Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from ITS (UK)

The Intelligent Transport Society for the United Kingdom, known as ITS (UK), is a “not for profit” organisation of 150 organisations in the transport field who are working to promote the use of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). These are combinations of sensors, communications and mobile Information Technology designed to assist all modes of transport. ITS (UK) is fortunate in having membership from across the UK and beyond, drawn from the public and private sectors and from academia. ITS (UK) is funded entirely from member subscriptions and can therefore independently represent the interests of the whole membership spectrum in this rapidly developing field.

A complete list of our Members is attached to this Submission.

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Transport Committee launched its Inquiry on Low Carbon Vehicles on 15 March 2012. The Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence invite organisations to respond to a series of questions regarding Low Carbon Vehicles. The Committee is particularly interested in:

The contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport.

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

The effectiveness of the Plugged-In Places scheme.

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

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

1.2 ITS United Kingdom, referred to hereafter as ITS (UK), is a “not-for-profit” public/private sector association financed by members’ subscriptions providing a forum for all organisations concerned with ITS. The Society works to bring the advantages that ITS can offer in terms of economic efficiency, transport safety, and environmental benefits to the United Kingdom—and at the same time expand the ITS market. Membership, over 150 UK organisations, comprises Government Departments, Local Authorities, Police Forces, consultancies, manufacturing and service companies, and academic and research institutions. ITS United Kingdom encourages discussion on issues such as public/private co-operation, standards, legislation, information provision and new technology. ITS (UK) was a key contributor to the Parliamentary POSTNote 322 “Intelligent Transport Systems” published in Jan 2009.

1.3 Intelligent Transport Systems, “ITS”, is the term used to describe combinations of sensors, telecoms, information processing and location referencing to deliver improved transport systems and services including information before and during a trip for travellers by all modes. ITS can also advise and inform travellers of the most appropriate travel choices for a particular trip, including cost, time, route, mode and even the associated carbon footprint of the journey. ITS can improve the efficiency of transport through traffic control and enforcement of traffic regulations and enhance road safety through in-vehicle systems for collision avoidance and better lane keeping. Many commercial organisations use ITS technologies and/or schemes to manage vehicle fleets, both freight and passenger, through the provision of two way communication between manager and driver. Electronic ticketing (by means of Smartcards, for example) enables faster, easier travel by public transport. In addition Intelligent Transport Systems have beneficial effects on the environment by reducing air and noise pollution on highways and by helping to create traffic free zones in cities.

2.0 General Observations

2.1 The Inquiry poses questions regarding the government’s vision that the UK’s domestic road transport emissions can be minimised by a vast increase in the numbers of Low Carbon Vehicles on the roads by 2015 as part of its “Plugged-In Places” Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy. However the global acceptance and adoption of electric vehicles to date is somewhat contradictory to this expectation and has been slow and sporadic. Individual countries have their own strategies to address this and most will report having had limited success as the concept of electric vehicles is one of short range, limited power with unglamorous model options. However since 2012, well-engineered, production electric and hybrid vehicles is gradually changing this perception Trying to persuade motorists to exchange their hydro-carbon vehicles for electric vehicles has proven difficult to date as the costs of the vehicles themselves is considerably higher—on average electric vehicle battery packs account for £10K to £15K of the purchase price—than the conventionally powered counter-parts (despite any incentive schemes) with any perceived offset-benefit.

2.2 In the UK the previous government set up the “Office for Low Emission Vehicles” within the DfT to promote the construction, adoption and uptake of electric vehicles focusing on several “Plugged-in Places” centres as strategic centres that would then be supplemented by additional locations until such time as the proliferation of schemes meant that these locations overlapped each other. Most of the previous effort has been directed towards reassuring motorists that the vehicles were fully capable of providing their daily needs. As the vast majority of daily journeys are commuter journeys to/from the workplace they are, by their very nature, of short distance—verified by the Department for Transport statistics that state that approximately 90% of car journeys are under 20 miles in length and 80% under 10 miles. On arrival at work most vehicles remain parked throughout the day offering the opportunity for electric cars to be charged at the workplace. Once the return journey has been completed a further opportunity to recharge occurs as these cars can be “plugged-in” overnight ready for use the following day. Experiments are underway in North-East England, one of the initial “Plugged-In Places” Schemes locations to explore whether drivers can be influenced to select times to re-charge their EV when there are lower levels of CO2 involved in the production of electricity—to reduce the equivalent carbon emissions from EV’s—which largely means discouraging charging during the peak times of the day 8am to 7pm. Experience from the “Plugged-In Place” schemes have shown that drivers are intuitive on how to exploit and take advantage of their vehicle’s battery range by maximising the range potential by route/time selection—eg pre- or post-“rush hour” and on routes that avoid road obstacles such as roundabouts/traffic lights/hills. Most users have found from experience that they recharge the vehicles in much the same way that they do so when they determine the appropriate time to recharge their mobile phones—ie as the battery strength display bars start to reduce then the need to locate an EVCP becomes increasingly important.

2.3 With the change of government to the Coalition government a certain amount of the “headway” on the uptake of Low Carbon Vehicles was lost and the whole “Plugged-In Places” lost a fair amount of its momentum as a consequence. From a European perspective this has unfortunately relegated the UK from being perceived as a leader and innovator in the field to a more minor role; this will have major implications for the electric vehicle industry as a whole. Recent fuel price increases have begun to alarm motorists who are now paying substantial amounts of their budget merely to get to/from the workplace. Issues of pollution, performance and (in the instance of the London Congestion Charging Zone) avoiding having to pay to drive in specific areas are becoming increasingly secondary to the costs of refuelling as they continue to escalate. With no apparent respite in this inexorable rise this could well be the most appropriate juncture to enhance and promote Low Carbon Vehicles’ capabilities and economies in association with other aspects such as helping to reduce pollution and avoidance of certain standing motoring costs associated with hydro-carbon vehicles (ie—fuel duty, vehicle excise duty, congestion charges and parking charges). Recent calculations from many sources, including “real time” data from electric vehicles collated at Newcastle University, suggest that, even with the high cost of purchasing an electric vehicle, the “break-even point” where that purchase and running costs is less than a conventional internal combustion engine is less than three years being driven 8,000 vehicle miles per year. New business models are being considered—such as a) Renault equalising the purchase prices of conventional and electric vehicles and b) vehicles are owned or leased whilst the vehicles’ batteries are never owned but rented on an ongoing basis. A major European project “SMART-CEM” is using the North-East of England “Plugged-In Places” scheme as a reference site in examining how the wider issues of ITS are integrated into electric vehicles.

2.4 Acceptance and adoption of electric vehicles has to be based around motorists’ confidence in their ability to complete a journey and be able to recharge in anticipation of their next journey. Conventionally powered vehicles can be refuelled at any petrol station however the numbers of electric vehicle charging points (EVCP) are currently minimal. It is critically important therefore that a motorist needs to be assured that an infrastructure is available and this is where ITS (UK) has been directing its efforts by establishing a Working Group that examines how “intelligent transportation systems” can be employed to overcome “range anxiety” by identifying where EVCPs are located and also by confirming that they are currently available. In conjunction with the anticipated increase in the numbers of electric vehicles on the UK’s roads ITS (UK)’s role has been to adopt a strategic overview of this and has outlined a 20 year strategy on how the ITS industry can “match” information about the ECVP infrastructure. This strategy has been presented in international fora and has received interest from other nations who recognise similar challenges.

3.0 Inquiry Questions

The contribution of plug-in vehicles to decarbonising transport

3.1 The introduction of a reasonable number of Low Carbon Vehicles to the global fleet has undoubtedly acknowledged that they are a “serious” form of transport and far more than the common perception that they are merely “milk floats” which is how they had previously been regarded. Evidence from trials such as the “SWITCH EV” trial in North East England suggest most drivers who experience driving electric vehicles rate them very highly with only range, purchase price and uncertainty on the long term performance of the battery pack as inhibitors to wider adoption. The incremental introduction of ECVPs has increased the flexibility in the manner of how these vehicles are used. Additional ECVPs have helped to satisfy the recharging demand and the increased number of points has helped raise the credibility of Low Carbon Vehicles to the extent that they are now regarded as a substantial modal option. It must also be remembered that electric vehicles generally contribute a level of equivalent CO2 per km travelled that is about half that of an equivalent petrol vehicle (based upon the CO2 generated by UK electricity generation) however the CO2 is not created or emitted in the urban area where high concentrations of pollutants from internal combustion engines may cause harmful effects to humans in the confines of townscapes.

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

3.2 The main incentive relating to the uptake of Low Carbon Vehicles has been the operating costs vis-à-vis those for conventionally powered vehicles. The purchase costs of an electric vehicle are significantly higher than those of a petrol or diesel vehicle and it will take lengthy ownership of that vehicle before an owner reaches a “break-even” point therefore it is important that fiscal incentives are created to offset that imbalance. However in order to achieve the levels of uptake that the government is envisaging then potential customers must be given overwhelming arguments and benefits that there is viability in purchasing an electric vehicle. The only way this can be achieved is by offering a very large subsidy that clearly identifies that electric vehicles are significantly cheaper to purchase and operate. As petrol and diesel prices continue to increase and “bite” into domestic and commercial budgets the provision of “free” electricity has got to be an option that would favour “early-adopters” who are prepared to accept a “gamble” and “take the risk” on being amongst the first to accept the new modal technology. As more and more “adopters” take up the option then they will have pay a gradually higher price until the use of electric vehicles becomes a norm. There is a precedent for this business model—eg mobile phone providers and solar panels. Concerns about the purchase prices need to be diminished and there is evidence that this is now happening as Nissan and Peugeot are reducing list prices following lower than expected sales of their electric vehicles models in 2011. For many people we do not believe range of vehicle is as major concern as originally envisaged. Vehicle usage profiles from the electric vehicle fleet are being demonstrated in the “SWITCH EV” trial—the electric vehicle journey profile mimics the DfT figures, although, some commuters are travelling <70 miles one way, charging up during the day and travelling <70 miles return journey in the evening.

The effectiveness of the Plugged-In Places scheme

3.3 The three pilot sites that were selected in Phase 1 of the “Plugged-In Places scheme were London, Milton Keynes and Newcastle upon Tyne. It is fair to say that they have had varying degrees of success most of which is a direct reflection on where the three sites are located. There seems to be a correlation between the size of the city, the related EVCP infrastructure and the populations” willingness to adapt, to what was to them, a novel form of transportation. The London scheme was based on individual sub-sites being established in a non-structured way that was based on which organisations were willing to introduce them. Conversely, in the North-East of England, there has been a far more strategic approach with a diverse range of vehicle types being used in and around the locality. This latter approach has been more successful and has captured the local population’s imagination that has brought about a more accepting attitude towards Low Carbon Vehicles. A subscription based scheme, “Charge Your Car”, has been introduced in the North-East of England whereby, for £10 per month, electric vehicle users could have “smartcard” access to the 300+ public charging posts in the region. Interestingly this includes eight publically available “fast-chargers” which can re-charge an electric vehicle battery to 80% charge in about 30 minutes. Again, data from the “SWITCH EV” trial suggests that these “fast-chargers” are well used and are enabling electric vehicle drivers to extend their effective driving cycle in an effective way. Many of these lessons have been accepted in the application of Phase 2 of the “Plugged-In Places” scheme.

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

3.4 There is no doubt that the “well to wheel” output from petrol and diesel vehicles is a major contributor to pollution from road transport however it would also be correct to say that Low Carbon Vehicles are not “carbon-neutral” as vehicle production and energy generation have substantial implications on creating pollution. However there is evidence that confirms that Low Carbon Vehicles can play a significant part in reducing emissions in urban areas. “Stop-start” driving is the most significant area where pollution occurs as opposed to inter-urban driving where this is markedly less prevalent. There is ongoing academic research that can corroborate this hypothesis and also the wider benefits of having vehicles in urban areas that are not contributing to the prevailing levels of road traffic generated pollution that has been linked to many health-related issues.

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

3.5 The global approach to Low Carbon Vehicles has been remarkably similar and whilst there have been obvious variances the general response has been that there is a limited uptake on these vehicle types. What is lacking in each of the countries is the impetus to “drive” this forward and whilst petrol and diesel fuels predominate economically it is unlikely that this will change. It is accurate to state that the UK has been a global leader in the adoption of low carbon vehicle technologies and the work ITS (UK) has undertaken to assess the future adoption in conjunction with the “intelligent transportation” means is being watched by other nations as a potential model for them to adopt. However the apparent unwillingness by the UK government to engage in many of the European activities on electric vehicle research, demonstrations, standards and future policy options may well have compromised our future position and ability to influence policy in this important area of “green” transport.

4.0 Summary

4.1 This submission is intended to highlight how the Low Carbon Vehicle industry is broader than the production of electric vehicles and provision of an EVCP infrastructure. There is a far wider requirement to influence the motorists to change their mode of transport and to acknowledge that the terms and conditions on which they do so will mean that they drive their vehicles in a markedly different to how they currently use hydro-carbon vehicles. The technological restrictions initially sound quite debilitating and potentially seem to “sound a death-knell” for the wider adoption of Low Carbon Vehicles as the prime source of transport. However this need not necessarily be the case. As commented earlier the average daily commuter journey is very short and offers ample time to recharge the vehicle ahead of the return journey where it can be recharged once more. Minor variations to driving patterns will enable motorists to complete journeys with confidence—especially as battery technologies are consistently improving to extend vehicle range. There is a need for greater coordination and standard specs for electric vehicle charging across the UK and a common way of accessing posts. Again the North-East of England is a good exemplar—joining the “Charge Your Car” scheme or driving to a charging-point and then paying by using a mobile phone and without the requirement of being a “Charge Your Car” member. The UK’s Institute of Engineering and Technology’s “Code of Practice for Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment Installation” published in January 2012 is a crucially important document and outlines essential guidance on safe and secure charging at residential addresses.

4.2 “Plugged-In Places” EVCP infrastructure needs to communicate its “availability status” to expectant motorists and the obvious means to do so is via “Intelligent Transport Systems”. The effectiveness of the “Plugged-In Places” initiative is inextricably linked to the ability to relay information regarding EVCP availability to the driver to prevent aimless driving seeking an available point whilst consuming a continually reducing battery capacity. It should be emphasised that a strong relationship and reliance between the vehicles and the EVCP infrastructure via “intelligent transport system” technologies will positively influence how Low Carbon Vehicles will be perceived and will encourage greater adoption commensurate to the increasing difficulties and costs associated with hydro-carbon vehicles. It cannot be over-emphasised that the next stages of the “Plugged-In Places” project are vitally important for the Low Carbon Vehicle industry and that once a “tipping-point” of adoption has been reached then the ongoing conversion to Low Carbon Vehicles will be relatively straight-forward. Additional ITS functions such as pre-booking parking for charging and then informing drivers when the vehicle is charged and ensuring interoperability of EVCPs across the UK are key issues to encourage adoption. New forms of electric vehicle charging, such as inductive and battery exchange schemes, are being actively progressed and need to be encouraged. Both will speed the recharge process and will make the use of electric vehicles much more attractive. This is an important factor as the current infrastructure is based on electric vehicles being recharged on domestic driveways/garages however the widespread lack of such facilities in conurbations is seen to be a major inhibitor to an expanding market and strenuously suggests that innovations re home charging options are needed.

April 2012

Prepared 20th September 2012