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Electric Vehicles

Volume 805: debated on Thursday 10 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, the Government are investing £2.5 billion to support the market for electric vehicles. As part of our consultation on bringing forward the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, we are considering what further measures are required to support the uptake of zero-emission vehicles.

I am grateful to the Minister. The environmental benefits of the transition to electric vehicles are well understood, but I wonder whether she has seen the recent report of the Local Government Association, Decarbonising Transport - Accelerating the Uptake of Electric Vehicles, which powerfully sets out the benefits, in terms of economic recovery and job creation across the country, of investment in the infrastructure necessary for that transition. Can she assure me that substantial investment in the infrastructure needed to support the uptake of electric vehicles, and bringing forward the date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars, will be an urgent priority for the Government?

I thank the noble Baroness for pointing me in the direction of that report; I had not seen it. I certainly have now, but I shall study it in more detail. She is right that one of the key action areas that comes out of that report is charging infrastructure. I think that all noble Lords will recognise that as absolutely critical. The Government and industry have already supported the installation of more than 18,000 public chargers, including 3,200 rapid devices. The Government have also made available £20 million to local authorities under the on-street residential charge point scheme. So far, 60 local authorities have taken advantage of that, and 2,000 chargers have been put in place. I recognise that there is more to be done: we need to get more chargers on the streets, and that is what we intend to do.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I own a Tesla all-electric motor car, and I support the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to encourage the Government to do more for owners of electric vehicles. The Minister mentioned 18,000 charge points. Does she not agree that we should be leading by example? I have written twice to the House authorities to ask them to put charge points for electric vehicles in the House of Lords car park, and have twice been rejected. Would she be so kind as to join my mini-campaign to show the country how we are leading by example? As I am allowed to make two points, may I also, on behalf of all vehicle drivers trying to carry out their business in London, ask the Minister to contact the Mayor of London to reduce the lane reductions that he has put in place—for example, on Park Lane northbound and Euston Road underpass eastbound—which are bringing London literally to a standstill?

I am grateful to my noble friend for raising two important issues, over both of which I have very limited power. Obviously, London roads come under the remit of TfL and the Mayor of London. However, as my noble friend will know, we are in deep discussions with TfL and the Mayor of London, given their financial situation at the moment, and I am sure the conversation will at some stage turn to roads and their closure. As for my noble friend’s first point, about installing a charging point in the House of Lords car park, I will indeed join his mini-campaign.

My Lords, I too have an electric car and have been unable to park in the House of Lords because of bureaucracy and expense that we need to sweep away. In general, as you travel around the country and you need to recharge, that requires uniformity. Everywhere one goes, there are different credit card-type of memberships. Imagine if every time you went to a petrol station you found different sized pumps and that different memberships of organisation were required. We need uniformity all over the country. Will the Minister encourage that?

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has raised an important issue. It is a fact that some cars cannot use certain chargers. However, the Government also recognise that a huge amount of innovation is taking place in this field at the moment. We are very clear that all charge points should accept debit and credit cards and be freely available to people. We want the data, on whether charge points are up and running and where they are, to be freely available. We will consult on the powers we have through the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 to mandate minimum standards for charge points which will include things like contactless provision, transparency in pricing and, as I have said, access to information.

My Lords, the Government’s record on providing funding for green transport and clean transport does not match up to that of France and Germany. The German Government have doubled subsidies for electric vehicles to €8 billion. Will the Government commit to similar support in the run-up to COP 26?

The noble Baroness will know that a spending review is forthcoming. However, I do not think that it is quite right to compare one country directly with another because the type and scale of our interventions are many and varied. We are looking at many different ways because it is not just about throwing money at the problem, although that is often the solution which comes from the other side of this House. What we can look at is encouraging people in the right way to enter the electric vehicle world, as many noble Lords have done. I will give a small example. The green number plates that are to be introduced later this year will help local authorities to design and put in place new policies that will specifically address electric vehicles.

My Lords, if the EU is not a dirty word to mention, the EU has brought about a great deal of standardisation in the field of mobile phones. Generally speaking, you can charge them up anywhere in Europe. Will the Government use every possible means in their power to make sure that we get standardisation of charging points so that people do not have to wander from place to place looking for a charging point which they can use?

My Lords, we work closely with the industry on charging points. While standardisation will be a good thing to achieve eventually, we must not stifle innovation.

Perhaps I may come back to that last point. I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has just said about complete compatibility in charging points, but I am getting the impression that there is a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Government to do anything on this, certainly in the short term. How long are the Government going to continue not seeking to insist on complete compatibility of charging points so that they can be used by all vehicles, and indeed also address the issue of greater compatibility in speed of charging? These are two issues which are off-putting to some potential owners of electric vehicles.

Of course we want greater compatibility in charging points, but what we are not going to do is set out in regulations right at this moment in time to define exactly what a charging point needs to look like. We need to let the market work together because, after all, it is in the interests of those supplying the charging points that the highest number of people can use them. We are working in a collaborative fashion in order to achieve the sort of compatibility that we want to see in the future.

My Lords, I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register. Does my noble friend agree that one of the principal reasons that people are hesitating to buy electric cars is because they have doubts about the performance of batteries? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to encourage research into battery performance and to ensure that the technology and production of batteries is within the UK, not concentrated in China?

My noble friend is right that range anxiety is one of the key reasons cited by potential purchasers of electric vehicles and why they are not doing it. Between 2017 and 2021, the Government will have invested £274 million in the Faraday battery challenge which is looking at how to make batteries more safe, sustainable, high performance, low cost and long life. It is really important that people are doing that so that we can have better quality batteries in our vehicles. Another point to make is that at the end of a battery’s life, they usually have 70% of their storage left over which can be used in second-life applications. It is important that those are investigated as well.

My Lords, as the use of electric vehicles increases, and with more charging points drawing from the national grid, what preparations have been made to ensure that there are no outages of supply, as happened in August 2019? That resulted in chaos on the road and rail networks as well as affecting supplies to many homes and businesses.

The Government are very aware of the impact of electric vehicles on both overall and peak demand for electricity. We are looking at increasing the amount of smart charging in off-peak periods. For example, we have consulted on ensuring that all new private charge points have smart charging in order to help in flattening demand from peak periods. We will have legislation on that next year. I would also like to reassure the noble Lord that we have invested £30 million in looking at vehicle-to-grid technology, which is another way of using the battery in the car as an electricity storage mechanism. I thank the noble Lord for his question and assure him that energy generation is top of mind.

Sitting suspended.