8 November 2021
Building a sustainable future – 3 of 4 Insights
What are Boris Johnson's priorities for COP26? "Coal, cars, cash and trees" were listed in a recent speech. To be more specific on the second, for the UK to stop using internal combustion engine vehicles and embrace hybrid and electrics cars. What needs to happen to make this a reality?
The UK government has pledged to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, and hybrids from 2035 in its 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution. To meet this target significant funding has been allocated, with £620 million pledged to support the move to electric vehicles (EVs), charging infrastructure and targeted plug-in vehicle grants.
A £1.4 billion grant scheme called the ‘Global Britain Investment Fund’ was also announced in the 2021 Autumn Budget to get countries to build or expand workforces and facilities in the UK post-Brexit. £817 million of this is to attract automakers keen on producing EVs and/or components in the Midlands and the North East of England.
So funding is available to make the government's ambitions a reality – but challenges remain. There's still anxiety about the number of vehicles available in the UK, and the charging infrastructure to support mass adoption. We see two main issues – supply and demand. Luckily, the extension and use of permitted development rights and further changes to the UK planning system can be used to tackle both.
The government has pledged investment to automakers to encourage the production of EVs and components. Recent electrical investments from Nissan, Stellantis and Ford have all received financial support. Britishvolt, which is planning one of the UK's first gigafactories, is also reportedly in talks to secure government funding.
Beyond investment, if the UK is to become a global battery producer the government must make the UK planning process more efficient to incentivise developers to build in the UK.
Developers will want certainty that if they invest, planning permission will be guaranteed quickly. To facilitate this, UK planning powers must be widened to enable work planning permissions of manufacturing facilities to be fast-tracked. At a local level changes will also be needed to permitted development powers to enable faster roll out of localised charging networks.
A lot more work is needed on EV charging infrastructure. In July the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released a report looking at the state of the sector, finding while some parts are developing relatively well, others face greater challenges.
People reported it's hard to find a working charge point, with some areas better served than others. Simply put, more charging points are needed. A lot more – with forecasts suggesting at least 10 times as many chargers will be needed by 2030.
The main concern of switching to an electric vehicle from consumers seems to be running out of charge on a long journey. If EVs are to become mainstream, the UK charging network will need massive investment and development.
Again, planning powers will be essential to introduce this quickly. There's currently good, but not great infrastructure in London – but rural areas are worse off.
The issue in rural areas isn't so much that landowners are unwilling to have charging stations on their land. Indeed, there's recognition in the rural community that investment in these schemes will be vital in the efforts to 'electrify' the countryside both for local residents and those passing through.
Instead, problems centre around the cost and complexity of making a grid connection and the charges for grid reinforcement. Developers often find that, even if the monetary and logistical issues surrounding making the connection can be overcome, the costs of reinforcing the grid to cope with the additional energy demand can be so high that projects become unviable.
Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, is under pressure to take action on the roll out of EV charging infrastructure. In a recent report, it highlighted the need to make changes to the existing model and laid out one of its plans to remove the cost of grid reinforcement in respect of large-scale demand connections (such as a connection for an EV charging station).
This would mean the cost isn't borne solely by the entity carrying out the project but split more evenly across the 'wider customer base'. The hope is that this will increase the willingness of developers to take these projects on, particularly as they're still relatively high-risk ventures with the electric car market in its infancy.
In the same report, Ofgem predicted that between 20% and 30% more electricity may be needed to fully support the use of EVs by 2050. Again, landowners should be able to assist with such generation, and there's willingness to invest in renewable energy schemes (including battery storage) in rural areas. But the viability of such schemes depends on a planning system which encourages the right projects through, and infrastructure investment to allow the electricity generated to be carried to the places that it's needed.
The government will have to subsidise this too, with a swift planning process needed to roll out this infrastructure quickly. Electricity line providers already use planning development powers to set up power supplies quickly. This use case needs to be applied to electrical vehicle infrastructure if widespread EV adoption is ever to succeed.
The green revolution is going to be driven by planning, including electric vehicle infrastructure and adoption. The use of planning development powers to speed up planning permission will be essential to deliver on the government's ambition and ensure we don't lose momentum in this crucial period of the UK's green strategy.