On the 15th February we co-hosted an important two-part event with our member Arup at their offices in Cardiff Bay.
The aim of the event was to enable policy makers, researchers, manufacturers, service providers, journalists, campaigners and concerned citizens to debate the future of cars and to draw some key recommendations for decision makers in all sectors.
We were supported in developing the event by colleagues from the IWA, Renewable UK Cymru and the National Trust. We will be publishing a detailed report with the IWA in a few weeks.
Part one of the event was an invitation-only session designed to enable industry experts to provide advice for local and national government specifically on the topic of an electric vehicle charging network for Wales. Delegates debated specific points within this topic and the conclusions are summarised as follows:
1. Welsh Government finance for a charging network:
Public money should be spent where it will produce a net economic benefit and create a charging network that supports the government aims on active travel, decarbonisation, health, and economic/social equality of opportunity. The Government should be careful not to see electric vehicles as a solution or end in themselves but as one aspect of an integrated approach.
2. Enabling companies and large public bodies to convert fleets of vehicles to electric:
Corporate fleet managers are cautious about making what would be a major investment, but where business operations and the built estate is appropriate, an electric fleet would bring a considerable economic advantage. Workplace charging backed up by supply from on-site renewables has to be matched by an adequate public charging infrastructure. Pioneers need to be enabled to communicate to their peers why (and when) a switch to electric vehicles is beneficial. Local and national government can provide incentives to businesses by changes to the tax and planning systems.
3. The role of local authorities in enabling a switch to electric vehicles:
Generally, the goal of local authorities should be to encourage more active travel and public transport in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act. While there is increasing pressure on authorities to improve air quality, presiding over a switch from fossil fuel to electric or hydrogen vehicles will do nothing for the economy if levels of congestion continue at current levels. Some decisions around charging infrastructure are not within the remit of authorities and the market will evolve outcomes. Authorities can however influence the market through taxes, licences, planning permission and public procurement. Authorities have a significant role to play in switching public transport to electric or hydrogen.
4. Ensuring communities and citizens receive a net benefit from a transition to EVs:
Communities can own their own renewable energy production, particularly in rural areas. Linking this with charging points increases the potential revenue for communities. Car sharing through car clubs becomes particularly attractive if there is a co-ordination between community owned renewables, charge points and community owned electric vehicles. If this triangulation is well managed, becoming a car-free household could become viable for people on low income. There is a danger that in an interim period, the cost of buying an electric vehicle may result in less well-off households bearing the burden of the increasing costs of fossil fuel cars particularly in urban areas where clean air zones may become common. A growing electric vehicle market however will eventually bring costs down and increase the supply of cheaper second hand electric vehicles. In rural communities, the fossil fuel and hybrid car will remain important for some time until the charging infrastructure reaches a sufficient level.
5. Ensuring that infrastructure for electric vehicles can adapt to changes such as the growth in autonomous and connected vehicles:
There is a real potential that electric vehicles and large domestic storage batteries could be part of a super-grid of interconnected assets that are managed through internet technology to smooth out the peaks of demand versus supply. This would mean that cars and households could become suppliers of electricity as well as consumers. In an age of increasing autonomous (driverless) vehicles however and a greater sophistication in the business models of “mobility as a service” most citizens will not need to own a car. For 95% of the time, the vast majority of cars are idle. For most people that is a poor return on what is a massive investment. Trends suggest that younger people are less interested in owning cars and are more ready to rent the services that cars provide whether this is via Uber-style companies or car clubs. To make owning a car less attractive, you have to be able to rely on data connectivity so that when you want it, a car is available via an app on your phone. There is therefore a critical consistency between power supply, connections and the physical environment that governments have to plan for and deliver. Each of these three elements has to evolve in pace with the other: smart cars, whether autonomous or with a human driver, require smart cities and this means we have to ensure that our power supply, personal communications devices, streetscape, and vehicles operate together, supported by a robust wireless internet technology. To live in a city of autonomous vehicles and no traffic lights, you have to be confident that the communications technology will not fail.
In Conversation with…
Part two of the event took place in the evening as a conversation between experts from different fields. The conversation developed the themes established in the afternoon and with contributions from the audience, focused on the need to evolve a society where there were fewer cars. The benefits of electric and hydrogen vehicles were recognised but it was also emphasised that all cars place a burden on the natural environment. The social justice aspects of the electric car revolution were discussed with reference to the large capital costs of owning an electric car. The consensus appeared to be that electric car clubs, particularly when run as a social enterprise and/or associated with community owned renewables, should be enabled and encouraged as a means of improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions and congestions. There was some debate over how realistic it was to expect a major shift from fossil fuels to electric, in part because the grid is not currently configured to be able to cope with demand. One view expressed was that hybrid engines will and should continue to play a major part in the Welsh economy not least because a large number of Welsh jobs are provided by the motor manufacturing industry.
In conclusion, we should expect and we should encourage a growth in electric vehicles. They are not however a panacea for the twin evils of poor air quality and rising greenhouse gas emissions. We should plan our economy to use electric vehicles as a supporting factor in a deeper cultural shift to a service economy that involves less ownership and consumption of resources. In other words, in the future there will be fewer cars consuming fewer precious, natural resources. The cars that will exist will emit fewer greenhouse gasses and as well as consuming energy, will provide a back-up storage.
Our view is that we will see the evolution of the motor car proceed at a different pace and in a different way, depending on location. One thing we are sure of however, is that change is coming soon.[:]