Following the release of a House of Lords committee report on the UK’s transition to electric vehicles (EVs), CiTTi Magazine sits down with Baroness Kathryn Jane Parminter – chair of the inquiry – to discuss why she believes the UK government’s EV strategy needs a rapid recharge if the country is to meet its 2050 Net Zero targets…
What’s the background of the report and why was has it been produced?
The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee has had a consistent focus on how we can help people get to net zero. Our first report was on behaviour change and mobilising people, and we’ve done other reports on how we get people to heat their homes that meets our environmental targets.
This latest report is a natural progression because we’ve been picking up those issues whether we’re talking about heating their homes or driving their cars. Surface emissions from cars amount to 23% of all carbon emissions and of those, half are from passenger cars. It’s critical that the government tackles this area to meet our Net Zero 2050 targets. We can’t get to Net Zero 2050 unless we address surface transport and the way to do that is through guaranteeing an EV revolution. What [the government] needs to do now is get people adopting EVs.
During the inquiry, the government pushed back the forthcoming ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. What impact will this have on the EV transition?
The new target must be achievable because if we’re going to stand any chance of getting to 2050, we’ve got to get things sorted by 2035.
Because the government put in place the ZEV mandate on manufacturers, whereby they’ve got to produce up to 80% of electric cars by 2030, the trajectory from a manufacturing point of view meant there would be limited impact on the carbon emissions that would be effectively not be saved by moving from 2030 to 2035.
What it did do however, that ban, was send a very clear message to the public, a detrimental message as we saw it, which was that this issue is not a priority – you don’t need to be thinking about buying an EV now because the ban’s been delayed. Whereas our view is that if we’re going to get to net zero and people into EVs, we need them to be thinking about it now. There will also be environmental and cost savings because we know that as more EVs come onto the market, the costs will fall.
How important is the public and media perceptions of EVs to their adoption?
I think both are really important. This is a new technology, and it will mean people changing how they live their lives; there are the issues of finding the money up front to finance the cars, where you can charge your car and how this affects long-distance travel. There’s a lot of misinformation out there because the government’s not putting out sufficient accurate information, setting out the benefits and the accurate costs and effectively the evidence about EVs to the public. It’s a critical time for the public to have clear information so they can make informed decisions about buying EVs.
In what ways does current EV charging infrastructure need to change over the next 10 years to support a widespread EV transition?
We’re very clear that the government needs to effectively put a turbocharge behind its EV infrastructure strategy. It’s failed to meet its target for the six chargepoints in all motorway service stations by 2023. We don’t have uniform coverage around the country.
We’ve identified some parts of the country have reasonable levels of chargers and others do not, and people need to have that security that there are going to be chargers where they need them. Up to 70% of local authorities don’t have EV infrastructure strategies. We’re saying the government needs to mandate local authorities to make sure there are 50 chargers for every 100,000 members of the population so that if people are thinking about buying an EV the chargers are there before they buy them. [The report estimates that the ratio of cars to public chargepoints has gone from 33:1 in 2019 to 95:1 in 2022].
Given the current cost-of-living crisis, how much of a barrier do you think cost is to EV adoption? |EVs, over their lifetime, are cheaper than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. However, the cost-of-living crisis in this context concerns the upfront purchase price and there just aren’t enough affordable models out there currently.
Because of the high cost of the batteries, the costs are, on average, up to a third more expensive than an ICE equivalent. The government used to have the Plug-in Grant, which was around till 2022 and helped offset some of those upfront costs for people buying EVs.
They removed the grant because they said, ‘We’ve moved from the early adoption phase of the mass market’. Our view is that those grants were removed prematurely and all the evidence from around countries with successful uptake of EVs is that you need incentives to encourage people to buy them.
We have said that the government should be looking at targeted grants at the affordable end to ensure there is better price parity with vehicles. This should be tapered off until EVs achieve price parity with ICEs, which, depending on who you listen to, is going to be anywhere between now and 2030.
How important is UK EV manufacturing to achieving the transition, rather than relying on vehicles manufactured in China, for example?
Currently, the Chinese market accounts for about 10% of new EVs. It’s important that we have a strong manufacturing base here in the UK because we need to ensure that we keep jobs in this country in addition to the carbon savings made from not importing cars from around the world.
We were very pleased to see the government support for British manufacturing of EVs in recent months but we do need more affordable brands. Although there are some brands coming across from the EU, the Chinese brands are much cheaper. It’s imperative for the circular economy to have the cars from here that we can then recycle and reuse to get the maximum benefit out of vehicles – we’re interested in the lifetime savings of the car.
How do you feel about alternative fuels such as biofuels or hydrogen as alternatives to electrification and reducing emissions?
We’ve got to get on this fast and there is a form of surface transport in EVs that works – not perfectly, but it works, and we can spend a lot of time waiting for hydrogen options or biofuel options. We should be investigating if investing in further research into all those areas is worthwhile. But we haven’t the time to wait. All around the world, in the USA, Asia and Europe, people are using EVs now because that’s what works.
So, yes, of course, we should be asking the government to invest more in these other alternatives, but the focus must remain on getting people into EVs. The technology is here, it’s now and we need to be focusing on EVs.
Achievements and innovations in EV charging will be celebrated at the third annual CiTTi Awards, which will be held on 26 November 2024 at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in London. Nominations officially open in March 2024. Please visit www.cittiawards.co.uk to learn more about this unmissable event for the UK’s transportation sector.