THE BLOG

Only Radical Action Will Make Electric Cars a Realistic Option for UK Drivers

30/05/2014 15:18 BST | Updated 29/07/2014 10:59 BST

When news emerged this week that James May of Top Gear fame had announced his intention to buy an electric car, commentators were bemused. As Antony Ingram put it, isn't he the guy best known for being one of "a trio of presenters who hate fuel-efficient cars, think electric cars are useless and like to scream around airfields in gas-guzzling supercars"?

May has silenced his critics by telling the BBC that he actually "quite likes" electric cars and is looking forward to buying one - a 2014 BMW i3 REX to be precise - in the near future.

This latest development in the ever-evolving debate about electric cars comes hot on the heels of the government's pledge to spend £500 million to boost electric vehicle ownership in the UK. Combined with the increase in models of electric and hybrid cars on the market, many are tipping 2014 to be the year that EVs finally go mainstream.

There is, however, a huge barrier standing in the way of this goal: a critical lack of charging infrastructure. Ask anyone what they believe to be the number one deterrent to owning an electric car and they will cite the crippling fear of running out of battery and being left stranded.

This fear, dubbed 'range anxiety', can only be allayed by a radical approach to the installation and scaling of EV charging infrastructure in the UK. A few rapid charge points dotted along motorways won't cut it. A recent report by OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) showed that drivers want assurance that they will be able to charge up their cars at the two places they spend most of their time: at home and at work.

Schemes like ChargeatmyHouse are tackling 'range anxiety' in innovative ways. Launched by ParkatmyHouse.com last year, the initiative lets property owners have an EV charge point worth more than £1,500 installed at their homes for free. They are then able to rent out their driveways to electric car drivers, who can charge up while parked.

It's a completely new kind of peer-to-peer network and is a simple, cheap way to build up the infrastructure we desperately need in this country for low carbon motoring.

The peer-to-peer charging network also allows for huge taxpayer savings. Sourcing locations for on-street electric vehicle charging bays inevitably involves time-consuming and costly negotiations with public authorities, while homeowners taking matters into their own hands allows us to scale this much needed infrastructure at zero cost to the taxpayer.

Mass car use is a reality, but by thinking imaginatively we can reduce its environmental impact.

Next challenge: getting Jeremy Clarkson on board...