London is a leader on installing rapid electric street chargers and as EV sales grow, we look at what more can be done to help drivers make the switch

Switching to electric may be easier than you think ( Pexals )
More than 5.1 million electric vehicles are on the roads, accounting for 0.5% of the global automotive fleet (around one billion conventional cars are currently on the streets).

The International Energy Agency has set an ambitious target to increase the share of electric vehicles globally to 30% by 2030. London is at the forefront of the zero-emission revolution with more than 20,000 electric vehicles (EVs), 1,700 electric taxis and Europe’s largest electric bus fleet, and the city is aiming to have its entire transport system zero emission by 2050.

To achieve this the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan created in 2018 a taskforce to help increase infrastructure for electric vehicles and make it easier for Londoners to switch to EVs.

Oytun Babacan is a Research Fellow at Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London and his focus is on creating efficiencies around the infrastructure supporting electric vehicles in order to facilitate Londoners to switch from diesel to electric. “I want to make everything faster and more efficient.

“We need to create less barriers to entry for electric vehicles and make it easier for everyone. Most EV buyers are people who have off-street parking because they can charge easily the car at home.

“So my aim is to come up with the most optimal solution and figure out if we were to install 100 charging stations where to put them so the they can be utilised the most,” Oytun says.
Oytun Babacan is a Research Fellow at Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London


But the issue is not just the number and location of those charging points, speed of charging is also key. Rapid charge points exist which unlike the standard ones that take 7-8 hours for a full charge, can charge an electric vehicle within 20-30 minutes allowing high mileage users, such as taxi drivers to quickly charge and hit the road.

London is a leader in this field, with more rapid charging points installed across the capital than many other global cities, including New York, Stockholm and Madrid*. In under two years, London’s network has grown from 24 to over 200 rapid charge points. However, according to Oytun speed comes at a cost. He says: “We still consume a lot of energy in rapid charging points, so overinvesting is not necessarily ideal. As with all new technologies, they develop fast so in three to five years we might have better ones and replacing all of them will come at a cost both financial and environmental.”

Although EV sales grew to more than 2 million units globally in 2018, an increase of 63 percent on a year-on-year basis, their penetration rate remains quite low (2.2 %).

According to Oytun, to increase this rate we need to create incentives. “EVs as a new technology are more expensive, but if we look to Norway for example, the fleet of electric vehicles is the largest per capita in the world with a 10% penetration rate. Norway’s government offers big subsidies to electric vehicle owners, including waived sales taxes,” he says.

But how green are EVs? “Any kind of energy technology is polluting the environment. So if you compare EVs in respect to walking and cycling they are not greener but, if you compare them to combustion engine cars they are way better for the environment,” Oytun says. “Offsetting helps but doesn’t really address the problem, you can’t have 7.7 billion people (the world’s current population) producing carbon dioxide across the globe and then just plant some trees and think it is going to be OK. It won’t,” he adds.

“We can’t continue downplaying the implication of climate change. It is important to be realistic and positive about the future because this is what brings people together to come up with solutions,” Oytun points out.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels this week may sign up to a radical overhaul of its economic policies in the most ambitious package of policies ever implemented to targeting climate change, committing to zero emissions. Is this possible? “It is from a technical point of view, EU is a big economy and has a strong social support, if the leaders push the green agenda forward, they have the support, the economy and the means to make it happen. If there is a region where this is possible this is Europe,” he concludes.

*Information taken from International Council on Clean Transportation report “Electric Vehicle Capitals of the World”, March 2017.

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