There is no doubt the Government’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy is a hugely positive, and very welcome step in the right direction towards achieving the Prime Minister’s ambition to be the fastest nation in the G7 to decarbonise road transport. However, in galvanising and enabling local authorities and private industry to act now, it can go even further.
As a priority, we need further clarification on requirements for how local authorities can access the funds available, as it is this that will provide the vital springboard for local authorities to act, and act now. Without this, there will be delays until local authorities get that clarification, and stalling could seriously jeopardize our ability to meet the 2030 target.
To reach the target of 300,000 public EV charge points by 2030, there are also some additional elements to the strategy that will make it even more powerful.
Important amongst these is that we close the growing disparity in the cost of EV charging, as at-home charging continues to be charged at the lower rate of 5% in comparison to public charging at 20%. In context, within our own charging structure, the p/kWh would go down by just over 5p with this lower rate of VAT. We all agree that charging must be accessible to all, so it’s important to recognise that this disparity will continue to affect the 11 million households in the UK that rely on public charging – unless the Government acts now.
A scrappage scheme to get the worst polluting cars off the road would also be a welcome addition. While a reliable and accessible EV charging Infrastructure roll out is essential for instilling EV driver confidence, we also need to convince those who value and rely on their current vehicles, however polluting, with financial incentives to go electric.
And we’ve seen how successful they can be. The 2009 ‘cash for bangers’ scheme generated 400,000 new vehicle registrations in less than a year, and contributed to the average emissions from a new car dropping at its fastest rate since the SMMT began its records in 1997. The 5.4% CO2 reduction demonstrated how the automotive industry should be instrumental in helping us to forge a zero-carbon future, and indeed providing a much-needed boost to the industry. And more recently, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)-supporting scheme that provides financial support to disabled and low-income Londoners to scrap older, more polluting vehicles, was extended last year after it helped replace or retrofit more than 10,000 vehicles.
The £500m investment is extremely positive news in ensuring that funds are available, and particularly that £50m has been apportioned to much-needed local authority staffing. We know from discussions with our local authority customers that budgets are of no use, if they do not have the personnel to use it.
Indeed, it’s important to emphasize that the strategy is largely welcomed, and in it there are some vital developments. In particular, that any rapid charging point installed has to work at a minimum 99% reliability rate is essential. To date, the public has experienced too much unreliability in EV charging infrastructure – which has been widely publicised in the media, most notably in Channel 4’s recent Dispatches ‘The Truth About Electric Cars’. Such experience and media coverage only goes to reduce confidence and delay the consumer EV switch. Although, the devil will be in the detail. When the equipment leaves the factory, it can of course have a reliability rate of 99% or more, but reliability is more often a factor of poor installation and poor maintenance, and this is a point that needs to be more explicit in the Government’s plan.
Overall, the Government’s commitment is clearly there, which can only be good news for our road to sustainable transport, but we need greater detail, clarity and meaningful action if we are to achieve these critical targets.
Neil Isaacson is CEO of public charge point operator Liberty Charge.