The UK Needs a Clearer Plan for Electric Vehicles, Experts Argue

Electric vehicles in the UK

Two years since ‘Dieselgate’, where Volkswagen was found to have been tampering with emissions readings to make their cars seem greener than they are, electric vehicles (EVs) are now fast becoming a real possibility for car owners.

However, the UK’s target to end the sale of new diesel cars and vans by 2040 has been seen by many as not ambitious enough, and puts the UK behind other countries such as Norway and India who have planned to ban new diesel vehicles from 2025 and 2030 respectively.

It is widely accepted that the transport sector will play a big part in reducing emissions if both air pollution and climate change targets are going to be met. The Committee on Climate Change said in their report for ‘Meeting Carbon Budgets: Closing the policy gap’ that to meet the fifth carbon budget, transport emissions need to reduce by an average of 4 percent per year to 2030.

It was against this backdrop that a panel of EV experts convened in London Monday night, to discuss the speed at which the UK can make the transition to EVs.

They identified four key issues the UK needs to address: reducing the number of vehicles on the road, addressing the shortage of charging infrastructure, ensuring electricity supply availability and making EV costs comparable to or lower than existing vehicles. Hosted by Aldersgate Group, the panel was made up of experts across a wide range of industries that will be affected by the switch to EVs.

Fewer Cars

Reducing emissions will not happen through electric vehicles alone though, it is also dependent on fewer people owning cars and an increase in car sharing, the panel noted.

As cars currently sit idle for 95 percent of the time, Jonathan Hampson, general manager at Zipcar, predicts a combination of car-sharing and automation of electric cars is going to happen in the future.

He said: “Solutions must be bold, so we can’t just talk about greener cars but we’ve also got to talk about less cars.”

Hampson calls car ownership “inefficient”, and says it needs to be reset as owning a car is the biggest factor in deciding how much walking or cycling someone does. Zipcar is aiming for a future where transport is seen exclusively as a service.

Shirley Rodrigues, the Deputy Mayor of London for Energy and Environment, called on the government to bring forward the release date of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill first announced in the Queen’s Speech in June. Rodrigues also reinforced the need for infrastructure ahead of time to ensure consumers can access charging points and electricity demand doesn’t put pressure on power networks.

Charging Stations

For electric vehicles to be a success, the panel said, charging stations need to be more efficient.

As there are currently few charging points, Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation at UK Power Networks, pointed out that consumers will want to “charge whenever they can” instead of just when they need to.

Cameron said issues like this could be overcome by communication and more coordination between different industries and “investment ahead of need” to reassure both consumers and companies that their needs will be met.  

The panel agreed that public charging points needed to be better maintained in order to encourage consumers to use EVs. But Rodrigues pointed out while there is a disparity in approaches to charging EVs, in cities like London the Mayor doesn’t have powers to coordinate an approach and change must be market driven.

EV Demand

The panel also discussed how current infrastructure can be optimised, but power networks still need a lot of work.

A report from thinktank Green Alliance in April claimed that the UK’s energy networks are not prepared for a surge in electricity use that could come from an increase in electric vehicles. This could result in damage to electronic equipment unless infrastructure is reinforced by 2020. Cameron said about 30-40 percent of the UK’s current system could be optimised to support electric vehicle charging points.

However, the predicted uptake in EVs would also require reinforcement to infrastructure to deal with the demand, according to Cameron. This comes after calls from Ministers earlier in 2017 for EV owners to avoid charging at peak times to not put pressure on the national grid.

Finally, the panel argued that It’s not just your average consumer that could save money.

According to Richard Gordon, Commercial Director of London Electric Vehicle Company, black cab drivers will be able to save £100 a week on fuel with electric black cabs.

But Gordon cited “charge anxiety”, of drivers not knowing when or where they will next be able to charge up their vehicles, is slowing down progress. Hampson found that 87 percent of Zipcar members want EVs in the fleet, but they are not prepared to pay more for the service, meaning costs would have to be competitive to be attractive to consumers.

And this remains the challenge: balancing consumer desires with how much they’re willing to pay for the service.

Photo: Pixabay | CC0

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