Philip Sellwood was appointed as the new chair of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) last month following a rich career both in and out of the energy sector.
Sellwood has previously held roles including group chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, as well as being an Advisory Board member of the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) since 2005.
Current± caught up with Sellwood following his new appointment to discuss what the LowCVP is expecting from the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the need for more than electrification alone and how the LowCVP is taking a multi-sector approach.
How will the focus of the LowCVP change with your appointment as chair?
What I’m really pleased about is the timing because one of the things that is clearly happening at rapid pace is the convergence of the sectors moving together; energy, transport and mobility and renewables are now all moving in the same direction, although not necessarily all at the same speed.
I think the experience I’ve had in energy efficiency, renewables and sustainable mobility means I think I’ve got quite a good landscape overview of what needs to happen in terms of ensuring each individual sector doesn’t just get lost in its own individual agenda.
It’s about making not just the Board but the organisation really aware that this isn’t a single sector agenda, it’s a multi-sector agenda. I think one of the LowCVP’s unique selling points, as it were, is the breadth of the stakeholders it brings around the table.
So the work the LowCVP’s already done on the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce is a classic example of where it can bring people with a shared objective - but not necessarily a shared means of getting there - around the table.
What are you expecting out of the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan?
Well, I think firstly it would churlish not to welcome it. I think there’s been lots of critics out there for some considerable time saying that transport’s been the laggard, and that DfT and other associated government bodies haven’t really been moving fast enough. I think now with the declaration of net zero by 2050, every sector - transport included - knows there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. Every sector has to contribute.
So I think in terms of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the first thing is to recognise it is incredibly complex; I think the last thing we want to be encouraging people to think is that there’s just one silver bullet. An answer to passenger vehicles is not the answer for city delivery vehicles or the answer for electric cycles. They’re all very important and they all have to be addressed but they’re not all going to be addressed by single solutions.
What needs to happen for greater decarbonisation of the transport sector?
The first thing has already happened, which is actually there’s a very real recognition that it needs to happen. Whilst there’s been lots of talk in recent years, this is actually the first solid indication that policies are going to be brought in place to facilitate net zero. I think in terms of a couple of sectors, we’re already seeing some sectors that are making great progress such as buses and increasingly HGV.
I think one of the challenges the policy makers have, particularly in areas like passenger vehicles is that on the one hand, we’ve got an agenda that needs to be prosecuted in regards to clean air, so the development of clean air zones one way or another has to be brought forward in my view. The sooner we can do that the better. But then at the same time, we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re penalising the motorist.
Electrification is really, really important but it’s not the whole answer. I think we’ll start to see a tipping point of alternatively fueled vehicles if we’ve not already seen it. We’ve not seen it in sales, but I think we’re starting to see a tipping point in people’s attitudes. Anything the policy makers can do in creating that framework to incentivise industry and individuals to move into that agenda, then I think that’s got to be welcomed.
How much of a focus does the LowCVP have exploring a range of alternatively fueled vehicles?
It’s about appropriate vehicles for appropriate use. So an electric vehicle in inner city areas, whether that’s a passenger vehicle or a low load electric van, is absolutely the appropriate vehicle for the appropriate use. But if you’re talking about hauling large, 40 tonne trucks around the place then I think there’s a real prospect that hydrogen or indeed next generation biogas has a real place to play. I don’t think that will be the best place to put our electrification assets. Similarly, we’ve already seen in renewables that actually you need different horses for different courses. You need solar in one area, it’s not appropriate in another area. Wind is excellent in some areas and not appropriate in other areas.
I think looking at all the vehicle choices and the functions those vehicles perform is really, really important. That’s not to forget, of course, the role of public transport or the role of active travel, particularly in more urban areas.
Now that we’ve got net zero on the agenda, in the same way it’s an all agenda question, it has to be an all agenda solution as well.