Two Charging Stations for Each Electric Car in Europe
Many motorists will be aware that the government has been investing heavily in an electric-car recharging network, but few may realise just how big that investment has become.
Now government ministers have revealed that taxpayers' money has been used to build a network of around 58,000 charging stations. That is almost double the number of electric cars that are actually on the road, which was 24,500 as of the end of 2015, according to statistics provided by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles. To add a little context to the figures, there are currently more than six times the number of electric-car charging points as there are petrol stations in the UK.
The investment in installing electric-car charging stations really took off in 2013, when the government announced a fund of £37 million to build the charge points. Hard-up local authorities were also expected to contribute to the cost of building the network. The £37 million fund was part of a wider £400 million package put towards encouraging UK drivers to buy more electric cars.
At the time, government ministers said that the generous investment package was necessary in order to ensure that the UK cemented its position as an international leader in the development and use of the electric car. Despite these good intentions and the sizeable investment that has been made, however, the reality of take-up of electric cars has been lower than all but the most pessimistic forecasts. In fact, there are reports that suggest that so low is the demand that many of these electric-car charging stations have never once been used.
It seems that, despite the government's enthusiasm, the future of electric cars in our transport sector is anything but assured. There are now competing technologies to consider, with the world's biggest car-maker, Toyota, committing itself to hydrogen fuel cell cars. This, it should be remembered, is the same company that made electric hybrid cars popular with the Prius. Other cars are being developed to run on biofuels or even alcohol.
The green credentials of electric cars are often trumpeted by their supporters, but some scrutiny is needed here. For example, according to a senior Toyota engineer involved in their electric-car programme, rapid charging of an electric car to cover just 500 miles would use the same electricity as powering 1,000 houses for the same time. This creates real problems for managing demand on the electricity grid.
It seems that Toyota is turning away from electric cars, and it has invested substantial sums in the development of hydrogen fuel cell technologies. The company is of the view that this approach is more practical than using electric cars, because the hydrogen cars take only seconds to refuel and they have a far longer range than electric cars. Both the refuelling time and driving range are in fact very similar to petrol cars.
Electric cars are sold heavily on their green credentials, but the fact is that they can only be as green as the electricity that they use, and in the UK most of that electricity is generated in power stations using fossil fuels - exactly the type of fuel that we are trying to eliminate due to CO2 emissions and climate change. It should also be pointed out that the number of electric cars claimed by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles includes plug-in hybrids, which, of course, also use standard fuels.
The investment in electric-car charging points comes at a time when the Department for Transport is being asked to cut its budget by around £500 million. Drivers of normal cars are sure to be asking whether that money could be better spent on addressing the backlog of repairs needed on our roads, which local authorities say they cannot afford to fund. Nevertheless, the government has said that it remains committed to supporting low-emissions vehicles.