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Electric Vehicles: Charging Points

Volume 820: debated on Monday 14 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the number of charging points for electric vehicles.

My Lords, the Government and industry have supported the installation of over 29,500 publicly available charging devices, including over 5,400 rapid devices. The Government have also supported the installation of over 300,000 charge points in homes and businesses and have announced over £1.3 billion to further accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that information. However, do the Government accept that if the target of switching to electric cars is to be met, at least two things must happen? When an electrically powered car driver goes any long distance, he or she is nervous that they cannot charge to come back. Even more importantly, even in areas where there are plenty of charging points, they are nearly always taken up by cars that are not charging. That is a complaint from electric car drivers. The charging points are there in parts of London, but they cannot get to them because other people are using them as parking spaces. Can we do something about that?

I recognise the point raised by the noble Lord; there has been some media coverage about that recently and we are looking at what we can do. However, people are never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charger on the strategic road network, which is particularly good for long distance journeys. The Government have done an enormous amount of consultation over the past year on how we can mandate for new standards and for reliability, ensure that consumers can access support if they have trouble charging, make it easier for consumers to find the right charging point and its availability by publishing open data, and ensure that the costs are published as well, so that consumers can compare the costs of different chargers.

My Lords, as we might be working late, I decided to drive in today. The first three public EV chargers were broken. I finally found a free and available fourth. Does the Minister understand that many people who have bought EV cars are now starting to regret it, and can she step away from this market-driven approach to rolling out infrastructure which at present is random, unreliable, and desperately inadequate?

I cannot agree that it is unreliable and desperately inadequate. We cannot control from Whitehall where EV chargers are—that would be utterly mad. We must work with the local delivery partners—the local authorities—and the private sector. At the end of the day, it will be the private sector which puts these charges in place. It will not be Whitehall, so we must ensure that the local authorities have the skills to figure out where their communities need their chargers. We are particularly concerned about those who do not have access to off-street parking, and we will be asking local authorities to focus on those people.

My Lords, as a Westminster resident I enjoy access to a fast-growing network of relatively inexpensive and efficient chargers fitted into existing lamp-posts, in a partnership between the city council and ubitricity. How many towns and cities benefit from this very practical approach? What can the Government do to incentivise these partnerships between local authorities and commercial providers?

The noble Baroness is right: there are some excellent interventions. That is why we must upskill the local authorities and increase their knowledge of what is going on. The Department for Transport has funded the Energy Saving Trust. It runs a local government support programme and provides free impartial advice. There are webinars on best practice, particularly in rural areas, and we are about to publish the EV infrastructure guide, a technical guide which will cover the sorts of things which the noble Baroness talks about. It will enable local authorities to find the right solution for their area.

My Lords, how many charging points are to be found within the Palace of Westminster and available to noble Lords and noble Baronesses?

Sadly there are not enough. I understand that there are some available in the car park for another place. As I have said previously, it is not for the Government to install charging points in the Palace of Westminster, although I encourage the authorities to do so.

My Lords, about a third of households have no access to off-street parking or a personal garage and miss out on lower costs from charging cars using cheaper overnight electricity. While 76% of the richest households have access to off-street parking, the same is true for only just over half of the poorest fifth of households. Put another way, only 51% of private renters, 38% of housing association tenants, and 26% of local authority renters, have access to off-street parking, compared with 81% of homeowners. What do the Government intend to do, and by when, to address this charging divide which works against the less well off, and to reduce the disparity in prices across the charging network? We have heard a glowing picture from the Government just now about what is happening. They say that they have spent a lot of money. It seems to have been a lot of money that has created a charging divide, and from what the Minister has said, it is largely the fault of local authorities. I think that it is the fault of the Government.

One moment; the EV home-charge scheme, which the noble Lord will know was previously focused on single-unit owner-occupied households, is now being closed to those households and is focusing entirely on those people who are in rented or leasehold accommodation, specifically without their own designated parking. We are switching that very important source of funding to ensure that those who do not have the luxury of off-street parking and home ownership can get a charger.

My Lords, can the Minister please confirm that users of the new charging points will be paying for the electricity they consume? I was surprised to learn from one London borough that initially, the electricity was provided free when they installed charging points.

I would have thought that the users would be paying for the electricity that they consume, but if people want to offer electricity for free, they are perfectly at liberty to do so.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the reliability of the charging points, particularly on the motorway network, is a real problem? Has she had a chance to consider the idea that I put forward a couple of months back about increasing the penalties on providers, so that they are properly punished and incentivised to provide a decent service to EV motorists?

This links into the measures that we announced in December 2021, when we said we were looking at a mandate for new standards for reliability. Obviously, if there are new standards for reliability, there will have to be penalties if companies do not meet those standards.

My Lords, the increasing number of charging points for electric vehicles and the demand for heating homes through heat pumps will add quite a lot of extra demand on the national grid, which is currently ill equipped to meet it. What urgent attention is being paid to managing demand—for example, by increasing insulation in homes and perhaps by reducing speed limits?

My Lords, we recognise that there will be an increased demand on energy infrastructure, both overall and particularly during peak periods. We are confident that the existing operators will be able to meet that demand, but of course we are working with the sector to ensure that it is efficient and sustainable. One of the things we are doing, for example, is looking at V2X technology, which is when you export energy from a vehicle back into the grid when it is not being used. Indeed, we have invested £30 million of funding in V2G projects—from the vehicle to the grid—and that is one of the ways in which we will ensure that our energy networks can cope.

My Lords, the aforementioned electricity lamp post system is of course excellent when there is not another car parked there that is not charging. The reason it is excellent is that every model of car can use the lamp post. Are the Government considering legislation such that there is complete compatibility in the charging stations, so that every model of car can use every charging station, which is not the case at the moment?

The Government take the issue of interoperability of charging points very seriously. We are seeing the market moving towards a smaller number of varying charges, and we will consider how we take that forward.

My Lords, I am just old enough, as the House was reminded earlier, to remember us being told by my Government what a great idea it was to move to diesel. My question to the Minister is about electricity consumption. Given the commitment to all-electric cars by the middle of the 2030s, plus cryptocurrency, plus the exponential growth of smart technology, plus 5G—I could go on but I will not—can the Minister assure us that a very solid impact assessment has been made of the aggregate demand of these technological developments on the requirement for electricity generation in 15 years’ time? Can she tell us where it is going to come from?

Unfortunately, the noble Lord’s question goes a little bit beyond my brief today, and indeed beyond my department. However, I will be very happy to speak to my colleagues in BEIS, who have responsibility for energy demand in the future, and ask them to write to him to set out exactly how the forecasts are being made and how they will be met.