Accelerating the transition to electric vehicles

It’s official - the journey to electric motoring just got more urgent

The future is electric – so what actions do we need to take today, tomorrow and for the remainder of the decade to be ready for when new petrol and diesel cars can no longer be sold?

We’ve long been one of the voices calling for an ambitious approach to transforming the transport sector and it was gratifying the Government committed to bringing forward the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030 in its recent ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ announcement. This is a key milestone in the fight against the climate emergency and also, closer to home, to tackle air pollution. Now the focus shifts to getting to grips with the scale of the challenge and determining the priorities in our speeded-up journey to destination electric.

Industry data1 shows that more than 2.3 million new cars were registered in the UK last year, of which more than two million were petrol or diesel. This year, car manufacturers expect to register more than 1.5 million cars in total, a figure which has been downgraded to reflect the economic impact of Covid and lockdown. That’s a huge number of cars to be replaced by alternative electric versions with different dependencies to be accommodated. So what do we need to do over the next decade to be ready for this transition? 

Power up!

The number and availability of charging points is improving year on year, but we do need to fix the grid to make sure it can cope with increased demand from the installation of chargers at businesses and on new housing developments. Significant reinforcement of the grid is going to become necessary as we work to shortened timescales for mass electric vehicle adoption as well as seek to electrify heat for homes and businesses across the country.  

Sharing and smoothing

There’s a big opportunity here around vehicle-to-grid charging – if this were to become standard in homes and businesses, its bi-directional charging capability could facilitate the shift of peak demand to times of the day when energy is cheapest and greenest. This would have the effect of smoothing out grid demand as well as reducing costs for users and our reliance on fossil fuels. 

Chargers and charging

We’ll start to see home charging equipment being bundled in with vehicle lease agreements and domestic smart charging tariffs which enable varying prices at different periods. Cities will need to ramp up installation of rapid chargers for busy urbanites, as well as ultra-fast options for the really time poor who are looking for a ten-minute battery top up to complete a journey. Businesses will increasingly need to invest in their workplace charging provision, to manage their fleet requirements but also to cater to those employees for whom home-charging will never be an option and for visitors.  

A vehicle for change

The infrastructure required for this massive increase in electric vehicles on our roads is only part of the story. What of the cars themselves? The narrative used to be centred around ‘range anxiety’ but battery range is getting better with each new model released onto the market. Initial investment cost though is still a barrier for many. The price of electric vehicles needs to come down, so that those living on lower incomes don’t get left behind. We’re already familiar with the concept of fuel poverty, and there are a range of initiatives available from energy suppliers and government designed to lift households out of fuel poverty. Let’s not now allow the creation of ‘car poverty’, with poorer members of society excluded from the benefits provided by having your own transport, not least around job and study opportunities and ease of access to cheaper supermarkets.

Perhaps one way to counteract this idea of ‘car poverty’ can come from energy suppliers’ experience. We have long been called on to deliver government energy efficiency schemes, the current one is called the Energy Company Obligation, or ECO2, and requires suppliers to provide measures which improve the ability of fuel poor, low income and vulnerable households to heat their homes. What if an equivalent scheme were to be developed and introduced, placing a financial obligation on vehicles’ Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), as a means of funding charging infrastructure in people’s homes or within disadvantaged communities? 

Ownership down

Car ownership is always going to be essential for some circumstances and given the clear advantages access to a car provides, I’d never seek to deny that to anyone. But I would like to imagine that in ten years’ time car ownership is on the wane. Alongside more affordable electric vehicles and the necessary charging infrastructure, we need stronger incentives to walk, cycle, e-scoot or car share. And we need the foundation and services in places so that it becomes genuinely possible for more of us to make the decision to depend on public transport. 

Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 is a great step forwards, towards cleaner air in our cities and improved sustainability. There is much that needs to happen to make this a smooth and successful transition. I’m up for the challenge. Are you? 

 

1. SMMT: Record year for zero emission cars fails to reboot UK market, as sector calls for supportive policies to boost uptake
2. Ofgem: About the ECO scheme

Written by Darren Gardner

Darren Gardner previously led on smart cities for E.ON, and now leads the UK mobility team. He remains passionate about cities and strongly believes that mobility and energy have the power to transform a city socially, economically and environmentally, particularly through partnerships focused on delivering essential outcomes for citizens – be those carbon reduction, air quality improvements, enhanced wellbeing or reduced inequalities. Prior to joining E.ON, Darren worked for a local authority in Low Carbon Economic Development.