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Electric Vehicles: Charging Points

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they plan to introduce to encourage local authorities to install more charging points for electric vehicles.

My Lords, the private sector has funded the majority of the UK’s 17,000 public charge points, and we want this to continue. The Government’s role is to provide the right policy environment to encourage private sector investment and limited support when necessary. We provide guidance and some funding to local authorities: around £4 million to the on-street residential scheme, £40 million to eight Go Ultra Low cities and further funds for taxi and bus infrastructure funding.

My Lords, despite that, the growth in the electric vehicle market is not as rapid as it needs to be. This is a chicken-and-egg situation. Sales of electric vehicles will not increase dramatically until users are confident that they can find a charging point. Will the Government provide stronger leadership and support to local authorities, some of which have not yet installed a single charging point? Fleet owners are responsible for half of all new cars purchased. Will the Government consider introducing a range of new incentives to encourage them to opt for EVs?

I thank the noble Baroness for a number of questions there. I disagree with her that growth is not rapid. We are the second-largest market for electric vehicles in Europe. I believe that the rollout to date has been very successful. For example, within the last 30 days 1,000 charge points have been introduced. The noble Baroness spoke about local authorities and we support the work they are doing. There is no more funding available but we are encouraging the private sector to step up and, with £400 million in the charging infrastructure investment fund, we believe that it will.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea for Parliament to give an example to the rest of the country? We have 487 parking spaces between this House and the other place, and I am told there are two charging points in the House of Commons and three more promised for Royal Court. How can we expect the country to take us seriously if we cannot put our own house in order?

I completely agree with my noble friend that we need more charging points within the House. I certainly used to drive but I do so no longer. I use public transport and I encourage all noble Lords to do the same.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a lot of people, if not most, live in terraced properties and the real problem is lack of infrastructure to get cars parked outside their homes to a charging point? Has she looked at the city of Oslo, which has stanchions along the kerbside, which is safe, that allow car owners to charge their cars right on their doorstep, as it were, but on the other side of the pavement? Without government investment on a huge scale, the private sector will not be able to deliver this and the targets the Government have set will not be met.

I will certainly look at Oslo. As I mentioned in my opening Answer, there is a £4 million on-street residential charging point scheme for local authorities. To date, 28 local authorities have benefited, resulting in the installation of over 1,000 charging points. The noble Lord is quite right: this is not necessarily a matter for central government, but local authorities can make sure that there is a permissive planning environment whereby, if private networks come in—I hope that they will—they are able to put up those sorts of charging points.

My Lords, I drive an electric car with a range of 120 miles. Does the Minister appreciate that the problem is not so much the supply of charging points but the fact that they tend to be different? There is no uniformity. You find one but the plugging-in mechanism does not fit your car. There are many different versions. Some need payment, some do not, and some need you to subscribe. We need enforcement of uniformity across all charging points.

The noble Baroness will be aware that we are making good progress in that area. The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations came into force in November 2018 and they set out a number of things that have to happen in relation to charging points. I reassure all noble Lords that the Government stand ready: where the market fails, we will step in and make sure that there are appropriate charging points. As for range anxiety, as I understand it is known, Highways England has a fund of £15 million to make sure that there is a charging point every 20 miles on 95% of the strategic road network.

My Lords, how many public electric charging points across the UK do the Government believe will be necessary and by when? On what assumption about the percentage of vehicles that will be electric is that figure based? What percentage of charging points do the Government expect to be provided by public investment—by local authorities—and what percentage by private investment?

As I mentioned, we expect the majority of charging points to be installed through private networks. However, there is the £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund, which consists of £200 million from government and £200 million from private investors. Shell and BP, for example, both now have their own charging point networks. We expect such private companies to step up and make sure that we have the necessary charging point infrastructure to meet the growth in the market.

Yes, of course there will. In all seriousness, because we have the Road to Zero strategy and are very clear about what we are aiming for, that will give certainty to the energy sector and make sure that sufficient electricity is available. Obviously, investment in low-carbon generation is taking place, and we are consulting on secondary legislation to make sure that charging points have smart functionality, which means that they can be charged off peak.

My Lords, I say proudly as Mayor of Watford that we have the highest use of EVs in Hertfordshire. However, there is certainly a disconnect between the Government’s ambition for national charging infrastructure and the reliance on councils, in a piecemeal way, to come forward with more charging points. The noble Baroness is quite correct to say that, until we have standardisation, we will clearly not make the progress that we anticipate. Given that range anxiety and cost are the two main barriers, what plans do the Government have for a more integrated approach to the adoption of electric vehicles, which at the moment is piecemeal and fragmented?

A top-down approach in this matter would probably not work. Technology is developing very rapidly at the moment, and noble Lords will know that we are seeing a vast change in the speed of charging cars and in the sorts of charge points required. Central government can provide the right policy support and, as I have said, local authorities can apply for funding, but we certainly expect the private networks to step up.