Adam Afriyie is the MP for Windsor.
Elephants in the room have been spotted. Too few charging points and inadequate energy networks will crush any hopes of zero emissions by 2050 or wholly fossil-free vehicle sales by 2030. To keep our hopes alive action will be needed from both government and the private sector, as identified in excellent papers from Policy Exchange and Bright Blue.
With a viable route out of the pandemic in the form of vaccines and our EU relationship now settled, it is time to look to the future.
The Prime Minister is rightly looking at policies that will shape our country in the years and decades to come.
The green agenda
While some people sometimes bristle at the phrase “green agenda”, few would bemoan the aim of reducing travel costs, boosting energy efficiency, and placing the UK at the forefront of emerging high-tech industries which are kinder to the environment. I suspect that most of us are also comfortable with the concept that the polluter should pay.
From the raft of green priorities, it is zero-carbon transport that has captured my attention. We have already passed a tipping point. Not only have electric vehicles (EVs) come of age, they have become cheaper to run than traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.
Gone are the days of stressing over charging points. EVs have evolved from a slightly quirky city run-around to a smooth and dependable workhorse that is quietly displacing polluting vehicles.
The Government is right to continue encouraging their uptake when seeking to reduce emissions. Transport is one of the few sectors where emissions have actually risen since the 1990s due to increasing car ownership. EVs not only cut carbon emissions, they also reduce the emission of other harmful gases which are, literally, clogging our minds and choking people to death. Our towns and cities will be healthier places and our NHS will save billions on treating respiratory-related illness. If we can see an end to petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, then all the better.
The rollout of EVs is a highly conservative endeavour. Dictating that people must drive EVs today would be foolish and dangerous authoritarian madness. But it is a deeply Conservative approach to incentivise their uptake and to let people know that they can choose to save themselves a small fortune on fuel, fuel duties, emission fees, congestion charges, vehicle tax and gaining purchase subsidies in the short term. It is also rather virtuous to say that you are covering the cost of your own pollution!
Yet despite the benefits of EVs there is more to do on the infrastructure front.
Chief among them are doubts surrounding the reach, reliability and security of the charging network. Having used an electric vehicle for some time, I understand first-hand the practical infrastructure issues EV drivers are facing and the urgent need for government action to give charging confidence to the millions of drivers who will be switching to an EV.
While many people can charge at home with a three-pin plug or home charger, many more cannot. So we will need an extensive network of public and shared charging points for those who live in flats or cannot safely run a cable to their home overnight.
Charging points are best in convenient locations which are close to people’s homes, commercial areas and workplaces. Ideally, we would see a charging point available beside every on-street parking space and at every bay in a car park. It is a big ask. Yet to this end the Government must insist that local authorities give a clear roadmap to when, where and how charging infrastructure will be installed. Indeed we must install charge points five times faster than today and avoid charging black-spots particularly in rural areas.
The current rollout is fragmented at best. It is being managed by over 300 local authorities across the country using different operators, different standards, different security levels and a disparate divergent range of charging ports. Consumers are understandably bemused, uninspired, and lacking confidence.
The Government can also focus on supply-side measures, such as boosting our domestic production capabilities. An excellent example of this is the new £2.6 billion car battery factory, dubbed the “giggaplant” in Northumberland.
We could also look to expand the support made available to consumers when installing charging infrastructure in their homes and change the regulations so that all new homes must have a charging point.
The National Grid
Today, about one per cent of vehicles are electric. It will be a big ask to see that rise to 100 per cent within 10 years, but it is achievable if we act on infrastructure today.
This means preparing our energy network for the increased demands of millions of electric vehicles on the roads. Hundreds of thousands of charge points and thousands of petrol stations and public spaces must be serviced by both the national grid and transmission network. What works for 200,000 electric cars will not work for 20 million.
The national grid clearly has work to do as a vital aspect of our national infrastructure. Overall capacity and transmission networks must be able to meet demand but there is an even more critical aspect to consider. Our electricity supply must be protected from external threats, such as cybercriminals and hostile governments. We simply cannot be in a position where millions of Britons wake up unable to charge their cars and travel to work because the EV charging network has been hacked overnight.
A conservative approach
Protecting the environment need not cost you more than destroying it. It is right that, for now, the Government helps with the upfront costs and nudges people in the right direction with a range of incentives. The good news is that as the production of EVs is rising, the costs are falling. It is already cheaper to drive an electric vehicle than a fossil fuel vehicle, particularly if you have a home-charger, and the differential continues to grow.
Whatever the merits, the Government has set a hard deadline of 2030 for the sale of new petrol and diesel to cease. Instead of forcing people into electric vehicles, it is best if we continue to persuade them with incentives and inspire the confidence. Switching to an EV isn’t just good for the planet it is also good for your wallet.