Paul Minto: More power to our future motoring needs

Paul Minto, Addleshaw Goddard
Paul Minto, Addleshaw Goddard
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If you are currently in the market for a brand-new car, you’d be forgiven for being confused as to when to make your purchase. In the good old days, you would wait until 1 August safe in the knowledge the milometer would be in single figures. As a result of the changes to car registrations brought in by the DVLA in recent years, 1 September was the second point in the year when new car registrations are issued – the other being 1 March.

In the run up to 1 September, we heard from Ford, the producer of the UK’s two top-selling cars in the Focus and Fiesta models, announce a UK-wide scrappage scheme for diesel and petrol cars older than seven years.

Ford’s efforts, alongside other major manufacturers, are driven largely to reduce carbon emissions but also pave the way for an increase in electric vehicles on our roads. The UK government’s Office of Low Emission Vehicles, OLEV, has been quietly awarding grants for electric vehicle charging points to fuel this emerging market.

There are now more than 107,000 electric vehicles and 25,000 charging points in the UK. Those numbers are set to increase with dramatic improvements in battery technology, and the introduction to UK parliament of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, designed to promote and standardise the charging infrastructure.

It’s clear to see that the internal combustion engine is now under threat and transport in the UK is facing disruptive changes.

Although this growth in electric vehicles may go some way to decrease the demand for fossil fuels, there is concern from other quarters that by increasing our need for electricity, it may in fact put more pressure on the National Grid.

Michael Gove’s July announcement that he would ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, was met with some criticism that the UK could not produce enough electricity to cope with demand.

However, National Grid’s “Future Energy Scenarios”, issued in July, has set out how the grid will cope with providing electricity as a transport fuel.

In the private sector we are seeing the early-movers investing in the supply chain infrastructure for this new transport phenomena. Throughout the UK transport agencies are tendering for network infrastructure to fuel the arrival of the many new car models.

Transport Scotland, like OLEV, is encouraging the growth of the charging network by grant funding. Scotland has many remote places without petrol stations and, perhaps more importantly, without adequate electricity supply. This opens a gap for electricity providers and the transport sector to work together.

Scotland’s geography and weather has given it a natural advantage in renewable energy generation so can we create a new industry sector to supply that green electricity for vehicle charging?

The current pricing regime for electricity as a transport fuel offers good opportunities for generators to supply directly to the vehicle. Could this be a model for community energy groups to provide charging points in the more remote parts of Scotland?

Similarly, power supply contracts between the energy providers and operators of large electric fleets, infrastructure and transport providers, would seem to be a win-win situation.

Today is the official opening of Scotland’s largest infrastructure project for a generation – the Queensferry Crossing. It’s estimated more than 24 million vehicles will use the bridge every year. On the basis that one in every 2,000 vehicles is electric, that’s about 12,000 journeys every year fuelled by electricity across our new bridge. It’s been built to last for many generations to come, but how long will it be before we see it feature electric vehicle-only lanes or driverless cars?

Paul Minto is a partner in Addleshaw Goddard’s energy and utilities team. Paul specialises in energy and climate change law, planning, procurement and environmental matters.