Opinion on a vital motoring issue has come from an unlikely source, who says that, for the vast majority of the British public, owning an electric vehicle (EV) is completely out of the question. As this form of transport has been widely hailed as being a core weapon in the UK’s quest to become carbon neutral by 2050, this opinion will perhaps not be welcome by those in government. That the man voicing it is himself a government spokesman made famous by the covid pandemic may also come as an unwelcome shock to many. Be that as it may, his respected pronouncements should be food for thought for every British citizen.
Sir Patrick Vallance is the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government. From the onset of the covid pandemic in 2020, he and Sir Chris Whitty stood at lecterns either side of the Prime Minister and other top politicians on a daily basis, to give the British public advice through one of its toughest tests in recent history. Still in his same government role, Sir Patrick has appeared before the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, to give his expert opinion as to how the British public can achieve its ambition of slowing down global climate change.
During the course of his submission, Vallance enforced the need for cutting down on eating meat, increasing cycle use and lowering air travel. One thing he did not promote, however, was buying more electric vehicles. This omission, he said, did not come because owning EVs is a bad idea; more, that large their wholesale uptake by the UK’s driving public is, as things stands, just not going to happen. Quite simply, there are still far too many obstacles in the way to making driving electric a realistic option within British society.
This opinion appears to be completely contradictory to the UK Government’s own policies and initiatives. It has already announced a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel powered vehicles after 2030, giving the country twenty years to hit its 2050 net zero target. In many ways, it could be argued that the British public are also on board with the push to take up EVs. In 2021, the sale of these vehicles exceeded those sold over the preceding five year period; this despite the lingering effects on motoring of the the covid pandemic restrictions. Industry reports for 2022 indicate that even the 2021 figure is likely to be doubled.
Investment in infrastructure has also been targeted by the government as a priority. MOT testing centres already have the equipment to examine EVs, for example. Also, in March 2022, it announced plans to expand the number of charging points to 300,000 by 2030, in order to meet the expected demand as the petrol and diesel ban comes into force. If achieved, these stations would outnumber the current petrol stations by five to one. With current record high prices, this would surely seem to be an attractive future, carrying the added advantage of not relying on fuel supplies from any particular part of the world.
Despite the public demand and political push to make EVs the most popular cars and vans on the roads, however, Sir Patrick Vallance says the likelihood of this happening by 2030 is approximately zero. In large part, this will be because of a lack of infrastructure. Even if the government’s proposed 300,000 target is met, this will fall well short of the numbers needed. If the trend for buying EVs continues, experts predict their total presence on UK roads will be 18 million by 2030. Assuming industry figures of the need for 1,176 charging points per 100km, this will mean a shortfall of more than 75% over the network.
There are many factors that account for this shortfall; disruptions in global supply chains as a result of covid being one of them. Another, and probably more significant in the run up to 2030, is the shortage of trained staff to install and maintain charging stations. This shortage has already been witnessed in the MOT testing sector, where, despite the correct equipment being in place, trained mechanics have left to take up better paid jobs, particularly as HGV drivers. In fact, the situation is so dire that a major representative of the motoring industry fears that only 6.5% of workers are fully trained for the demands of maintaining an EV fleet.