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The UK has committed to Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Transport is currently the largest emitting sector of the UK economy, responsible for 27% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Over half the UK’s transport emissions (55%) come from cars.

Electric vehicles (or EVs) offer one method of reducing emissions. In May 2019, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) suggested that all new vehicles should be electrically propelled by 2035, if not sooner, to achieve the Net Zero target.

The UK Government is accelerating the transition to zero emission cars and vans. In November 2020, as part of the Government’s 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, the Prime Minister announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be phased out by 2030 and that all new cars and vans would be zero emission by 2035.

What are EVs?

EVs run, either partially or wholly, on electricity stored on board the vehicle in batteries or produced from hydrogen. Some types of EV qualify as zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) or ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs), whereas others do not because their emissions are too high. ZEVs, for example, emit no CO2 emissions at the tailpipe, whereas ULEVs must have reported tailpipe emissions of less 75 g/km of CO2.

The market for EVs is immature yet growing. In Q2 2021, 14.9% of all newly registered cars were for ULEVs. However, most cars on the road in Great Britain are fuelled by petrol and diesel. ULEVs, for example, only accounted for 3.3% of the cars registered in Great Britain in 2020.

Government measures to support EVs

There have been a variety of strategies employed over the past decade to encourage the uptake of EVs.

In July 2021, alongside the transport decarbonisation plan, the Government published a 2035 delivery plan, which outlines the policies and investments this Government is taking to support the transition to zero emission cars and vans.

To help achieve its 2030 and 2035 targets, the Government, as part of its Net Zero Strategy, confirmed its plan to introduce a ZEV mandate from 2024. The mandate will set annual targets for the percentage of manufacturers’ new car and van sales that need to be zero emission from 2024 onwards.

One of the main reasons why people do not choose to buy an EV is that they have fears, known as range anxiety, about the distance EVs can travel been charges. The Government has a variety of schemes to support the provision of charging infrastructure, including in people’s homes and workplaces.

The Government’s forthcoming Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy is intended to set out the Government’s vision for the rollout of charging points across the country. The provision of charging infrastructure will also be supported through amendments to the Building Regulations, which will require new homes and buildings, including properties undergoing major renovations, to have electric vehicle charging points installed from 2022.

Electricity Demand

The transition to electric vehicles will increase demand for electricity. In September 2021, Ofgem, the energy regulator, highlighted that electric cars and vans will need between 60-100TWh of electricity annually by 2050 – an increase of 20-30% compared to 2021 levels. While EVs pose significant demands for the National Grid, the use of smart charging or vehicle to grid technologies could significantly lower peak demands in the electricity required to fuel EVs.

Environmental Impact – why EVs are not the silver bullet

EVs improve local air quality and reduce point-of-use emissions; however they are not net-zero when considering the whole life cycle of a vehicle and its sub-components, as well as the particulate matter emitted on-street.

The shift to EVs will require more batteries to be manufactured. This opens up opportunities, such as the potential for the UK to develop battery production facilities, but also poses challenges. Batteries for EVs can require rare elements such as lithium and cobalt, which has raised environmental and ethical issues in countries where these elements are mined.

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