A group of MPs has added their voices to calls to bring the planned 2040 phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles forward by several years, while calling for a review and new strategy into how local authorities can access funding for charging infrastructure.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has published its report on developing the market and infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs) at a time when the EV market has come under the microscope.
The headline conclusion of the cross-party group claims the current 2040 target “places the UK in the passenger seat” not just over the years until it comes into effect but also the vague nature of its terms.
With EVs and vans expected to reach price equivalency with conventional cars by the mid-2020s, and EV sales overtaking petrol and diesel sales by the late 2030s, the committee says it is not clear that a 2040 target will push the market, only follow it. Bringing it ahead and in line with that set by the Scottish government would promote investment in ‘the EV transition’ to increase sales.
2040 also undermines the government’s low carbon agenda owing to its use of the term ‘effectively’ zero emission when describing those vehicles that will replace conventional cars, which leaves the door open for hybrid vehicles that emit carbon.
Calling its messaging “damaging and unfair”, the report states: “The government’s lack of clarity on the meaning of the 2040 targets is unacceptable. Industry cannot be expected to make supportive investment decisions when ministers and officials themselves cannot say how the target should be interpreted.
“We recommend that the government either acknowledge that petrol and diesel will ultimately need to be fully phased out from cars and vans, or admit that it is not seeking a zero emissions fleet. It cannot have both.”
Adopting a 2032 target for “truly zero emission” vehicles would, the BEIS committee concludes, “put the UK in the ‘first tier’ league of nations leading the EV transition”.
Chair Rachel Reeves MP said: “For all the rhetoric of the UK becoming a world leader in EVs, the reality is that the government’s deeds do not match the ambitions of their words.
“The UK government’s targets on zero-emissions vehicles are unambitious and vague, giving little clarity or incentive to industry or the consumer to invest in electric cars. If we are serious about being EV world leaders, the government must come forward with a target of new sales of cars and vans to be zero emission by 2032.”
Government "at odds" with its own ambition
The report is also critical of the government’s strategy for rolling out EV chargers nationally, saying its ambition is “at odds” with the decision to leave delivery largely to local authorities and private network operators.
This debate was reared up in January this year when government ministers Claire Perry and Jesse Norman claimed councils needed to do more to access funding and delivery charging. The Local Government Association hit back, claiming cash strapped councils should not be responsible for “replacing petrol stations” and rolling out charging infrastructure.
The BEIS committee has called on central government to “recognise its responsibility” and deliver a whole systems approach to ensure the right number of chargers are available.
It has recommended a shared approach to planning national charging infrastructure at least cost is coordinated by December 2019, while a strategy to support LAs that have been less successful in accessing funding so far should be introduced by 2021.
The report states: “We have seen no evidence that government has adequately involved local authorities in such discussions so far, and our evidence suggests that it is not realistic to expect local authorities to act spontaneously: proactive engagement from government is required.”
The committee also recommend that the government subsidise the provision of rapid charge points in remote and rural areas without delay and by 2022.
"Our EV charging infrastructure is simply not fit for purpose. We cannot expect consumers to overcome ‘range anxiety’ and switch to electric vehicles if they cannot be confident of finding convenient, reliable points to regularly charge their cars,” Reeves said.
“The government cannot simply will the ends and leave local government, or private companies, to deliver the means. The government needs to get a grip and lead on coordinating the financial support and technical know-how necessary for local authorities to promote this infrastructure and help ensure that electric cars are an attractive option for consumers."
However, there has been some pushback from the EV charging sector on this view, with the chief executive of the UK’s largest charging firm BP Chargemaster, which operates over 6,000 chargers nationally, questioning some of its conclusions.
David Martell said: “The committee’s finding that EV charging infrastructure is ‘not fit for purpose’ does not correlate with the overall customer experience and appears to be based on outdated information, and figures relating only to publicly-funded charging points, ignoring the fact that the majority of new infrastructure is being privately-funded.
“BP Chargemaster will continue to expand its affordable, reliable and convenient charging network over the coming years, to make driving an EV as easy as possible.”
Pointing the finger
There has also been some objections to the report’s claims that distribution network companies, which most often have EV chargers connected to their systems, have obstructed the development of charging infrastructure.
David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, replied: “We want to ensure the public has access to electric vehicle charge points as quickly as possible and that the cost of connecting those charge points is kept as low as possible. Dealing with electric vehicles on a reactive basis isn’t the most efficient way of doing that.
“Local electricity networks need more information on where and when charge points are installed, along with better access to smart data and clarity on how the costs of upgrading the grid will be met, when necessary.”
Nonetheless, the committee MPs have said DNOs should either be incentivised or required to facilitate the development of charging infrastructure, while also calling for new renewable generation to be added to ensure the electricity powering the UK’s EVs are is also decarbonised.