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Why this year’s Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle Summit has changed my home renovation project

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According to its website, Cenex-LCV is the UK’s premier Low Carbon Vehicle event. But having been to the summit at Millbrook in September this year I can tell you that is much more than that.

And it has given me food for thought in a way that I believe could change my family home: before the event, I was already planning some changes to our house. Now I’ve got bigger ambitions.  

I should probably provide a brief overview for the uninitiated in this fascinating event. To borrow (and paraphrase) from its website, Cenex-LCV is the UK’s premier low carbon event. It’s run by Cenex, the UK’s first centre of excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies, with input from a number of supporting partners in related fields.

It features a massive technology exhibition, seminars, networking for the low carbon community and a “ride and drive” of the latest R&D and commercially available vehicles. It’s an opportunity for decision makers from UK industry, manufacturers, supply chain, universities and government officials to position the UK as a leader in Low Carbon Technology development, and build organisations’ awareness and confidence to adopt Low Carbon Technologies in vehicles and fleet operations.

So much for what the event is about - now let’s talk about its growth. In 2008, it attracted 897 visitors. This year, that number had grown to 4,385. In 2013, 805 organisations were represented at the summit. In 2017 that had grown to 3,866. The numbers alone speak volumes about the state and status of Low Carbon Propulsion, while Business and Innovation Magazine describes the summit itself as “the event to announce new innovations, products and initiatives”.

What is harder to convey on the page is the collective zeal, excitement, drive and ambition the visitor feels and takes away from LCV. The mix of people, represented sectors, businesses, organisations and interest groups is almost overwhelming and is matched only by the sense of shared purpose. (It’s plenty competitive too. But I’ll come to that.)

Leaders and ideas

At the summit I saw representatives from the University of Warwick, Williams Advanced Engineering, Aston Martin Lagonda, Jaguar Land Rover, Delta Motorsport, Innovate UK, Siemens, Ovo Energy and, well, literally thousands more, as you saw above.

What was clear was that this was a representation of simply vast cross-industry interests for a technology that has an enormous supply chain. Delegates and speakers discussed subjects as diverse as chemicals, manufacturing, mining, automotive, charging tech, charging infrastructure and so much more – all key, all vitally important, all somehow related.

Among the showcases for transport and systems of the future, we delegates were treated to autonomous and of course low-carbon vehicles, with brands such as Nissan, Ford and JLR displaying their wares - Jaguar’s all-electric iPace was visibly popular - and Hyundai-Kia showcasing hydrogen vehicles.

Battery – a strategic investment for the UK

We also heard more from Innovate UK about the renowned Faraday Challenge, an industry strategy to ensure the UK leads the world in the design, development and manufacture of electric batteries (something we’ve shared before in our news roundups at G&H). If you’re reading this, you probably know that the government has put £246m into the strategy, with R&D that links the some of the finest academic bodies and OEMs.

Ultimately, the UK needs a battery system that works better for our vehicles. If we achieve the holy grail of working solid state batteries, packs of them could charge cars for distances that dwarf the capacities available today and might rival or exceed the range of petrol and diesel. Part of the investment into the Faraday Challenge is to help us to get solid state batteries to into production.

But batteries represent more than one kind of power for the UK. The government and industry here hopes to “Brexit-proof” the UK by making it a world-leader in this technology to strengthen our position with overseas markets, while the leading research universities act as centres of excellence, their expertise providing the science that can be deployed for commercial gain. The high investment government and commercial enterprise puts into this research simply reflects the fact that battery technology is the future. For many familiar products it is very much the present too – think of Dyson’s home vacuum cleaners, already entirely electric, with Dyson a major player in the electrification market.

Collaboration and competition

Cenex-LCV seems to be founded on a simple recognition: it’s collaboration that’s going to drive the industry forward.

Naturally there is a competitive element to all of this. Now that low-carbon technology is the future, there’s sometimes a sense this is a party everybody wants to be at but not all can afford to attend. To get their return on investment, interested commercial parties need to have the backbone or the backing to be able to participate.

But LCV is a positive event and it is frankly mind-blowing to have witnessed the rise in investment in Low Carbon Technology over only seven or eight years. As someone who has long enjoyed an overview of the industry, I can clearly recall that electric vehicles were a bit of a dirty word not so long ago. Perhaps that’s not quite fair; better to say the early champions of alternative propulsion were seen as a little bit maverick. Fast forward to 2018 and I believe everything we do at Gerrell & Hard is related, in some way, to electrification - be that through related technology, powertrain, charging grids, or the industry’s vast design and manufacture supply chain. Electrification is that all-pervasive, that rapidly-evolving.

Home applications

I was pondering all of this while browsing my way through LCV. But thoughts of how I might apply some of this alternative charging technology to my own home started to creep in when I watched Nissan showcasing home charging points, demonstrating their progress with home-based battery packs made with US power firm Eaton.

It is part of their attempt to lead the home power storage market, where home owners with solar panels can deploy used electric car batteries to store solar energy in batteries and use it when they need to, rather than exporting it to the grid. The modern home could use a blend of solar panels and battery packs to power themselves more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before.

When I attended LCV I was in the midst of planning a fairly extensive home modernisation project. I came away from the summit, dare I say it, a slightly changed person, with a new ambition for my family home. Now I’m costing and researching the installation of solar panels, home battery packs and an EV charging point even though we haven’t got an electric car yet (I reckon my next, or next-but-one car will be a plug-in)!

The new estates near to me require lamp posts to carry electric vehicle charging points – electrification is an imminent reality so there’s a real possibility that a charging point could add value to my home, not to mention future-proof it for the next couple of decades or so.

On a final note, for all the urgency behind electrification, I was grateful to hear a fascinating summit talk from Ovo Energy which tackled the sticky subject of our continuing reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity in the first place. We’re still some way from total sustainability. But I think I can envisage a future where adoption of complementary alternative charging technologies means I can generate 70% of my own energy from solar panels and use that to charge my car – and start to feel like I’m part of a solution, not a problem.

Lear more about the event: https://www.cenex-lcv.co.uk/