Is the UK charging towards an electric vehicle future, or stuck in the slow lane?
by Matthew Niblett on 26 Nov 2021
As part of its desire to increase take-up of electric vehicles, wind down sales of petrol and diesel vehicles and achieve net zero, the UK Government is planning a massive increase in electric vehicle charging points. But its plans have come under scrutiny, with critics saying that the grid is not ready and that the proposals only benefit a small fraction of the population. Have we reached a tipping point towards the transition to EVs, and what else needs to be done? In this blog, Matt Niblett analyses the plan and identifies outstanding challenges to be solved.
On Monday 22 November 2021, the UK Government announced a raft of proposals to boost uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) across the UK. The government has proposed the following:
- All new homes with parking spaces will have an electric vehicle charge point
- All residential buildings undergoing major renovation with more than ten parking spaces will have one charging point for each dwelling with associated parking
- All new non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces will have at least one charging point
- All non-residential buildings undergoing renovation with more than 10 parking spaces will have at least one charging point
These proposals are aimed at meeting the government’s target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and to achieve net zero by 2050. They aim to tackle a common criticism of the electric vehicle revolution: the idea that the UK does not have the necessary infrastructure in place to make the switch to EVs viable for many people.
Issues that still need to be solved
The announcement has been broadly welcomed by those with an interest in the sector, although, as some have pointed out, there are several outstanding issues which still need to be solved.
The first is that this policy only caters for homes with off-street parking, and only new homes at that. Many existing homes in the UK do not have access to off-street parking. Policymakers have sought to tackle this by providing funding for councils to install charging stations in on-street locations, including via lampposts. For instance, Transport for London rolled out 1,500 such charging points across 25 of its 32 boroughs in 2017. However, such funding remains patchy, and the new proposals will not help those who do not have access to off-street parking. Moreover, given the UK’s historically poor reputation for building new housing, critics have expressed skepticism that mandating EV charging points for each new home will amount to very much.
Another critique is that, whilst EV charging points can help reduce carbon emissions, they will not solve the congestion problems which blight major cities. Critics argue that the government should focus on improving the availability of bus, tube, and rail options, as well as access to bike and scooter hire, instead of focusing on EV charging stations. Of course, this approach will depend on the location; whilst it may be realistic to improve public transport in major urban centres, small towns and rural areas will continue to be reliant on car journeys for some time to come, meaning electric vehicles will have a part to play.
The final area of criticism revolves around the capacity of the UK grid to supply the additional energy that the switch to electric vehicles will necessitate. Representatives from developers have said that, whilst they are happy to provide the chargers, further clarity is needed on how the grid will supply the additional energy. Critics also argue that switching to electric vehicles is not necessarily a green option if the electricity used is generated via burning fossil fuels. Many people are anxious about the energy transition because it will require moving away from ‘reliable’ fossil fuels to intermittent renewable sources of generation, whilst also requiring more generation due to the electrification of the transport and heating sectors. Developers have also expressed concerns that they will be required to absorb the costs of installing EV charging infrastructure, which might be passed onto to buyers. Some have suggested that, since it is the energy companies which will benefit financially from the charging points, it is they who should pay for them.
Despite the seemingly positive direction of travel, there are a number of policy issues still to be solved when it comes to the EV revolution. The government’s task will be to convince stakeholders from all quarters that their interests are aligned, and to provide financial incentives for developers and consumers where necessary. The government is due to lay legislation to enact these changes before Christmas, and Inline will be following it every step of the way.
If you have any questions about EV charging policy or are interested in an informal chat, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Topics: Electric vehicles
Written by Matthew Niblett
Matthew provides monitoring and analysis to clients in energy, mobility, short-term accommodation, and the wider sharing economy. He coordinates two sector news summaries covering the bike sharing and on-demand transport sector for some of the leading players in the sector.