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Electric Vehicles

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the Government’s policy on carbon dioxide emissions arising from the generation of electricity used by electric vehicles. (277923)

Ministers regularly discuss these issues, and we are committed to reducing overall transport emissions as part of tackling climate change. We will publish our transport carbon reduction strategy this summer, which will examine, among other things, the development of electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles are often described as having zero emissions—that may be the case as they drive down Park lane, but it is not the case at Drax, Ferrybridge or Eggborough, where the electricity may be produced from coal. Given the current energy mix of our base load, and given that after allowing for the energy loss at the power station and transmission loss an electric vehicle is only about 33 per cent. emission efficient, which compares with a figure of 45 per cent. for a diesel car, which is the more carbon friendly, the diesel car or the electric car?

We are looking at the development of vehicles that will be increasingly low-carbon. That is one of the key reasons why the Government have already put a substantial amount of funding into research and development. It is possible to reduce the level of emissions from internal combustion engine cars that use petrol and other fuels, as well as developing electric vehicles, which are substantially lower generators of carbon and other emissions. We hope that such an approach will, in the long term, ensure that our environment is better protected. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that at the moment we still need to work very hard on the research and development area, but that is precisely why the Government are putting in the extra funding and why, unlike his party, we believe we need to flag up the fact that consumers will be incentivised to buy low-carbon vehicles in the future.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments about the potential for reducing emissions from individual cars, is not the management and limitation of CO2 emissions in the generation of electricity potentially much more effective than reducing emissions from individual, carbon-fuelled vehicles, be they on the road or the railway? Does he agree that that is part of the overwhelmingly powerful case for the electrification of the midland main line and other similar routes?

It is important that we ensure that we electrify our main lines and put in place a transport policy that not only ensures that we do not transfer emissions from the streets to power stations, but whose overall breadth ensures that we recognise that public transport and developing community-based transport are key parts of the future development of a low-carbon energy strategy in the decades to come.

The Minister has made the point that the source of the electricity is crucial to the efficiency of the electric car, and therefore the Government have to deliver a low-carbon electricity-generating system. Would not the early introduction of smart metering help to make electric cars more efficient, so that they could be optimised to charge when the wind is blowing and renewable energy is available and surplus to capacity?

The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to ensure that we not only introduce smart meters—we have already announced that we want to see them introduced across the whole country over the next decade—but investigate the uses that a smart grid system can make of the smart meters. In a decade’s time, smart meters will have developed in sophistication, and be able to communicate with refrigerators and other equipment. It will be possible for signals to be sent from the central base to various gadgets in the home to reduce the amount of electricity they use at peak times and increase it during the night or other quiet times. We want a smart grid system to go with the smart meters, with a level of sophistication that enables us better to manage the amount of electricity that we use.