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Electric Cars

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2017

4. What steps he is taking to ensure that the electric grid is able to support the charging of the number of electric cars estimated to be in use by 2020. (900019)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his pathfinding work in this area. I understand he is a proud owner of a Nissan Leaf—an electric vehicle made in the UK. He will therefore know that this is an exceptionally important point for us. I am very proud of the Government’s ambition for almost all cars on our roads to be zero-emissions by 2050, and also of our success in positioning the UK as a leading destination for the manufacture of and research into these vehicles. He will be reassured to know that good progress is being made with grid-readiness, and the upcoming smart systems plan and the automated and electric vehicles Bill will ensure that electric vehicle demands are managed efficiently, and the roll-out of electric vehicles is accelerated.

I thank the Minister for her response, and I am glad to hear that, because a study of the impact of electric vehicles on the UK’s distribution network has estimated that

“voltage imbalances, coupled with overloaded distribution transformers could…impair power lines.”

How quickly can we have a report on that, given that the usage of such vehicles is likely to rise substantially in the coming years?

I think my hon. Friend is right. With policies to really accelerate the usage of electric vehicles, this is a critical thing. He will know that Ofgem has approved business plans for the local network companies, which already bake in billions of pounds of investment, to ensure that the expected demands on the grid can be met. But, equally, it is not just about raw investment in cables; it is actually about changing consumers’ behaviour to ensure they can charge their vehicles at a time that puts least demand on the grid and perhaps saves them money. I refer back to our plan and to the Bill, which will enable smart charging and help people to charge their vehicles at a time when it puts least demand on the network.

Does the Minister ever worry that the country looks like investing £100 billion in High Speed 2, which will open at the earliest in 2033, but that, by that time, we will be able to use our phone to call to our home a driverless Uber-type vehicle powered by electricity that can take us anywhere in the country? Is that £100 billion not wasted money?

I would define seeing you in an electric vehicle, Mr Speaker, as a success in my new role. We can have a conversation afterwards.

The hon. Gentleman will know that I think that upgrading our rail and road networks is one way to reduce congestion on the roads and to open up business opportunities and create potential new capacity for things such as electric rail freight, which has been severely neglected by successive Governments over many years. That is why we want to position ourselves not only as a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles—one in five electric vehicles sold in the EU are made in Britain—but as a hub for innovation. We are putting millions of pounds into innovation studies and research, to see how those new technologies can work together to ultimately achieve the aim of zero emissions by 2050.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of meeting our climate change commitments. Can the Minister update us on further action to tackle climate change after the USA’s repudiation of the Paris agreement?

I thank my hon. Friend for that valuable question. I was delighted to be sent, on almost the first day in the job, to Luxembourg to meet our EU counterparts to discuss the fact that we are all very disappointed with Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement, and accept that more work needs to be done by the remaining countries to emphasise that Paris is non-negotiable, although we would like him to come back to the agreement. I was also personally able to increase the level of UK funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change trust fund, across the board with other European friends and neighbours, to ensure that any reduction of USA funding can be met.

May I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position and, indeed, Front-Bench Members, new and old, to their roles? Can we have proper local accountability and ownership of local community grids, so that we break the monopolies of the distribution companies, which make masses of money and do not always reinvest?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly valuable point about how we start to move ourselves away from generating emissions in the heating and lighting sector. He will be pleased to know that I was able to put more innovation funding into trials that are doing exactly that.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I like to do these things seriously. We are already funding pilots to see how peer-to-peer exchange of power can work, and how further to improve community generation and storage of energy.