Can electric vehicles help us achieve climate change targets?


We're now less than three weeks away from our annual conference, which this year is looking at the climate emergency affecting us all and will welcome delegates from across the North East to discuss the great work already happening, as well as what more we can do in the region, to help combat it. 

Anna McCready is an investment manager at conference sponsor Brewin Dolphin’s North East charities team, Here are her thoughts on the rise in demand for electric vehicles and the barriers to their wider use.

On our roads, most agree there will be a shift away from diesel and petrol cars in the coming years; the challenge lies in what will take their place and how fast the transition can be achieved. In two of Europe’s biggest economies, France and the UK, governments have pledged to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The UK has set an interim target for half of all new cars sold by 2030 to be ultra-low emission. This would include electric, hybrid and vehicles running on new fuel sources such as hydrogen and biofuel.

In China, electric vehicles (EVs) took 2.4 per cent of market share in 2017, with more than three million on the roads, while globally, two million EVs were sold. Nearly 40 per cent of new car sales in Norway in 2017 were electric models. Iceland and Sweden also saw a significant proportion of new car sales going electric, representing 11 per cent and five per cent of their countries’ respective 2017 market share.

Consumer choice can only go so far

This surge in demand has focused attention on the infrastructural implications of widespread EV use, from charging points to sufficient electricity generation, and various solutions are being explored around the world. In the UK. For example, start up Urban Electric is trialing pop up EV chargers that retract underground, addressing the problem for the 43 per cent of UK households that only have on-street parking. One big challenge is how to manage long journeys without extended stops at charging points.

At the moment, hybrids tend to be the car of choice for conscientious consumers who go on extended journeys. But in Sweden, one solution currently being tested is electrified roads. A mile-long stretch of public road outside Stockholm has been fitted with electric rail, which transfers energy to cars and trucks through moveable arms trailing underneath the vehicles. The National Grid in the UK has also highlighted the possibility of rolling out more rapid chargers that take just five to 12 minutes.

Whatever the process of providing power to the vehicle however, the implementation of large-scale electrified transport will require a correspondent increase in electricity generation and management. One big question is how long that will take.

Looking to the future

According to Filippo Gaddo, Director of Energy, Economics and Regulation at engineering firm Arup, the evidence suggests we should expect a 10 to 20-year transition to EVs for passenger vehicles in the UK.

He said: “Such transition may be slow to start but it will accelerate once the required infrastructure is in place, mainly because the UK will require almost the same amount of infrastructure to accommodate an EV fleet of 10 million as that of 20 million."

The details of redeveloping our infrastructure appear overwhelming, but they will need to be worked out if we are to stand any chance of meeting climate change targets. Transition from old systems to new also provides opportunities for investors. The speed of that change will depend on government policy, market innovation and consumer action, but also on reliable electricity distribution, and infrastructure with the capacity to meet growing demand.

Brewin Dolphin will be taking part in the discussion that looks at the broader climate change issues at the conference on November 7th. To be part of it, book your place on our website under 'Events'.