Rishi Sunak’s decision this summer to keep the government’s target to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030 was the easy bit. The hard stuff has barely been tackled. There is no feasible way to decarbonise transport without electric vehicles (EVs), which don’t spew out greenhouse gases. The good news is that the UK’s only dedicated manufacturing plant for EVs opened on Thursday and more than one in five new cars registered last month were electric. Transport & Environment, a European thinktank, estimates that by 2025 a new EV will cost the same as a petrol or diesel car. Yet the infrastructure needed to support the growth in EVs is falling behind the pace demanded to meet government targets.
The country currently has one public charger for every 36 plug-in cars on the road, down from 31 in 2021. The National Infrastructure Commission warned this March that the government would substantially miss its decade-end target of 300,000 chargers by 2030. Ministers will point to the 180 new super-fast chargers opened on Thursday near Birmingham as progress, but it is painfully slow. Car owners without a driveway need public charging stations to keep batteries full. While in London there are 145 public charging points per 100,000 people, in England’s north-west the figure is just 33.
Britain’s EV boom could run out of juice before it begins. The boss of the service station operator Moto, Ken McMeikan, warned this May that by 2030 “EV charging capacity will require an incredible twelve times as much energy as we currently use today”. New generating projects face lengthening queues before they can get online. A supplier asking for a grid connection today can expect to be offered one for some time between 2030 and 2038. Those drawing power face similar issues: an EV fast-charging point in Scotland could not be turned on owing to a delay in hooking up to the electricity grid.
Part of the problem is how market mechanisms coordinate the necessary decarbonisation investments to transform society. To reach its emissions targets, virtually all UK transport will need to be greened. Incentivising electrification of public transport and bolstering its role as the backbone of city mobility systems will be essential to reduce congestion and improve air quality. E-bikes and e-scooters can trigger a move away from the use of private cars – but they only underline the growing electricity demand. The Common Wealth thinktank suggests that the national wealth fund which Labour plans to set up, initially capitalised with £8bn, could use its clout to ensure a more “democratic negotiation over which industries to prioritise and what plans or pathways to pursue”.
The state will need to play a bigger role, because corralling animal spirits with light-touch regulation hasn’t yielded the required results. The pro-market argument falls down partly because its Tory proponents have lost their reputation for competence. Nowhere is this more evident than on green issues. But there is no exit from Earth, as this summer – the world’s hottest on record– surely attests. The transition from an economic system run on fossil fuels into a new metals-based one will see winners and losers. Established carmakers will rage against the dying of the light, by promoting alternative fuels and hoping to convince ambitious Conservative politicians to back them. But globally, EV sales grew more than 50% in 2022. The UK needs a government that is prepared to grasp the future, not champion the past.
Extracted in full from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/sep/07/the-guardian-view-on-electric-vehicles-uk-boom-could-run-out-of-juice-before-it-begins