This post is by Sophie O’Connell, policy assistant at Green Alliance.
The UK had its sights firmly on an electric vehicle (EV) revolution when it committed to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and set a zero emission vehicle mandate for manufacturers. These signals from the government, together with the spiralling cost of petrol and diesel, are behind a recent surge in EV sales to 16 per cent of new car registrations in March.
EV popularity is predicted to grow, no doubt due to the recent rise in fuel prices highlighting that they are far cheaper to run than petrol and diesel vehicles. In February, it cost around £15 to charge an EV, compared to £80 to fill the average tank with petrol. Despite their higher upfront cost, EVs are the cheapest cars to own over their lifetimes.
The government’s plan to introduce EV sales targets on manufacturers will only accelerate this trend, as car makers will be mandated to put more EVs onto the market. This will inevitably bring down costs due to greater competition and economies of scale.
But for a fast switch, which will help to reduce driving costs, cut carbon and clean up the air, the government must get a move on with rolling out a UK-wide, convenient and affordable charging network, particularly to help those without off-street parking make the transition.
While, in some areas, charging infrastructure is better than some might think, there is a way to go before it is ‘world leading’ across the country and ensures that all drivers can reap the benefits of EVs.
Access to chargers needs levelling up
As of March 2022, the UK had over 30,000 public chargers, with a further 20 private charge points. There are more rapid chargers for every 100 miles of major roads than any other European country and, when on motorways and A roads, drivers are never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charger. In 2019, fewer than one in 20 EVs, on average, needed a full charge more than twice a week, meaning most needs were easily met by home or street charging.
The big problem though is uneven distribution. Most EV owners charge at home. Around two thirds of households have off-street parking, with about half privately owned and 17 per cent rented. Seventy six per cent of the wealthiest households have off-street parking, whereas only 56 per cent of the poorest fifth of households have somewhere off-road to privately charge an EV. There’s an inherent unfairness in this as public charger users must pay 20 per cent VAT whilst those with access to home chargers pay just five per cent.
There is also a postcode lottery when it comes to access. A third of UK chargers are in Greater London, which has 101 chargers for every 100,000 people. In Greater Manchester this falls to a paltry 16.6 chargers per 100,000 people. Until this regional disparity is sorted out, levelling up access to EVs and realising the benefits everywhere can’t happen.
Government plans fall short
The government knows it has to upscale charging and, in March, it published the UK electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, saying it wanted to get the country ‘EV-fit’ by 2030. The Department for Transport says 300,000 public charge points are needed by 2030, which is ten times the current network. Local authorities are being given £500 million and told to develop infrastructure plans to deliver the rollout. A £950 million Rapid Charging Fund will also install 6,000 rapid chargers along England’s motorways by 2035.
Although this all sounds positive, the devil is in the detail. Local authorities will play an important role in delivering the network, but the strategy failed to put the policy and resources in place to make sure they will deliver it. For example, there is no statutory obligation on local authorities to roll out charging. And no requirement on existing non-residential buildings to install charging.
Additionally, the strategy didn’t lower the VAT paid at public charging points to match the five per cent levied on private chargers, failing therefore to provide more affordable rates to those without off street parking. This is particularly important right now given the current cost of living crisis and high fuel prices.
With EV sales outpacing previous forecasts, and the OBR expecting even more rapid uptake soon, the government must rethink its strategy, so drivers, the economy and the environment can benefit from this transport revolution as soon as possible.