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Public Accounts Committee slams government's lack of plan for 'huge challenge' of EV transition

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The government has a “mountain to climb” to reach its goals of phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and for all new cars to be zero-emission by 2035.

This is according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which in a new report released today (19 May) criticised the government for lacking a plan to achieve these targets and tackle the consequences of an all-electric car society, including the impact on the future power needs, the impact on the skills and capabilities required to support the changeover and the impact on the government tax-take due to the loss of fuel duties.

While much of the report focused on how to increase uptake among consumers, the PAC also detailed recommendations into charging infrastructure, stating it isn’t convinced that the government has “sufficiently thought through” how this will expand at the pace required to meet the targets.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has made assumptions about the types of journeys people will make and how they charge their car, but not estimated the number of chargepoints required across the country to keep up with the increase in electric vehicles (EVs).

Therefore, the DfT should set out as part of its plan for increasing EV uptake how it intends to address the remaining barriers to expanding the network, for example the availability of chargers where drivers do not have off-street parking.

Having spoke to the DfT for this report, the PAC said the department sees government’s role in developing EV charging infrastructure as spotting market failures and unblocking problems. The DfT said there is to be a shift in focus from funding for home charging to on-street and other publicly available local charging.

The government has doubled investment for the current year for the on-street residential charge scheme, and is to double it to £20 million for the next year too.

However, the National Audit Office has reported that the take-up of funding for local authorities to support on-street residential chargepoints has previously been low, with almost a third of the allocation funding of £8.5 million not used.

In 2018, it was revealed that only five councils across the UK had taken advantage the scheme, prompting ministers to write to local authorities calling for more action and the Local Government Association to respond by claiming cash strapped councils should not be responsible for “replacing petrol stations”.

Then in 2019, transport secretary Grant Shapps penned a separate letter to local authorities calling on them to take better advantage of government grants for deploying EV charging infrastructure.

Alongside the additional work needed on on-street charging, both the DfT and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) also need to work with other departments to consider the practical implications of the transition to zero-emission cars, the PAC said.

In particular, they should set out how they are going to manage the wider societal impacts such as the impact on power generation and transmission and retraining the workforce.

Investments will need to be made in the transmission and distribution networks to ensure they can cope with the additional demand from EVs alongside other demand sources, the PAC said, with BEIS estimating that electricity demand will double by 2050 and that the need for network investment will translate to a 2% increase in energy bills by 2030.

Already the UK distribution network operators (DNOs) are gearing up for the increased demand, with UK Power Networks expecting a 3,000% growth in EVs in its areas by 2030 and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks expecting EVs to increase to over 5 million by 2050 in its areas.

Likewise, Electricity North West is expecting over 3 million EVs in its region by 2050, detailing its plans to support the increased uptake in February.

The PAC also examined the difference in costs between public charging and home charging, citing National Audit Office analysis of public data which suggested that charging at home can cost between 59% and 78% less than charging on the public network. The DfT said that it expects there to be more competition in the market and innovation that could benefit customers in terms of the price paid for electricity, but that it expects rapid charging in public to always be more expensive than charging overnight at home.

Additionally, the PAC asked both the DfT and BEIS about their strategy to avoid ‘not spots’ - areas where the market doesn’t deliver because uptake is insufficient. The DfT responded that the majority of EV owners will charge at home overnight and start their journeys with 100% charge. However, the PAC said that data from the English Housing Survey shows that 33% of households in England don’t have access to off-street parking, with this increasing to 68% for those living in social housing.

Lastly, the PAC asked how the DfT will ensure that charging infrastructure expands in line with its plans for a rapid expansion in EV uptake ahead of 2030, with the department stating it has not set targets for the number and type of charging infrastructure required to support the zero-emission vehicle transition because it expects private investment to drive this.

Meg Hiller, chair of the PAC, said that "once again what we’ve got is a government throwing up a few signs around base camp" while there's no drop in demand for internal combustion engine vehicles.

"This isn’t about more targets with no plan behind them inevitably getting missed - it’s about averting the real-world challenges that are bearing down on all of us," Hiller added.

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