cell industry shipments grew by two-thirds compared to 2015 levels – with transport-related fuel-cell capacity doubling to 280MW.

Two major markets accountable for this growth are the US and China, and in regards to the US, shipments are likely to accelerate in the near future. This week, General Motors and Honda announced a joint $85m investment to produce new hydrogen fuel cells for 2020. Both manufacturers revealed that the cells would be used in future products and portfolios.

Matt Mace

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