The UK rail network serves as a linchpin in public transportation and is a growing stakeholder in the nation’s transition to a greener, more secure future.
The escalating energy crisis, underscored by soaring gas and electricity prices, poses significant challenges but also opportunities for the rail sector.
ScotRail’s initiative in Scotland provides an excellent case study.
The current hike in global energy prices is fuelling optimism in the electric vehicle (EV) sector. ‘Energy security adds to the economic and environmental arguments for battery-powered transport,’ notes the industry.
This is especially critical in times of geopolitical instability, where energy security becomes an extension of national security.
Welcome to the second instalment of our three-part series on Rail Infrastructure and UK Energy Security. In the first part, we examined the indispensable role of the rail network in the UK’s energy infrastructure.
Today, we focus more closely on the ongoing initiatives by rail companies like ScotRail and their implications for both national security and the energy landscape of the United Kingdom.
In 2017, ScotRail ambitiously planned to establish 100 new electric vehicle charging spaces across 50 stations. As of 2023, the firm has exceeded expectations by offering fast-charging facilities at 56 stations.
This initiative not only promotes the use of EVs but also greatly contributes to reducing the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels, in line with a recent House of Commons report regarding energy security.
Jurag Ulehla, co-founder of Voltia, adds perspective: “The average EV owner in the UK is now paying 43% higher than prior to the Ukraine conflict. Yet, compared to the far greater spike in petrol and diesel costs, switching from fossil-fuels to electricity is a clear money-saving tool.”
With the ongoing Ukraine conflict affecting fuel prices, these EV initiatives are not just saving money for individuals, but they’re also contributing to national security by lessening dependence on volatile international oil markets.
Rail stations offer an untapped resource for electric vehicle charging. ScotRail and other companies are leading the charge in this regard. With strategically positioned charging points at stations, the commuter population can enjoy a seamless, green door-to-door travel experience.
“We didn’t anticipate that our charging demand would be as high as it is currently,” says Toddington Harper, founder and chief executive of the UK-based sustainable energy company Gridserve.
This underscores the increasingly important role that electric vehicle infrastructure plays in securing a resilient energy system, vital for national security. Ensuring ready access to these charging facilities is crucial.
ScotRail actively discourages non-EV vehicles from occupying these bays, paving the way for more widespread EV adoption and use. Babatunde Ajala, ScotRail Parking and Connectivity Manager, told the UK Defence Journal:
“ScotRail is committed to creating a low carbon and sustainable railway which contributes to an environmentally aware Scotland. The provision of electric vehicle charging points at a number of stations across Scotland, including at Uddingston, is just one of the ways we’re doing this.
The parking bays are designed specifically for electric vehicles, and we will always try to educate customers who park non-electric vehicles in these spaces. However, all car parking offences can be reported to British Transport Police.”
The ‘Energy Trilemma’
As noted in this House of Commons Committee report, the UK faces an ‘energy trilemma’—the daunting task of balancing affordability, security, and climate considerations.
The report starkly outlines the national security implications of climate change and energy dependency, emphasising the need for a comprehensive energy strategy. By transitioning to renewable energy sources, rail networks can mitigate the risk of energy supply shocks that could cripple the national infrastructure.
Jo Lewington, Network Rail’s Chief Environment & Sustainability Officer, adds, “As part of our wider Environmental Sustainability Strategy, we’re working towards delivering a low-emission railway and aiming to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 in Scotland and by 2050 in the rest of Britain.”
The goal of reaching net-zero emissions feeds directly into this energy trilemma, and it has vital implications for national security by establishing a resilient, locally-sourced energy infrastructure.
Integrating EV charging infrastructure into rail networks has dual benefits: it accelerates the transition from fossil fuels and strengthens the UK’s energy security by reducing reliance on volatile foreign energy markets. Such symbiosis between electric vehicles and the rail network could be a bulwark against energy supply shocks, and by extension, national security risks.
With the EU’s commitment to ban imports of Russian oil, Mark Tarry, Network Rail’s Supply Chain Operations Director, observes, “Energy security has fast become a priority concern for European industry.” Hence, the electrification of the transport system adds a further layer of security against external geopolitical threats.
As the UK grapples with the energy trilemma and its national security implications, rail networks like ScotRail are already contributing to a resilient and secure energy landscape. By embracing renewable energy and electric vehicles, these networks can play a crucial role in buffering the nation against global energy volatility, thus ensuring both energy security and national security.
Toddington Harper of Gridserve explains the “almost perfect match” between electricity demand by EV users and electricity production at the solar plants powering Gridserve’s charging network. “So, our charging network actually takes pressure off the grid, as well as providing the renewable energy supply,” he states. This not only supports energy security but becomes a strategic asset for national security by ensuring a more stable, resilient energy supply.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of our series, where we will examine the untapped potential of the rail network as a source of renewable energy and its broader implications for the UK’s energy and national security.