RAC Foundation News - January 2020 - 'Fuelling the Future'

Whatever the downsides of the use of petrol and diesel to power the UK’s 40 million vehicles of all shapes and sizes – and clearly there are several, from local air pollution to climate altering carbon emissions – the relative convenience of filling up with fossil fuels means their attractiveness to consumers is not to be underestimated.

Not only can you find a forecourt round, almost, every corner – according to the Petrol Retailers’ Association there are 8,400 petrol stations in the country – but many are open 24 hours a day, the products they sell are of a universal standard, broadly similar in price wherever you are, can be put into any make and model using standard equipment, and be paid for in the method of your choosing.

It’s a situation the electric vehicle (EVs) industry, and their customers, can currently only look on at with envy.

For when it comes to recharging infrastructure for EVs there remains a varying and potentially confusing range of plugs, tariffs and payment options, and geographical availability (when it comes to public charge points).

In part this is unsurprising given the relatively new nature of the technology. Car firms and electricity suppliers will be adjusting their offers as the tech advances. Clearly it would be a misjudgement to standardise the system before it has evolved properly.

But equally – as the government-commissioned EV Energy Taskforce recommends in its report – a large degree of universality at the point of use must happen quickly if the electric car revolution isn’t to stutter. As it is, there are 234,000 plug-in cars in the UK, 85,000 of them pure battery-electric, the rest plug-in hybrids.

Of course, one big advantage EVs have is the ability to be charged at home, but even here there are concerns about the impact on the grid of when drivers decide to plug their cars in to top up the batteries. The taskforce concludes that smart meters, operating autonomously or at the control of third parties, are essential to help smooth electricity demand and supply, and try to match recharging periods with the cheapest tariffs. The RAC Foundation has firmly logged the point that any such approach needs to come with guarantees to protect consumers’ interests.

Ultimately though time is of the essence. The taskforce recommends that of its 21 proposals, 20 should be implemented and making a difference by 2025 if we are to make a sizeable dent in both the volume of greenhouse gas emissions generated by road transport and its proportion (25%) of the overall national total.

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