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The rEV Index will be updated annually. Image: Getty.
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Q&A: Economist Impact’s Martin Koehring discusses whether the UK is ready for the EV transition

The rEV Index will be updated annually. Image: Getty.

Released in September, the rEV Index from Economist Impact and sponsored by bp is designed to highlight and quantitively assess how prepared different regions and nations are for the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

It includes 23 indicators across eight pillars, covering aspects such as affordability, purchase incentives and consumer sentiment. The rEV Index looked at nine of the best performing countries in terms of readiness, with the UK coming in seventh with an overall score of 39.9.

Current± sat down with Martin Koehring, senior manager for sustainability, climate change and natural resources at Economist Impact to discuss just how ready the UK is to transition to EVs.


How much progress has UK made already? And how did of quantify in the very first iteration of the report?

We really are keen to highlight that the UK actually made great progress. First of all, just looking at the fact that between 2019 and 2020, the overall sale of cars went down by 60% with the pandemic. But also, if you look at the EV market it actually grew over 40%. So there's clearly this momentum that has persisted. It's really important to highlight that there's lots of progress, for example the availability of chargers as well as in terms of policies and incentives.

But there are two areas in particular where the UK really lags behind, and that is the affordability. So if we look at the cost of buying and running an EV in the UK, it's about 1.3 times the cost of running a conventional car over a three year period . And in countries like Norway, for example, EVs are already cheaper to run over three years given the tax benefits and these kind of things.

So the short term costs of switching to EVs is not competitive in the UK compared to other countries. Almost 60% of British consumers identified the price as the key factor that prevents them from doing the switch to EVs.

And the other big factor is the charging infrastructure. And that is not so much as I said, the number of chargers, because there are over 25,000 charge points in the UK, that is equivalent to six for every 100 kilometres of road network. In London the charging density is actually over 30 times higher than this average. So clearly, some areas within the UK such as London, Scotland, are doing better, but what really is required is the right speed for the right need.

But the UK doesn't really do ultra-fast chargers, which are required. So the number of charge points is good, but if we look at the speed, it's clearly not there, I think it was something like less than 5% of chargers in the UK of a speed above 100kW. And that's far less than, for example, in Germany where it is 12%, or China where it is 35%. So clearly, these are the key areas where the UK lags behind.

Do you think the network operators in the UK are moving fast enough to expand capacity?

If you look at the indicators for energy, the UK is kind of average in that score. In terms of grid headroom, the UK isn't doing that well. There's a lot of opportunity to expand, but actually renewable energy generation is pretty good.

So it's not necessarily just generation itself. It's more you providing the grid headroom is ultimately whether UK lags. So there's still a lot of potential in that space, but definitely vehicle to grid (V2G) is one way of making that transition easier.

V2G is something that is really promising - in a study that we did on decarbonisation technologies in cities, we found that V2G technologies are the is the way forward in terms of making sure that electric vehicles are fully integrated into the grid.

If there was one key lesson that you think people should take away from other markets like Norway, that are kind of setting the benchmark to push EV readiness in the UK, what would that one key lesson be?

I think is that element of consistency. Norway is a good example of having consistently pushed that message. They started in 1990 and they have consistently promoted EVs through road tax, which was lowered in the early 2000s. They removed the charges for toll roads, they offered free parking in some municipal car parks, so really nudging consumers, and on some of those fronts, particularly in some areas in the UK there's a lot of opportunity to expand on these kind of measures.

I was speaking with a behavioural scientist the other day, and it's important to look at these kinds of things, in terms of connecting the economic and policy elements with the element of how people make decisions. And the behavioural scientist was telling me that the kind of things you need to do is make it easy for consumers, you need to signpost what to do in a way that is linked to the easiness factor. But signposting is about consistency and persistence, and those are areas where Norway has done this.

Do you think local authorities and government are starting to realise the needs for greater levels of coordination and cooperation to really have the breadth of coverage for EVs that is needed?

Yeah, that's definitely one of the findings. And when we looked at what the solution could be for the UK, it's making sure that this wide disparity is kind of reduced.

People are not just in one area, people travel and if there's inconsistent messaging between the local authorities that's an issue. If there's a huge disparity between London and just outside London and also within London, which we looked at for example, central London gets a much higher score than even outer North London. So even within regions in the UK, there's such a huge disparity and there needs to be more coordination, the signposting and the incentives needs to be aligned, and there definitely needs to be more talking at that level, and the central government also has a role to play in facilitating that dialogue.

Editorial

Molly Lempriere Deputy Editor, Current±

Molly Lempriere is deputy editor at Solar Media, responsible for its UK-facing publications Solar Power Portal and Current±.

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