Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy - Transport Committee Contents


The Government is committed to reducing carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Emissions from domestic transport comprise approximately a quarter of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions, with emissions from cars accounting for over half of this figure. The Government must therefore make significant efforts to decarbonise road transport if it is to meet its carbon reduction commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008. There are a number of approaches to decarbonising road transport. Plug-in vehicle technology is one of the more market-ready of these approaches.

The Government hopes to encourage consumer demand for plug-in vehicles by providing financial incentives for consumers to buy these cars and by providing funding for publicly-available vehicle charging infrastructure. Consumer demand has increased since the Government introduced the plug-in car grant, but remains relatively small. In 2011, 1,052 vehicles eligible for the plug-in car grant were registered. We have heard mixed messages from the Department for Transport about whether this demand is lower than expected or progressing according to forecasts.

The Coalition Agreement committed the Government to developing a national recharging network of publicly-available chargepoints. Plugged-In Places was launched as a series of trial projects to install these chargepoints at selected project locations across the UK. Initial public investment in charging infrastructure was designed to provide reassurance to potential plug-in vehicle owners that they would be able to charge their cars in public spaces if necessary. The DfT hopes that this will stimulate demand for plug-in vehicles. We looked at the location of chargepoints, as set out on the National Chargepoint Registry, and the location of vehicle purchases to see if a relationship between infrastructure supply and vehicle demand could be found. However, we could not see any such relationship. We instead found that the National Chargepoint Registry was far from comprehensive, lacking even the location of the majority of chargepoints installed with public funds. Further work is required before this resource can be made useful for the public. In the meantime, we recommend that the DfT should evaluate the effectiveness of providing public infrastructure as a means of encouraging plug-in vehicle sales and ensure that the locations of all chargepoints funded by plugged-in places are uploaded onto the National Chargepoint Registry within the next six months.

Projections in the Government's plug-in vehicle infrastructure strategy set out how the DfT expects vehicle sales to increase over the next few decades. However, we have heard differing opinions regarding whether plug-in vehicle demand is increasing according to these projections. At present the Government appears to have spent £11 million on providing infrastructure that currently benefits only a handful of vehicle owners. There may be many more beneficiaries of this infrastructure if the number of vehicle purchases increases. However, the Government should not sit back and hope that this happens. The DfT should set milestones in the medium and long-term to make sure its plug-in vehicle policy is effective and providing value for money.

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Prepared 20 September 2012