Mark Jenkinson is the Member of Parliament for Workington.
I am a proud user of an electric car and a passionate advocate for the mass take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) – so much so that I recently became an EV champion for the Conservative Environment Network.
There has, however, recently been a lot more attention in the media on the negatives of EVs than the positives. I’m the first to say that more needs to be done to make them an affordable and practical choice for my constituents, but we can’t forget how much progress we are already making or lose sight of this technology’s huge potential.
The reason why I’m so supportive of EVs is because they can offer huge benefits to our health by reducing air and noise pollution, particularly in congested towns and cities. They can benefit our wallets via cheaper fuel and maintenance costs, and they are critical for net zero given transport is the highest emitting sector. Car companies like Tesla have also shown that EVs can be high-performance vehicles and provide a great driving experience.
We’re near the start of this transition, though, so there are still issues to resolve. The main ones are currently infrastructure, affordability and sustainability.
The UK has recently reached a milestone of 25,000 public chargers across the country, expanding the network by 220 per cent between 2016 and 2020. Earlier this year, the number of electric vehicle charge point sites surpassed the number of petrol stations for the first time.
This is of course great news for EV users like myself, but we need to go further and faster in order to provide the charging infrastructure for the expected increase in EVs on our roads in the years ahead. The lack of charge points then understandably leads to some people having range anxiety, despite the average EV having a range of 193 miles.
I was pleased to see the recent commitment from government to mandate the installation of charge points for all new houses and offices, but we won’t see the results of this for several years and it still leaves the on-street public network wanting.
That’s why I’ve been campaigning for businesses in my constituency of Workington to take advantage of government funding and install charge points at places of work. I’m also calling on ministers to make sure we have sufficient low-carbon electricity generation and resilient power grids for when people want to charge up.
Coming in at number three on the list of reasons why people are hesitant to buy an EV is the cost. We’ve seen an incredible fall in the cost of lithium-ion batteries in recent years – down 97 per cent in three decades – but at the moment, the upfront cost of a new electric car is still more expensive than a new petrol or diesel car, and the second-hand market is in its infancy.
This prices out a lot of people, particularly lower income families. That’s why government policies like the plug-in car grant to help people with the upfront cost, and company car tax breaks to create more fleet vehicles for the second hand market, are so important.
The upfront cost comparison doesn’t, however, take into account the lower fuel and maintenance costs of an EV or the longer lifespan that comes with a battery-powered car. Costs will also come down over time, as they do with most technologies as they scale up, particularly since the car industry is embracing EVs.
They can see that the market is moving towards electric – with both the US and the EU recently setting targets for electric vehicle uptake. Almost every week there are new voluntary commitments from car companies to expand their selection of electric models – Alfa Romeo, Scoda and Citroen to name a few. As manufacturers expand their selection of EVs there will be an expansion of the second-hand car market, which will be key to making EVs affordable for everyone.
Let’s also not forget that it’s demand from consumers that is driving this innovation. Ten percent of car sales in the UK are now electric and this is only going to continue as we near 2030. This will increase exponentially if we address the challenges that are still holding back the general public.
Beyond the immediate challenges of EV take up, there is the important matter of battery sustainability. Once an electric battery reaches the end of its life it can easily become a source of pollution.
They contain metals like cobalt and nickel, which are in short supply and could be reused if more and better recycling facilities were available. With more recycling plants we could harness this supply, reducing our dependence on importing resources and boosting our economy at the same time.
The recent media pieces make some valid points and raise some important challenges that the government needs to address. But the challenges are not insurmountable and we must not temper our ambition. By putting fairness at the heart of its policies, government can make electric cars a realistic option for every family and business.