The Race to Net-Zero and the Big Switch to EV – Part One

The Race to Net-Zero has begun! The UK has a legally-binding target of becoming net-zero by 2050. Electric Vehicles (EVs) will play a crucial role in this.

We’ll explore more in part one of this two-part piece.

This is part one of 2, on the UK’s transition to a net-zero economy and the rise of EVs. In part 1, we will focus on how the country is moving away from fossil-fuel vehicles. And how we plan to build a national EV infrastructure.

(In part two, we will focus on how the UK’s parking sector will have to adapt to this radical shake-up. We’ll explain how Solutionlabs & the Open Parking Platform will lead this change)

The ban on petrol and diesel vehicle sales is looming

The Government brought forward a UK ban on the sale of petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles from 2035 to 2030. This will require drastic changes to our road and parking infrastructure – but the benefits could be substantial.

A report by the Defra Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) revealed that every step the UK makes towards net-zero creates potential for improved air quality. Professor Lewis of the Department of Chemistry at the University of York, highlighted that there were ‘dramatically reduced nitrogen dioxide levels’ in UK cities during the first lockdown. If the national fleet were already electric, the country would have witnessed similar improvements in air quality, Professor Lewis added.

An ambitious target

A report by climate advisers stated the UK must reduce its emissions by 78% to meet its 2050 target. Published just days after Boris Johnson revealed a 10-point plan to ensure the UK meets its 2050 target. One of which was a pledge to reduce emissions by 68% by that year.

The UK is also hosting COP26 next year

This month, the UN secretary-general called on world leaders to declare a ‘climate emergency’ as C02 levels reach a record high.

In November 2021, the UK will host the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The conference will seek to accelerate delivering on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. The event will take place in Glasgow. It will highlight the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of international cooperation to achieve the goal

There’s no doubt that transitioning from fossil-fuel powered vehicles to EVs will play a crucial role in helping the UK achieve its net-zero goal within 30 years.

Making the switch to EV – what is the UK doing?
Taking part in World EV Day

On September 9th, 2020, the UK took part in the first ‘World EV Day’. The Government announced £12 million to support EV research projects and £9.3 million for Highways England. It hopes to encourage local authorities & more businesses to make the switch to EV.

New green-coloured parking spaces and EV charging points

The Government also revealed plans to introduce green-coloured parking spaces. As well as new EV charging points at supermarkets and other popular destinations. With dedicated EV sites for buying and selling vehicles, to help decarbonise the UK economy. 

Green number plates

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean announced that green number plates could be soon seen on UK roads.

The Transport Minister claimed the UK is ‘going further, faster than any other major economy to decarbonise transport. He added that ‘there has never been a better time to make the switch to zero-emission vehicle’. 

Research by Nissan and Yougov found that a third (32%) of people said the new green number plates would make them more likely to buy an EV car. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, became one of the first people to put them on his Tesla when he had them fitted at Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire earlier this month.

Thousands of new lamp-post charging points have been created

These are ideal for daytime charging when people are at work, or for nighttime charging for those who commute. in London, ubitricity retrofitted the first time London lamp-post with a charging point in 2016, while Chargy did so in 2018. 

Many more rapid charge points

The number of rapid charge points – which are the EV equivalent of petrol stations – have also grown by more than a quarter between January and November 2020 – despite the severe economic impacts of the pandemic.

The UK’s first charging point exclusively for EVs

Earlier this month, the UK also opened its first EV-only charging point, in Braintree, Essex. Operated by Gridserve it is the first of over 100 such sites the company plans to build in the next few years. This first one includes 36 EV charging areas – enough to power 200 miles of range in just 20 minutes, Gridserve says.

So how does the UK compare to other countries?

Well, the U.S has also made some good progress so far. In September 2019, the RA Automotives petrol station (first opened in 1958), became the first in the U.S to be fully converted into an electric vehicle (EV) charging point.

Even the Middle East – a region known for its rich oil reserves – is now planning a switch to EV to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia announced that 5% of spaces will be designated for exclusive EV parking.

In 2017, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Dubai Taxi Corporation signed a lucrative deal to acquire 200 Tesla EVs. The UAE is also creating hundreds of EV charging stations, as well as e-scooters to help reduce pollution and congestion in the bustling cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But when it comes to net-zero targets – the UK is near the top

Back in June 2019, then Prime Minister Theresa May enshrined into law the target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Only Sweden has announced a more-ambitious target – to become net-zero by 2045 – while France, Denmark, Hungary and New Zealand have all set the same legally-binding targets as the UK.

The challenges: 

Rumours have been circulating for some time that the Government is pondering a new ‘road tax’ to cover a shortfall caused by EVs’ exemption from vehicle excise duty (VED). This is in lost duty because of the rapid growth in the number of EVs on our roads. Estimated to be up to £40billion.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested the new tax could take the form of a ‘pay-by-the-mile’ scheme. This would replace the current VED scheme. The AA have supported the principle of a tax-free allowance so that charges only apply for motorists who drive more than 3,000 miles per year.

  • Almost 3 million charging points are needed in the UK

Research published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has indicated that the UK will need 1.7 million public charge points by the end of the 2020s – and 2.8 million by 2035. In September 2020, it stated that there were only 19,314 on-street charge points at the time. According to research we would need 500+ new on-street chargers installed every day until 2035 at a cost of £16.7 billion.

What is the Government doing to support EV infrastructure in?

In a briefing paper published in the House of Commons Library on December 4th (Number CBP07480), details of the latest spending review (Nov’ 2020) were summarised as:      

  • £1.9 billion for charging infrastructure and consumer incentives. These are broken down into:
  • £950 million for rapid EV charging hubs on every service station on motorways and major roads in England.
  • £582 million to fund a Plug-in Car, Van, Taxi, and Motorcycle Grant until 2023.
  • £275 million to support new charge points at residences, workplaces and other on-street sites.
  • £90 million for local EV charging infrastructure for larger schemes and rapid hubs in England.
So far, there appears to be big regional disparities in EV infrastructure funding.

Recent research found that London and the South East of England received almost half (45%) of all new charger capacity in the last year – despite only representing about 27% of the UK population and car ownership in the capital being below the nationwide average.

The data, which covered a 12-month period up to October 2020, showed that the number of new charging points for all other UK regions was disproportionately low for their populations. 

London has received a disproportionate amount of EV investment.

London currently has about 63 public chargers per 100,000 people, which is about twice as much as the nationwide average. In stark contrast, Northern Ireland only has 16.8 per 1000,000 people – despite a far higher percentage of households owning a car here compared to London.

Should the areas most reliant on cars get more EV funding per capita?

Some might argue that it would be more practical to prioritise EV infrastructure investments in regions with the highest rates of car ownership – typically rural areas and smaller towns/cities – as it is here where the transition from fossil fuels to EV may have the greatest impact on helping the UK reach its net-zero target.

However, the Department for Transport has claimed that the reason for these regional disparities is ‘uneven demand’ – with some local authorities being more eager to bid for government funding for EV infrastructure. But is worth mentioning that while Belfast is more dependent on the car than any other UK city – it has also registered dangerous nitrogen dioxide levels over 25 points higher than the EU legal limit. Like London, pollution is a serious public health threat here, as it is in all cities and large towns across the UK. 

Are the environmental and public health benefits of EVs greater for urban areas?

Others might argue that it is those areas with the highest rates of congestion and pollution – big cities where car ownership is typically lower than towns and rural areas – where EV investment may be most beneficial from an environmental and public health perspective. 

Air pollution is responsible for up to 9,400 extra deaths each year in London. Plus about 28,000 to 36,000 deaths each year across the UK. In a Public Health England pollution evidence review published in 2019, one of the key interventions recommended for local authorities was the promotion of EVs, unsurprisingly.

Sadly, pollution is returning to pre-pandemic levels

Worryingly, new research has found that toxic air in the UK is now just as bad – or worse – than it was before the pandemic. An analysis by the Centre for Cities, an independent think tank, has found that while NO2 levels did fall by an average of 38% across 49 cities and large towns during the spring lockdown, in the second half of 2020 these levels were the same or higher than pre-pandemic levels in 80% of places studied.

The Centre for Cities has urged local authorities and the Government to take urgent action to reduce air pollution. 

In order to drastically cut air pollution, EVs must be accessible to all.

That’s not just about making sure EVs are affordable: people also need good access to EV infrastructure – and this is where parking comes into play. The majority of EV owners charge their vehicles when parked for hours at a time – and there’s minimal cost when this is done at home (just a few extra £s in your electricity bill for a long round-trip commute).

The growth of the EV market is an incredible opportunity. For both national and local government to reduce air pollution whilst mitigating the effects of climate change. But there are big challenges that lie ahead. The limited availability of on-street parking in big cities being one of them. Local authorities need to navigate carefully if they are to meet their environmental goals.

In Part 2:

In Part 2, we will discuss what the big switch to EV’s will mean for the parking sector. Plus how Solutionlabs & the Open Parking Platform will champion a transformative new era of ethical innovation in this area. You can read more about Solutionlabs innovation strategy here.

Stay tuned…

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