In the UAE, there are a handful of key players rolling out EV charging networks even as EV sales continue to rise. It's all about pre-empting a surge in sustained demand. Image Credit: Shutterstock

In the UAE, transportation is undergoing a transformation that reflects the country’s wider ambition to become a leader in sustainability.

Amid this shift, the number of electric vehicles on the roads has increased significantly, surpassing over 40,000, with more than 870 charging stations powering their journeys.

‘UAEV’, launched in May by Etihad Water and Electricity in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, is at the forefront of this transformation. Its overarching mission to catalyse the use of sustainable transportation supports the country's environmental goals and urban development plans.

The first thing that we know is that infrastructure is essential in ensuring that the transition to EVs is smooth, efficient, and fully aligned with national sustainability objectives. That is why our initial focus is on expanding national EV charging infrastructure, with a series of new stations across the UAE that accommodate current demand and anticipate future needs.

Ahead of the curve on UAE EV demand build up

The rollout of these stations is not solely designed to improve convenience — it reflects a global shift towards greener modes of transport. The international EV market is projected to reach 40 million units by 2030, and regions leading in adoption – like Norway, with an EV market penetration rate of 79.5 per cent in 2022 – demonstrate the potential heights the UAE could reach with the right infrastructure.

A robust EV network, after all, presents a multitude of benefits — from emission reduction to air quality, and from boosting the economy with job creation to integrating smarter grids for smarter cities.

Yet beyond providing the energy to power these vehicles, utilities operators have a critical role to play along the entire value chain of this emerging ecosystem. Increased usage is not predicted to lead to large increases in total energy demand — a study from McKinsey suggests that EVs will account for less than 5 per cent of energy consumption by 2030, despite making up as much as 15 per cent of the global fleet.

Their use will significantly alter the load curve, as drivers coming home from work plug in their EVs during the evening hours. Peak circuit load at residential levels, for example, could increase by 30 per cent above current demand levels at an EV penetration of just 25 per cent, yet during late-night hours the grid’s capacity will be under-utilised.

EVs can ‘feed’ the grid too

To manage this, we are exploring the potential of grid technologies that enable what we call 'smart charging'. This transforms EVs into mobile energy storage units that can feed energy back into the grid when it's needed most.

Through Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technologies, EV batteries are used as temporary energy storage to alleviate peak loads, enhancing our grid’s responsiveness and reliability.

By implementing time-of-use tariffs and offering incentives for off-peak charging, utility providers can further encourage consumers to charge their EVs at times that support grid stability and efficiency.

The growing EV fleet brings substantial upside potential, through

additional revenue from the sale of electricity and connection charges for the integration of new infrastructure. We also envisage the charging network as a stimulus for job creation across sectors — from the manufacturing of charging units to the innovative minds engineering them, and those that will build and maintain this new grid.

This reflects the wider global trend, with research from the International Labour Organization revealing that the EV industry is set to create up to 10 million new jobs globally by 2030. Robust infrastructure is the groundwork for this burgeoning economic sector.

By expanding EV infrastructure, we are setting the stage for a future where electric vehicles are the preferred mode of transport. The expertise of the utilities sector will be vital in ensuring that every new charging station enhances the grid's resilience and operational efficiency.

With every charging station we install, we pave the way for cleaner air, a reduction in urban noise, and a substantial decrease in our carbon footprint. This journey, supported by a proactive government and a community eager for change, underscores our mission at UAEV — to drive not just vehicles, but a national agenda towards a sustainable, electrified future.

Yousif Al Ali

The writer is CEO, Etihad Water & Electricity (EtihadWE).