Electric vehicles look revved up to take over the road, with an annual rise in registration of 27 per cent in 2017. Experts at Go Ultra Low, a joint government and commercial campaign to raise awareness of EVs, predict that a further 60,000 could be registered in 2018, bringing the UK total close to 200,000.
London has the most EVs, with more than 9,000 registered last year. So it’s clear the appetite is there, especially in the capital. But can the infrastructure keep up with demand?
Incentives to Go Electric
The economic benefits of EVs have been well-documented. Charging an EV with a range of up to 100 miles costs between £2 and £4, while the same distance in a petrol or diesel car would set you back between £13 and £16, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
A broader switch to EVs could also have huge benefits for the environment and public health. More than 9,000 Londoners die early every year due to toxic air, according to London City Hall, and around half of air pollution comes from road transport.
In London, where around 90 per cent of car journeys cover distances of less than 10km, going electric makes a lot of sense. And a handful of government and local council incentives increase the appeal. In Westminster, for example, residents with EVs are eligible for free parking permits and discounted parking. The congestion charge is also waived for electric vehicles—a huge plus for those living and working within the zones.
There are also government grants available to car manufacturers and dealerships, reducing the retail price of certain plug-in and electric vehicles by up to £4,500. Vehicle tax is free or greatly reduced, too. It all ties into London’s aim to become a carbon-neutral city by 2050.
The latest figures on car ownership suggest incentives could be having a positive impact. Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, comments: “There are already more than 130,000 electric vehicles on UK roads, a figure that could pass 190,000 this year as new models come to market and consumers reap the cost-saving benefits of electric driving.”
Leading the Charge
It’s often tricky enough to find a parking space in London—but a parking space with a charging point? As the number of electric cars on the road increases, will there be enough to go around? That’s a crucial question for individuals and businesses considering investing in EVs. If locating a charging point means driving around in circles, the stress could outweigh the benefits for some.
Auto Express reported that, for every six new plug-in cars sold in 2017, fewer than one charging point was installed. In London, there were 3.9 licensed plug-in cars to every point, according to the data from ZapMap.
And not all plug-in points are created equal. There are slow chargers, with traditional three-pin sockets, that can take up to eight hours to fully reboot your vehicle—similar to how you might charge a vehicle from a normal plug at home. Fast chargers provide up to 22 kilowatts of power, while rapid points provide 50 kilowatts or higher. These can fully charge a battery in less than half an hour.
Transport for London aims to install 150 rapid charging points by the end of 2018, bringing the total number up to 300-plus by 2020. There are currently 100, half of which are reserved for taxis. Overall, Mayor Sadiq Khan has committed to 1,500 new charging points across the city—encompassing slow, fast and rapid chargers.
The nationwide On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme also provides grants to local authorities to install on-street residential plug-in points, to help keep up with demand in particular areas.
But for Zipcar, the answer isn’t just moving to electric. It’s moving away from private car ownership altogether. By the end of this year, Zipcar will have introduced a new fleet of Volkswagen e-Golfs, with 325 EVs available to rent by the minute across the capital. Each “Zipwagen” will be fully charged for a one-way journey, removing the frustration of finding somewhere to plug in.
Jonathan Hampson, general manager of Zipcar UK, told the Evening Standard: “If we are to achieve healthier, cleaner streets, as set out in the Mayor of London’s latest transport strategy, this change away from car ownership and towards car access is essential.”
Putting the Brakes on Change?
A source of frustration for many, the recent introduction of fees for using charging points could reduce the money-saving benefits of electric vehicles. The amount charged will vary depending on which company operates the points, with the option of joining a monthly scheme or paying as you go.
Green Alliance believes the UK is “somewhere in the middle of the pack” when it comes to adopting EVs. The environmental think tank suggests that bringing the proposed ban on petrol and diesel cars forward from 2040 to 2030 would expedite progress and force more infrastructural changes. If those changes are half-hearted or charging costs continue to rise, there’s a danger that EVs could become much less appealing.