Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from the Institution of Engineering and Technology

1.1 The Institution of Engineering and Technology is one of the world’s leading professional bodies for the engineering and technology community. The IET has over 150,000 members in 127 countries and has offices in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. The Institution provides a global knowledge network to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and to promote the positive role of science, engineering and technology in the world.

1.2 This evidence has been prepared on behalf of the IET Trustees by the Transport Policy Panel. The IET would be pleased to provide further technical assistance and evidence as part of this inquiry.


1.3 Plug-in vehicles can make potentially a significant contribution to the decarbonising of transport if the fundamental issues of cost can be overcome, alongside the “greening” of electricity generation in the UK. It is pointless to deploy Plug-In vehicles if the new demand created has to be sourced from carbon intensive sources.

1.4 Public fleet procurement can play a crucial role in helping to increase the take up of plug-in vehicles. The key challenge is changing public perception around electric vehicles and having publicly visible fleets, either directly through the Government Car Service or stipulated as part of tender requirements, can play a part in achieving this.

1.5 There is a particular air quality benefit to be gained from the use of EVs in urban areas. As a result increased incentives to assist adoption in cities could be one way to ensure the vehicles are being adopted for the right applications in the right areas.

The Contribution of Plug-in Vehicles to Decarbonising Transport

1.6 According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Transport, domestic transport (excluding international aviation and shipping) as a sector, is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 21% of the UK’s emissions in 2008. Of that 21%, road transport accounts for around 90% of transport CO2 emissions (55.2% passenger cars, 12% light duty vehicles, 3.7% buses, HGVs 18%, 0.5% mopeds and motorcycles).1

1.7 Plug-in vehicles are therefore an important way to tackle the decarbonisation of transport. The UK needs to meet its climate change targets and plug-in vehicles present a ready technology that can be used, if applied in a sensible way. However, we need to ensure that whole-life costs are used as the basis of measurements of cost/effectiveness so that we get a true picture of the level of “decarbonisation” which is actually being done. By their very nature plug-in vehicles will increase the demand for electricity, which at the moment is not derived from the cleanest of sources.

1.8 In 2009, the European Commission Mobility and Transport Directorate issued a Communication on the Future of Transport, which included a consultation on their findings. The IET responded to that consultation making particular reference to low carbon vehicles. In our response we stated that grid powered electric vehicles will only reduce carbon emissions if they draw their electricity from wholly or largely carbon free sources. A low carbon transport strategy has serious implications for electricity demand and clean electricity, at the moment the average grid CO2/kWhr ranges from a peak of 470g/kWhr to a low of around 360g/kWhr. Our view has not changed since we made this response.

1.9 Any decarbonisation strategy based on plug-in vehicles needs to consider whole life emissions costs, both in manufacture and in operation. If we are not specific about what we add up and measure, we could end up manufacturing vehicles with a high carbon intensity of production (such as battery and motor manufacture) while increasing demand for “dirty” electricity as part of vehicle operation. Whole life costs must be at the heart of a plug-in vehicle decarbonisation strategy.

1.10 The absence of a clear procedure for a whole life cost approach that is common across Government demonstrates the urgent need for joined up planning between Department for Transport ambitions and Department for Energy and Climate Change electricity generation predictions. In particular a clear strategy is needed now on the role of smart grids and smart meters in helping to meet this challenge. The Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) could play a role in joining up this strategy. The IET has provided significant evidence on the need for a joined up strategy between smart grids, smart meters and plug-in vehicles, combining the input and expertise of our Transport, Energy, IT and Communications Policy Panels.2

1.11 The 2008 King Review suggested that the complete decarbonisation of road transport could be possible by 2050, if electric vehicle technology is significantly improved. This has been affirmed by the Committee on Climate Change who state that electric vehicles are the most viable of the potential technologies to be employed to deliver “deep” emissions cuts in car and van emissions through the 2020s.3

Uptake of Plug-in Vehicles and how this can be Improved

1.12 The uptake of electric vehicles has been lower than expected. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) set a target of 5,000 electric vehicle car registrations for 2010, we understand that only 167 were registered in that year. Alongside this we have had developments around “new car” internal combustion engine CO2 emissions, with a target of 155.5 gCO2/km set by the CCC for 2010, but this figure being better than target at 144.2 gCO2/km.4 This compares to an average electric vehicle gCO2/km figure of around 80.

1.13 The aims and objectives of policy in the short and long term need to be clearer. Hybrid vehicles could be a good stepping stone in the short term, to overcome “range anxiety” concerns and other transitional fears. This would be a useful but not a total policy solution until the long run when the acceptance of electric vehicles and plug-in technology is more widespread amongst the public.

1.14 Alongside this short term strategy, Pure-EVs could be pursued in areas where they are more suited such as part of fleet procurement. Pure-EV capability is more restricted than conventional vehicles and costs are significantly greater. This limits current rates of adoption in the private vehicle fleet. Pure-EVs may (in the short term) be more suited to fleets with a suitable duty cycle which would allow periods of charging. While this strategy is pursued further steps can then be taken to ensure the electricity fuel mix is decarbonised and that smart meters and smart grids are rolled out effectively.

1.15 History demonstrates that environmentally beneficial technologies (such as unleaded fuel, catalytic converters) will not be adopted if there is a significant extra cost to businesses if the sole justification is environmental benefit; cost neutral subsidy or legislation has been required to promote or force adoption.

1.16 One of the key issues inhibiting take up is the cost of batteries and as a result most research is focused on reducing this cost. No major improvements in range or performance are expected in the next five to ten years, as most vehicles available in this timeframe are already being designed to utilise available technologies.

1.17 If battery energy density can be increased (and this will probably need to double), while charging time and costs are reduced, then pure EVs and plug-in hybrids will be more attractive for mass adoption. New battery/super capacitor technologies may deliver such improvements over the next five years, but these would then need to be included as part of vehicle design and enter service over a longer period. Cost is likely to remain an issue inhibiting uptake.

1.18 We need a better understanding of who benefits the most from adoption of the current technologies and promote uptake in these sectors. There is a particular air quality benefit of EVs in urban areas. As a result increased incentives to assist adoption in cities could be one way to ensure the vehicles are being adopted for the right applications in the right areas.

1.19 Given the issues identified with commercial fleet adoption, large scale adoption should be led by the public sector in fleet purchase, including public transport contracts requiring low or zero emissions on a large scale. Such fleets tend to be focussed in urban areas and private sector procurements may be driven by costs and not social/ethical factors. If the Government wants to trigger a change, it needs to lead by example and either include tender requirements to contain x% EVs or to specify that the average emissions of a fleet must be below a certain figure. This could then encourage adoption of appropriate vehicles.

The Effectiveness of the Plugged-in Places Scheme

1.20 The ambition behind the Plugged-In Places (PiP) scheme is set out by the Department for Transport on their website:5

1.20.1To inform wider roll out of infrastructure as mainstream electric vehicles come to the UK, the Government is supporting the “Plugged-In Places” programme. The scheme offers match-funding to consortia of businesses and public sector partners to support the installation of electric vehicle recharging infrastructure in lead places across the UK.

1.20.2Data derived from the programme about how drivers use and recharge their electric vehicles will provide the necessary evidence base to shape the design of a national system of recharging infrastructure.

1.21 We believe that the PiP scheme does need to be evaluated. Anecdotally it has been suggested that one of the ambitions behind the scheme was to reassure the public around the issue of range anxiety, ie that you will always be able to charge if required. Feedback from EV trials suggests that charging posts create a reassurance that if they did need to be used, they would be there. Charging posts which include “fast charge” as an option are also popular amongst users.

1.22 As discussed earlier, policy should be clearly focussed toward the fleets that can make the greatest difference. This could be initiated in public sector fleets such as the Government Car Service or other areas of large public shareholding such as the Royal Mail. Publicly visible EV fleets such as taxis, buses, mail/shopping delivery, may do more to build the public perception of EVs over time alongside the current approach of PiPs.

1.23 The future of on-street infrastructure will be privately funded but a wider question around redundancies is raised. Some of the current network is based on a low ampage current, to help with assuaging safety fears and as a result charge times are longer. Safety concerns may be alleviated through the development of standards, such as the IET’s recently published Code of Practice for Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment Installation.

1.24 Most charging posts will need retrofitting as technology advances to allow fast but safe recharging, while also being interoperable. While obvious, it should also be pointed out that home charging is more difficult for those who do not have a garage/drive.

1.25 In addition if future low carbon vehicles are based on other technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, there would be a reduced requirement for a national EV recharging network. This latter point raises a wider question about what the government’s fuel preference is for road transport. The Plug-In Car grant is applicable to ultra-low emission cars, including hydrogen-fuelled vehicles and has recently been expanded to include Plug-In Vans. Policy in this area needs clarification.

The Role of Plug-in Vehicles Alongside other Technologies to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Road Transport

1.26 There are many technological challenges which need to be overcome such as battery technology. The challenge is how to kick start this research and get it to a position to be rolled out efficiently. Making the funding follow technology is a good principle but is difficult to implement. Another way around direct funding is to provide taxes and rebates to incentivise research amongst manufacturers to help drive down costs.

1.27 A low carbon transport solution does not have to mean only plug-in vehicles, some other cross-cutting and cross-transport industry technological developments can help to reduce carbon emissions. For example, developments in materials can help to dramatically reduce both body and component weight. For example, Drayson Racing Technologies are experimenting with reducing the need to carry around a EV battery through the use of structural composite batteries, where the shell of their Le Mans Prototype car is the battery itself.

1.28 The announced Transport Systems and Smart Cities Catapult Centres could well play a crucial role in seeking out some of these cross industry technological requirements to help share knowledge on how transport as a whole can be decarbonised, disappointingly however this has not been included in the list of initial challenges to be tackled.

1.29 Some of the challenges which could be driven by tax incentives and rebates include:

Efficiency improvements in internal combustion engines and the addition of mechanical energy recovery systems still have significant potential to reduce emissions.

Carbon-free charging from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Linked to an increase in photovoltaic cell installation increase.

Technology to support contactless recharging.

Use of hybrid technologies with either bio-fuels, hydrogen (fuel cell) or gas to reduce the emissions of range extenders even further.

April 2012

1 2008 greenhouse gas emissions—final figures, DECC, 2010 & Carbon Pathways Analysis, DfT, July 2008

2 See for example our Key Topics page on Smart Grids:

3 Committee on Climate Change, Electric cars & vans

4 Challenges and opportunities in meeting carbon budgets, Committee on Climate Change Presentation given at Smart Cities 2011 conference


Prepared 20th September 2012