Should we prepare for zero emission zones?
The latest news from the world of EVs
Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
In today’s edition… BP Pulse rated one of the worst networks, the US reveals its chargepoint action plan, and I ponder what comes after the Ultra Low Emission Zone.
Also, just as a warning, next week’s edition (21st Dec) will be the last of 2021.
As ever, if you have any questions or thoughts, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last week…
BEST NETWORK: Last Friday ZapMap revealed its latest list of the best and worst charging networks based on a survey of over 3,000 of its users. The survey, now in its fourth year, has unsurprisingly shown Instavolt to be rated the best overall charging network. In second place was newcomer MFG EV Power – a rapid network by the service station brand – and in third came Osprey. Bringing up the rear… Ecotricity took the worst spot, then it was Charge Your Car and BP Pulse – all three took the bottom of the board. Surely, given 1 in 10 of all UK chargepoints are operated by BP Pulse, serious questions need to now be asked by regulators as to why they are running such a poor show. You can read the in-depth results from ZapMap here.
ECONOMIST GLOOM: John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist, once suggested “in the long run we are all dead”. Ever since it seems to have been the go-to mantra for most public policy investment. Because, honestly, who cares about 100 years from now when most of us can’t see past next week. The Economist, that is the magazine, has picked up on this conundrum in their most recent editorial regarding EV chargepoints. In a leader article, they’ve pondered how the planet is set to increase the number of public chargepoints from 1.3m globally at the moment to 200m by 2050. They believe, given the chicken and egg type scenario with chargepoints (aka. you build them and barely see any returns for years by which time they need repairing) how governments will fund them. They also build on the issue by pointing out that with all the numerous private businesses getting in on the game, it’s getting very complicated for end-users – as is perhaps shown by the above ZapMap survey results. As a solution, the Economist suggests mirroring what was done for telecoms. That is, for the government to set rules and give out licenses. Though, they admit that where this was done in Europe it didn’t work. And, in America, they acknowledge there’s now a telecoms monopoly. So, it seems like all good economists, they haven’t really got a solution. Read more.
FRESH ENERGY: After being behind the curve, Toyota has come out swinging this morning by revealing a whopping 15 new EV concepts to be sold by the carmaker and Lexus. The big reveal has been matched by a big ambition for Toyota, which plans to sell 3.5 million battery-electric cars by 2030. This news comes shortly before Toyota makes available its first EV SUV, the bZ4X. Read more.
NEW INVESTMENT: Volkswagen has announced it is investing an additional $17 billion euros into its EV production – that brings the total spend by VW to an eye-watering $52bn from $35bn. The new funding comes after VW’s CEO Herbert Diess managed to save himself from getting fired after the unions took unkindly to his plans to shed staff. Diess has since said that he and the labour union now have a ‘shared vision’ for the future. Although, some sources have claimed his power at the carmaker has been curtailed following the dispute. This does not bode well for VW’s ambitions overall. Read more.
TESLA TRIAL: You may remember that back in June the police started testing out a Tesla Model 3 as a cop car (a full tasermobile!). This week, the emergency services lead at Tesla has reported on the initial 9 months in a LinkedIn post. It seems to have gone rather positively. According to Telsa, ‘the average blue light run in the UK is about 7-15 minutes, the longest run in our cars has been over 4 hours on active deployment under advanced driving conditions.’ Charging has also not been an issue for the force either. Nor has wear and tear, after 10,000 miles they have replaced the brake pads and tyres, which is in line with previous ICE vehicles.
WHITEHOUSE UP: Yesterday, over in America, the Biden-Harris Electric Vehicle Charging Action Plan was published. It comes following the recent infrastructure bill and the President’s ambition to make 50% of all car sales electric by 2030 in the US. Not only does the new plan set aside billions in funding for chargepoints but, also, it’s led to the creation of a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation in the US to help deliver it. One of the key pillars of the strategy outside of funding is that the Whitehouse wants to coordinate all chargepoint designs. This is so the whole US can have a useable network but likewise, so the government can ensure manufacturing happens in America. Outside of chargepoints, the US is also putting billions to foster a battery production industry. Essentially, with this shift to EVs, the President is going with the Alabama approach and vying to keep the whole process in the family – as they do not want to rely on China. However, presumably, this means manufacturers in the UK could miss out too. Read the action plan.
WHITEHOUSE DOWN: A knock-on effect of the President’s efforts to centralise the whole EV supply chain in America has caused a lot of upset among many carmakers. Firstly, Elon Musk has been very clear that he “would just can this whole bill”. He is not a fan of government interference. This strength of feeling has also been expressed elsewhere. This week, the German motoring lobby, VDA, shared their disappointment at the plans to offer tax credits to American’s who buy cars built in the US (with a further credit being available if that EV was built by a unionised workforce). Ola Kallenius, CEO of Daimler, told the FT: “The market economy works best when you have clear and [the] same rules for all market participants, a level playing field.” Read more.
ENERGY SUBSIDY: Despite it falling off the front pages, there is still a huge energy crisis plaguing Europe and elsewhere. Prices remain very high, and with Omnicron likely to keep people at home more that could pile on added pressure. Two weeks ago, I mentioned how the price of electricity was being impacted leading to charging networks upping their prices. Well, over in Norway, often held up as the role models for EV ownership, they have just revealed a new subsidy for people’s electricity – as the prices have risen. The subsidy is worth about $550 million. Under plans, the Norway government will pay for half of people’s bills. And, interestingly, according to a Norwegian minister, that money will include those using EV chargers at home. I think what this shows is the added pressure on the energy system that comes from wide adoption of EVs. Hopefully, this can be avoided with smart battery storage policies. Read more.
Should we prepare for zero emission zones?
According to a recent report by Transport for London, in the first month of the city’s new and expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone, which since October has covered everywhere between London’s North and South circular, almost 77,000 old polluting vehicles were driven each day across the capital.
Under the current rules, that means all those vehicle owners must pay £12.50 daily for failing to comply. Although TFL has said on average only 59% of those caught out actually paid a fine, that still means around £550,000 into the mayor’s pocket every day.
However, even more interesting is that those offenders only make up some 8% of the total vehicles driven in London during the first month. What this means is 92% of cars, vans and taxis driven into the new ULEZ were compliant.
Now, when I first read that statistic, I was pretty impressed to learn 9 in 10 cars on the inner capital’s roads are no longer bellowing nastiness into the faces of small children. But, I feel the adage ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ applies here. Because if you look under the surface, the apparent success seems to be questionable.
As an example, let us consider the cars that are considered low emission. While many may believe you need to drive a pure EV or even a hybrid to be compliant, you absolutely don’t. Virtually all petrol cars sold from 2005 are ok. And the same goes for diesel vehicles registered since 2015. Plus, it’s not just cars, many models of petrol/diesel vans also get the thumbs up.
So then, what’s the point of the ULEZ?
Well, arguably there are two critical points here. Firstly, these more modern internal combustion engines meet the necessary regulations to be considered ‘low emission’. Secondly, I’m sure those 77,000 vehicle owners are feeling the pinch from not being compliant, so hopefully, it’ll nudge them in the cleaner direction.
However, it doesn’t escape the fact that if I were to drive to Westminster in a Tesla I’d be treated the same as an owner of a Lamborghini Aventador. Both are ULEZ compliant. The only saving grace is that the Tesla benefits from a discount from the congestion charge - at least until they remove it in 2025.
Perhaps then, the problem with the ULEZ is it doesn’t go far enough. As there are still mostly the same cars on the road as pre-October. Not to mention that the total number of cars isn’t changing much either.
What’s the alternative?
One idea we may hear a lot more about from policymakers is the creation of ‘zero emission zones’. Unlike their low emission cousins, in a ‘ZEZ’ all internal combustion engines are banned.
Given it’s only in the last year that we’ve seen a huge rise and interest in electric vehicles, the concept of a ZEZ is still very niche. However, Oxford, which has been a key test town for EV ambitions, is set to be the UK’s first location for a zero emission zone with a pilot launching in February 2022.
Under the test scheme, even plug-in hybrids will have to pay £2 per day (rising to £4 by 2025).
There are of course going to be numerous exemptions for businesses, but this timeline is still fairly rapid. As a reminder, the government is allowing people to buy new plug-in hybrids right up to 2035. That means Oxford is essentially pushing its residents forward over a decade early.
And Oxford may not be alone. I’m sure other towns competing for the eco-conscious crown could potentially come up with their own.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, had previously planned for the creation of a zero emission zone in central London by 2025, according to his Transport Strategy published in 2018. However, at the time, TFL acknowledged that due to the lack of available EVs on the market and general uptake of them, the “design and implementation of local zero emission zones will need to be considered.”
Given the battery race of the recent year, could we now see updated plans and actions from councils? Many across the country are already taking significant steps towards creating clean air zones.
But will it solve the real problem…
While the ambition for cleaner air is high in people’s minds, the real challenge is surely that still, the car remains the dominant way to travel in the UK.
I’m not advocating at all that we shouldn’t be allowed to have them, but I do wonder if in urban areas whether legislation will be needed to nudge people towards transport alternatives, such as cycling – both for personal and commercial journeys.
The UK certainly isn’t short of mobility schemes (such as cycle to work) to encourage people, not to mention the millions going into new bike lanes. And yet, I read a survey by consulting giant Mckinsey this week that suggested Brits were the least willing to use micromobility (such as e-scooters) or bikes to commute when compared against the US, Germany France, Italy and China.
According to the survey, 46% of our country would prefer to use other forms of transports, such as walking or a private car.
The good news…
While congestion is perhaps a bridge that will need to be crossed another day, today’s challenge is where cities like London and those building their own ‘Clean Air Zones’ (such as Manchester) go to next. As surely at some point pressure groups will realise the current zones aren’t necessarily moving the needle.
It’s this uncertainty that seems to me could lead to a rather tricky point, especially for those on lower incomes who probably hold onto vehicles longer than others. For current internal combustion engine owners, do they hope for the best – buying a hybrid now knowing that you’re going to be good in 99.9% of the country at the moment – or plan for the worst – aka. invest more into a pure EV just in case the sands shift again.
Earlier this year, I would have argued strongly that buying a hybrid is a good stepping stone for many. Today, that argument is certainly getting more uneasy.
By Tom Riley