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Past and current governments have supported measures to encourage uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs, sometimes referred to as Ultra Low Emission Vehicles or ULEVs) as they can contribute to a wide range of transport policy goals. These include improving air quality and reducing noise pollution. They may also have an important role in the ‘least cost pathway’ to the 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emission target. However, 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. There are also concerns over ‘peak lithium’ and future shortages constraining growth in the EV market.

Government policy and grants

The Government’s 2018 Road to Zero Strategy outlines how it will support the transition to zero emission road transport and reduce emissions from conventional vehicles during the transition. Since the Strategy was published the Government has increased its ambitions, by announcing plans to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and hybrids by 2035. This is in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendation that the market for EVs be 100% by 2035 at the latest to meet the 2050 net zero target.

To meet the aims of the Strategy, Government is (amongst other things) providing grants to make electric vehicle ownership more affordable and to offset the costs of installing chargepoints in the home, workplace and on-street. Eligibility and guidance for these grants is available on for vehicle purchases here and for chargepoint infrastructure here.

So, how many EVs are on UK roads?

Despite the rise in the number of licensed ULEV cars on UK roads, ULEVs still only represent a small proportion of the total number of cars licensed. In 2019 around 58.5% of licensed cars were petrol, 39.1% diesel and 0.8% were either a plug-in-hybrid, battery electric, range-extended electric, or fuel cell electric car.

According to the International Energy Agency’s 2017 EV outlook, these figures place the UK fourth worldwide by market share, and seventh by volume. Going forward, projections by National Grid suggest that the UK stock of EVs could reach between 2.7 and 10.6 million by 2030 and could rise as high as 36 million by 2040.

Where are the EV chargepoints?

Data available from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory shows that the number of EV charge points per 100km of road in the United Kingdom has increased from 42 in 2011 to 570 in 2019. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says this figure will need to increase further to match the rising number of EVs on the road. The Government however envisages most charging to take place at home describing it as a “key attraction” of EV ownership. Through the Road to Zero Strategy, the Government has committed £400m (increased to £500m at Budget 2020) to the public-private Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund and says it plans to consult on proposals that would require chargepoint infrastructure for new dwellings in England.

How will increasing numbers of EVs impact the electric grid?

Concerns have been raised that increasing the number of electric vehicles will add to electricity demand and place pressure on the UK’s grid network, operated by National Grid. While National Grid do expect electricity demand to increase, they have said that policies and incentives should be able to address the increase in demand to reduce the impact on the UK’s electricity system.


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