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

1  Introduction

Carbon emissions from transport

1. The Climate Change Act 2008 set a binding target for the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 and to 34% of 1990 levels by 2020.[1] Emissions from domestic transport make up 25% of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions.[2] In 2009 road transport was responsible for over 90% of the UK's domestic transport emissions, with cars accounting for 58% of these emissions (figure 1).[3] The Committee on Climate Change has advised that in order to reach the Climate Change Act's targets on carbon dioxide emission reduction, surface transport emissions will need to be reduced by 26% from 2008 levels by 2020 and by 91% by 2050.[4] The Government will therefore need to make significant efforts to decarbonise road transport in order to meet these targets.

2. Preliminary assessments of carbon emissions in 2011 indicate that carbon dioxide emissions from domestic transport have fallen slightly compared to 2010 (1.4%).[5] Emissions from transport have been falling since 2008,[6] a trend which the Government attributes to improvements in new car efficiency, increased use of biofuels and the economic downturn.[7] However, the Committee on Climate Change has warned that "there is a risk that surface transport emissions increase as the economy recovers".[8]

Decarbonising transport

3. There are a number of approaches to reducing carbon emissions from road transport. Although the Government acknowledges that vehicle technologies using electric batteries, hydrogen fuel-cells, biofuels and more efficient internal combustion engines will play a role in decarbonising road transport,[9] the DfT does not intend to adopt specific technology targets. It is instead following a technology-neutral approach in which it creates "a framework for improvements in average fuel efficiency" which goes on "to create the incentives for industry to develop the technologies that reduce emissions, work for consumers and make economic sense."[10]

4. Up to 65% of carbon dioxide emissions from cars come from tailpipe emissions, which vary according to engine type and efficiency.[11] Improvements to the efficiency of internal combustion engines are being encouraged through EU targets, which state that average carbon emissions from new cars should not exceed 95 g/km by 2020.[12] However, further emissions reductions require a move away from conventional fuels towards alternatively fuelled, ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). In 2011 the Government set out its vision for reducing carbon emissions from cars and vans using technologies other than internal combustion engines in the Carbon Plan. This stated:

by 2050 almost every car and van will be an ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV), with the UK automotive industry remaining at the forefront of global ULEV production, delivering investment, jobs and growth. Due to the time needed for fleet turnover, this requires almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040.[13]

5. In this report we look at the Government's strategy for plug-in vehicles, as the primary market-ready technology in the ULEV range. There are a number of technologies which can be defined as 'plug-in'. The DfT describes plug-in vehicles in its Plug-in Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy as follows:

The term 'plug-in vehicle' is used to describe a wide variety of different technologies that use electric drive to power, or assist in the powering of, a vehicle. For the purpose of this Strategy, the term plug-in vehicle is used as a generic term to describe Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (E-REV).

  • In a BEV a battery pack and electric motor replace the petrol tank and internal combustion engine of a conventional vehicle. BEVs rely entirely on electricity for fuel.
  • A PHEV combines both a battery pack and electric motor with an internal combustion engine. Both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine can drive the wheels. The battery pack is much smaller than in a BEV, tending to only drive the wheels at low speeds or for limited range, with the internal combustion engine driving the wheels when the battery is depleted or when extra power is required.
  • An E-REV also has both a battery pack and electric motor, as well as an internal combustion engine. The battery pack tends to be larger than in a PHEV but smaller than in a BEV. The electric motor always drives the wheels, with the internal combustion engine acting as a generator to recharge the battery when it is depleted.

E-REVs and PHEVs can use a number of low carbon technologies to provide their additional range and power, such as highly efficient internal combustion engines, sustainable biofuels or hydrogen.[14]

All these vehicles are capable of being plugged into mains electricity. This differentiates them from a conventional hybrid [vehicle], which also uses electricity to help drive the wheels but cannot be plugged into the mains, generating electricity only through regenerative braking.

6. Following a seminar on sustainable transport in November 2011, we called for evidence in March 2012 on the take up of plug-in vehicles by the public, the effectiveness of the Government's Plugged-in Places scheme, the role of other technologies in decarbonising road transport and the approaches taken by other countries to encourage low carbon vehicle purchases. We received 25 submissions of written evidence. On 12 June 2012 we heard evidence from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Coventry University, Evalu8 Transport Innovations Ltd, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd, Toyota, General Motors and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker MP. We are grateful to those who provided oral and written evidence.

7. The Government's Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy states that the "policy framework aims to both stimulate and accommodate the expected substantial growth in plug-in vehicles in the UK."[15] In this report we comment on each of these aspects of Government policy. We consider the Government's efforts to stimulate consumer demand for plug-in vehicles and its role in providing the infrastructure which will allow owners to charge these vehicles in public.

1   The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future, HM Government, December 2011  Back

2   Ev 46 para 3 Back

3   Ev 46 para 4, Carbon Plan Back

4   Committee on Climate Change, Back

5   Ev 65 Back

6   Committee on Climate Change,  Back

7   Carbon Plan p4 Back

8   Meeting Carbon Budgets - 2012 Progress Report to Parliament, Committee on Climate Change, June 2012, p162 Back

9   Ev 46 para 5 Back

10   Ev 46 para 6 Back

11   Ev w23 para 1 Back

12   Ev w12 para 2 Back

13   Carbon Plan 2011, p47 Back

14   Making the Connection, The Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, OLEV, June 2011 p13 Back

15   Making the Connection p14 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 20 September 2012