Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from Jonathan Kershaw

Submitter Introduction

My name is Jonathan Kershaw and I am a 2nd year PhD research student, based at Coventry University. This submission is my own, and not made on behalf of Coventry University.

Executive Summary

1. The car is responsible for up to 12% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. In turn, up to 65% of these carbon dioxide emissions are the tailpipe emissions emanating from the use of the car. Plug-in vehicles are the most immediate and obvious candidates for the decarbonisation of transport as CO2 emissions from the tailpipe are greatly reduced or, in the case of full EVs, eliminated altogether. Also, the necessary plug-in technology is, unlike the hydrogen fuel cell, available now.

2. Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and plug-in hybrids provide moderate zero-emission motoring while assuaging range anxiety and/or lengthy recharging.

3. The economy and efficiency claims made by manufacturers perhaps stretch credibility and necessitate the establishment an “equivalent” figure.

4. There seems to be a lack of information and/or clarity regarding incentives, infrastructure and efficiencies, as well as a disconnect between EV availability and recharging accessibility in some parts of the country.

5. Plug-in vehicles are part of a mix of technologies which all have their place in decarbonising transport.

6. Though currently providing a suite of fiscal measures to incentivise purchase of low carbon vehicles, the government could do more to decarbonise transport infrastructure on a wider scale and also help investigate, develop and establish low carbon vehicle schemes.

Factual Information

The contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport

7. Transport is responsible for 25% of all anthropogenic, or man-made, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Responsible for up to 12% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions, the car is the dominant source of carbon emissions of the transport sector, accounting for almost half of the CO2 emissions therein (EC, 2011a; Khan Ribeiro et al, 2007; Khare & Sharma, 2003). This means, however, that it is within the power of individual motorists to reduce and/or mitigate the emissions associated with the car.

8. Because of the carbon content of fossil fuels—petrol and diesel fuels average 2.4kg and 2.7kg of CO2 per litre respectively (Potter, 2003)—tailpipe CO2 emissions are a corollary of engine efficiency and of distances travelled (ibid). It has been estimated that the tailpipe emissions of CO2 account for 60–65% of the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of the car, whereas non-CO2 emissions such as nitrous oxides (NOx) account for 10%, manufacturing 10%, and fuel extraction processing and delivery the remaining 15–20% (OECD, 1993).

9. There is a proliferation of technologies to facilitate low carbon automobility, from cleaner conventional internal combustion engines to hydrogen fuel cells. There are a variety of plug-in technologies too, including the full electric vehicle (EV) such as the Nissan Leaf, the extended range electric vehicle (ER-EV) such as the Vauxhall Ampera or Chevrolet Volt, or the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) such as the plug-in Toyota Prius PHEV, due on sale in the UK in July 2012.

10. Plug-in vehicles are the most immediate and obvious candidates for the decarbonisation of transport—particularly of the car—as CO2 emissions from the tailpipe are greatly reduced or, in the case of full EVs, eliminated altogether. Crucially, the necessary plug-in technology is, unlike the hydrogen fuel cell, available now. The battery capacity of a given ER-EV or PHEV dictates the amount of carbon subsequently emitted from the tailpipe when the battery’s charge is exhausted meaning that, insofar as ER-EVs and PHEVs are concerned, tailpipe emissions are dependent upon their respective technologies and the inherent compromises of the installation of such technologies. Such compromises are illustrated by the technologies installed in the Vauxhall Ampera and the Toyota Prius PHEV, in that while the Ampera has a greater electric-only range—50 miles, compared to 11 miles for the Prius PHEV (Toyota, 2012; Vauxhall, 2012)—it appears to offer worse fuel economy, and therefore more carbon emissions, than does the Prius PHEV once their respective batteries have been depleted (ibid; Walton, 2011).

11. The issue of the decarbonisation of road transport isn’t as simple as tailpipe emissions. The source of the power used in recharging the batteries of plug-in vehicles means that the electricity mix of the UK also plays a crucial, if less obvious, part in the decarbonisation of the car, and also need to be borne in mind. As such, momentum behind the development of renewable energy in the UK must be maintained and should not be undermined. Well-to-wheel emission provide a true comparison of the various technologies, especially as the CO2/km figures currently quoted by car manufacturers are achieved using the standardised, yet unrealistic, NEDC cycle (Pelkmans and Debal, 2006) and are perhaps best regarded as comparative.

12. As CO2 emissions are a corollary of a particular engine and distances travelled (Potter, 2003), this presents a strong case for establishing a “miles per gallon equivalent” (or MPGe) metric when making claims for the efficiency of a plug-in technology, as is the case in the USA. Similarly, a case for establishing a carbon dioxide per kilometre equivalent emissions figure (perhaps given as CO2/KMe) can be made too.

Uptake of plug-in vehicles and how this can be improved

13. Much has been noted about the costs, technologies and (im)practicalities of plug-in vehicles, especially EVs. The cost issue has been addressed with the £5000 plug-in grant offered by the Department for Transport (DfT) via the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), although it is clearly difficult to promote and sell expensive emergent technologies during such straitened times. That said, publicity of the £5,000 grant for low carbon vehicles is perhaps not what it could be. It is has perhaps received less coverage than the recent £2,000 “scrappage” scheme, possibly because the scrappage scheme was one geared more towards supporting an ailing motor industry than promoting an environmental imperative; interested more with fiscal than environmental concerns.

14. The impracticalities of the limited distance or range associated with full EVs are addressed by the nature of ER-EVs, while PHEVs can be seen to provide the potential for more emission-free motoring than is possible with a conventional parallel or series-parallel hybrid car, such as those currently offered by Honda and Toyota respectively.

15. A key obstacle to an uptake of plug-in vehicles seems to be the “chicken-or-egg” nature of establishing a charging infrastructure: while there is little point of an electric car without the means of recharging, there is little appetite for providing an infrastructure without the vehicles to use it. Yet there seems to be some anomalies between plug-in vehicle supply and opportunities to recharge them.

16. For example, in Manchester there are currently four manufacturer-franchised dealerships supplying electric cars: Renault Manchester in Salford (Renault, 2012), West Way Nissan in both Manchester and Stockport (Nissan, 2012), Citroën Manchester (Citroën, 2012) and Peugeot (Peugeot, 2012), together with a Vauxhall franchise selling the Ampera (Vauxhall, 2012). However, there is a dearth of charging points in the city—according to charge-point location website Zap-Map, there are just two (Zap-Map, 2012).

17. Conversely, in Coventry, there are 18 charging points across the city, with another 17 pending, within or around the ring-road circling the city centre (Zap-Map, 2012), and yet there is just one local outlet, a Mitsubishi-franchised dealership, from which to buy an electric car (Mitsubishi, 2012). The nearest Renault, Nissan, Citroën and Peugeot electric vehicle franchises are some 20 miles away in Birmingham (Renault, 2012; Nissan, 2012; Citroën, 2012; Peugeot, 2012), as is the nearest Vauxhall franchise selling the Ampera (Vauxhall, 2012).

18. With respect to low carbon vehicles, the DfT website needs to be more informative, with the work OLEV is doing perhaps reflected in having a more overt, dedicated website. At the moment, finding reference to OLEV necessitates finding the “ultra-low emissions vehicles” page (DfT, 2012), wherein OLEV is rather meekly announced. Furthermore, and staying with Manchester and the Midlands, information about the government’s “Plugged-in Places” scheme, administered by OLEV, is hard to come by. It seems that the website for the “Plugged-in Midlands” scheme hasn’t been updated for some months (Plugged-in Midlands, 2011) and a hyperlink relating to Manchester’s part of the scheme is conspicuous by its absence (DfT 2012). If the government is serious about promoting low carbon vehicles, especially plug-in vehicles, it needs to provide a clear, comprehensive and coherent “one-stop-shop” of information detailing availability, incentives and infrastructure.

19. It is clear that, in comparison to costs, technologies and practicalities, less is known about how socio-cultural regard for the car might impact upon the potential for low carbon motoring. The cultural and semiotic nature of the car means that it has always been more than simply a means of transport and, as such, it is important to assess the responsiveness to, and the appetite for, a greener automobility if we are to ascertain the viability of sustainable personal mobility. Admittedly, there is little that the government can do about the “sociology” of the car, although it is an aspect of consumer behaviour which will play an important role in the uptake of low carbon vehicles of all technologies. It is this aspect which my PhD research hopes to address, and so better inform low carbon vehicle policy.

The effectiveness of the Plugged-In Places scheme

20. As alluded to above, it is perhaps too early to assess the effectiveness of the Plugged-In Places scheme, certainly outside of London.

The role of plug-in vehicles alongside other technologies to reduce carbon emissions from road transport

21. It is important to look at the various emergent low carbon vehicle technologies, such as hybrids or electric vehicles, to examine how the day to day practicalities and shortcomings of such technologies may act as barriers—or even opportunities—to a wider acceptance. For example, just as it can be argued that wind power isn’t the answer, but an answer, to reducing carbon emissions from the generation of electricity, it can also be argued that the electric car is merely an answer to reducing carbon emissions from transport. Each low carbon technology has a place; the electric car is desirable in urban settings as it has no tailpipe emissions, but there are issues with range and recharge time and infrastructure, whereas the plug-in hybrid strikes a balance between zero-emission motoring and assuaging range anxiety and/or lengthy recharging.

Action taken by other countries to encourage the uptake of plug-in vehicles

22. A variety of fiscal incentives are available across the EU to encourage the uptake of low carbon vehicles, ranging from “circulation” or road tax exemptions in Italy and Portugal to purchase subsidies in Spain and the UK (ACEA, 2012) and also in the USA (IRS, 2009). A truly flexible battery-swap scheme, such as that posited by Better Place (Better Place, 2012), is in place in Israel, with a similar trial scheme taking place in the EU (Better Place, 2011). It seems that other countries look beyond providing pecuniary purchase incentives.

23. Aside from what other countries are doing, the UK must concentrate on doing more to develop plug-in vehicle uptake and infrastructure, and yet the government seems intent on doing the opposite. For example, a little-reported policy from the 2012 Budget statement scrapping company car-tax exemption in 2015 will do little to encourage a long-term fleet uptake of electric vehicles, and could do great damage to a fledgling plug-in vehicle market (Saunders, 2012). Similarly, the inclusion of a policy statement on the roll-out of electric vehicle recharging points in the National Planning Policy Framework document amounts to little more than a sentence which makes vague mention of a need to include facilities for the charging of plug-in and low emission vehicles (DfT, 2011; DCLG, 2012), which doesn’t seem to provide a vote of confidence for the provision of the infrastructure needed for the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

Recommendations for Action

24. In the light of the proliferation of technologies available, and of some manufacturer claims of fuel economy and CO2 emissions, it would be useful to consider a “miles-per-gallon equivalent” or “CO2/km equivalent” to better inform consumers of the true efficiencies of low carbon vehicles, both in comparison with conventional internal combustion-engined vehicles and with other low carbon vehicles.

25. There is a need to establish a greater connect between plug-in vehicle supply and plug-in vehicle charging infrastructure.

26. More information about the incentives and infrastructure provisions for plug-in vehicles must be made available and be publicised, as educating consumers will be a key factor in challenging the “lock-in” of the internal combustion engine and pursuing a low carbon automobility, regardless of technology. Such information currently in the public domain is highly unsatisfactory in respect if its quality and its coherence.

27. The need to combat emissions in all sectors requires a collective action, not simply a piecemeal, state-sponsored “for-profit” directive. The environment cares not about a level playing field between the predominately fossil fuelled vehicles of the present and the low carbon vehicles of the future. The UK government should support all low carbon industry and infrastructure and, for our purposes here, follow the examples of other countries regarding the exploration of the possibilities for low carbon vehicles and not undermine the uptake of such vehicles, for example, by means of misguided future tax measures.

28. While beyond the influence of government, the sociology of the car might be borne in mind when considering and establishing future low carbon vehicle policy.


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April 2012

Prepared 20th September 2012