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'Electric Highway policy' is NOT a u-turn

04 July 2011
'Electric Highway policy' is NOT a u-turn

By Robin Haycock, Head of Transport, The Climate Group. 

The Guardian article of June 30, entitled ‘Electric Highway policy marks latest coalition U-turn’, reports that the Government’s electric vehicle strategy published last week, is the latest green pledge to fall victim to spending cuts. It criticises the Department for Transport for failing to prioritise public re-charging points.

But I don’t see it as a U-turn. It’s just a part of us all moving down a road which we don’t fully understand and therefore, are adapting to change.  The Government strategy recognizes that electric vehicle charging will happen in a very different way to the current petrol station model.

It aims to make recharging infrastructure ‘targeted, convenient and safe’. It has developed a viable economic model that rightly prioritizes the home first, then the workplace and then public charging.

This is not a u-turn, this is a pragmatic approach in the light of emerging evidence. Businesses and home owners will be at the centre of the Government’s policy, two groups that fall squarely into the demographic profile of early adopters of electric vehicles.

Incentivizing businesses and property owners to install recharging infrastructure will mean that public money is not wasted and re-charging points that are financed are far more likely to be used.

The strategy paper says that installing a ‘charge point on every corner’ would leave them ‘under utilized and uneconomic’.  To me this shows that they are listening and following an evidence based approach instead of blindly and randomly rolling out re-charging infrastructure.

There are a few areas where further work will be required. Building regulations and charging standards could be serious barriers for plug-in infrastructure and these will need to be addressed.

The strategy also talks about the need to reinforce the grid to support EV roll out.  I think they should take a closer look at electricity storage technology as this could be an alternative and more cost effective option and I would like to see more investment in this area.

The take up for the plug-in car grant has not been as high as anticipated. My solution to make it more successful would be to expand it and focus it on drawing in the buying power of business fleets.

OLEV rightly points out, in this strategy document, that to help incentivise fleet take up OFGEM will have to allow operators to sell electricity through charge points.  This would allow new low carbon business models to emerge.  It makes business sense to create fast and rapid chargers in towns, cities and on highways that are owned by fleets and businesses. They could then resell electricity to end customers as an optional extra. 

This is a fast moving sector and I believe that the Governments role is to set the framework in order that industry can then take forward the opportunities that arise. Being too prescriptive at this stage could take the whole industry down a road where we have unused recharging points and an unconvinced public.

I believe that working with businesses to help kick start electric vehicle roll out is a logical way forward and that the OLEV policy is a first step towards the Government strategy to have tens of thousands of electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

It will play a critical roll in helping to spark the rapid development of plug in infrastructure in the most useful and used places.

See our EV program.

Read my review of the UK Government's plug-in vehicle strategy

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