2013 proved to be a year of heated debate, education and awareness for the UK green energy sector and at the top of many agendas was the electric vehicle (EV) market. EVs have long brought great promise but often a sad consumer reality that has meant the cars were either unaffordable or impractical for everyday use. That was until 1997 when Toyota rolled out the Prius. Fast forward 15 years and many more car manufacturers have entered the market with the Nissan Leaf topping the charts as the most popular EV in the UK today, outselling all other EV models put together. So what does this mean for the future of electric vehicles?
A look at the numbers:
• In 2011, Barack Obama said he would like the U.S. to have a million plug-in electric vehicles by 2015.
• Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn predicts that by 2020 one in 10 cars on the road will be electric.
• Last year the UK government said that it expects there to be tens of thousands of electric and hybrid cars on Britain's roads by 2015, with that number reaching six figures by 2020.
• The WWF and the Committee on Climate Change say at least 1.7 million electric cars need to be on the UK's streets by 2020, and 6.6 million a decade later, if the country is to meet its carbon emissions reduction target.
Are we really at a tipping point for electric vehicle adoption (as the industry suggests), or, are there still perceived barriers that urgently need to be overcome to make EVs an everyday reality?
With the announcement last year by Transport Minister Norman Baker of the Government's ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) strategy, electric vehicles have become an increasingly attractive option. The results of a survey from Censuswide and Rexel, a global leader in the professional distribution of products and services for the energy world, revealed that almost half of British drivers (41 per cent) would consider purchasing an electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle in the next five years. This was further supported by encouraging statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) which revealed 1,885 electric vehicles had been sold during the first half of 2013; an improvement of 70 per cent on the same period in 2012 and eleven times higher than the volume shifted over the whole of 2010, suggesting the market for ultra-low emissions vehicles is building.
These figures are encouraging; but what's holding consumers back?
1) Concerns around the lack of infrastructure required for electric to be a viable option.
2) As the Rexel survey found, an overwhelming 72 per cent of drivers had never seen an EV charger, and 62 per cent perceived the insufficient number of charging stations currently available, made EVs an impractical choice over diesel/petrol fuelled vehicles.
3) 60 per cent cited a fear around the upfront costs associated with EVs, highlighting a lack of awareness of the government incentives available to encourage adoption, such as the plug-in car grant. The grant, which has been available since January 2011, offers consumers and businesses with a UK address 25 per cent off the cost of a qualifying ultra-low emissions car, up to a maximum of £5,000.
4) According to the survey, 30 per cent of Brits have no idea who they would go to for advice on EVs and how to charge them.
Where we are:
There are currently approximately 3,000 publicly accessible charge points in the UK and the government is committed to supporting the market by investing £400 million over the next two years in EV. This includes a £37 million funding package for home and on-street charging, as well as charge points for parking vehicles at railway stations. This commitment to invest in EV infrastructure has been strengthened recently with the resolution passed by the European Parliament which will compel the UK to install a network of 70,000 electric vehicle recharging points as well as hydrogen and natural gas stations by 2020.
The electric vehicles sector plays a critical part in the long term energy longevity of the UK. In order to increase the public's confidence in EVs as a viable alternative to diesel or petrol powered vehicles, the government hand-in-hand with the industry including, car manufacturers, distributors and even EV charger installers, will need to work together to ensure a robust infrastructure framework which the public can rely on. Having made major strides over the last few years, the UK already offers one of the most long-term, comprehensive packages of support for consumers looking to make the transition - over 6,000 ULEVs have been sold with government-funded consumer incentives and 10,000 charge points installed to-date. As adoption grows this year, 'range anxiety' (people who are anxious about the distance/accessibility of chargers) will become less of a concern supported by a growing infrastructure. There's no turning back, electric vehicles are going to become more and more visible on our roads and 2014 will be the year that EVs prove they have a day-to-day place in UK society.