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How Polluted Scottish Cities Are Converting Britain to Electric Vehicles

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On a promenade by the River Tay east of the V&A Museum in Dundee, two women roll over a row of electric car chargers with small children in buggies.

Unlike other large street chargers that can clog the pavement and can complain, these “pop-up” devices only appear when activated using the app.

“A lot of people are passing by. [and] said Fraser Crichton, Dundee City Council Corporate Fleet Manager, who is involved in a £3.8 million project to test 26 pop-up chargers across Scotland’s fourth largest city. By the end of next month, an additional 28 will be installed at Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England.

Whether the UK will have enough charging facilities to meet the government’s new 2030 ban on gasoline and diesel cars and vans has recently been a matter of deep concern among MPs and policymakers.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean confirmed on Thursday that the government would enact legislation this year requiring all new homes to have charging stations, but EV experts say providing enough facilities for an estimated 8 million households without charging stations will be a bigger hurdle. said it would. You have access to the driveway where you will install your own device.

In July, the Competition and Markets Authority warned that by the end of 2010, more than 10 times the current number of public devices, estimated at over 25,000, would be needed.

MPs also said in May’s damn report that ministers had “thought enough” and were “not sure” how to expand their charging infrastructure “at the rate they needed.”

Dundee City Council has been investigating how to solve vehicle emissions problems for 10 years. In 2019, Scotland agreed to a net zero carbon emission target for 2045, five years ahead of the broader UK deadline.

The city of 150,000 has the lowest levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful car-related pollutant, on many of Scotland’s streets, with smog “seating and inescapable” as Crichton described as “a bowl”.

Dundee’s Fraser Crichton and Gary McRae | © Robert Ormerod/FT

But with projects like pop-up EV chargers, Dundee has become a laboratory for cities to learn how to meet the 2030 ban.

The city council said it had installed enough public facilities to charge 4,334 vehicles. The same percentage for the rest of the UK is only 1.9%, according to Parliament’s estimate based on government data.

However, Crichton said, it is difficult for local authorities to understand where expensive infrastructure is needed, especially as technology changes very quickly. “You can have too much,” he added.

During the epidemic, local authorities’ budgets also increased. The UK government covers 75% of the cost of installing on-street chargers. In Scotland, the Holyrood administration does the rest, but south of the border, local authorities have to find it in their own budget.

According to Gary McRae, director of electromobility at Urban Foresight, a consulting firm working on the pop-up charger project, providing EV charging is not a statutory obligation for local authorities, and city councils’ enthusiasm and skills for the task can vary widely.

“Electric cars are new and the charging infrastructure is new, so every local authority finds another home. [In] Some local authorities are fleet sections. In some places it’s the highway team, in other places it’s the sustainability team,” McRae said.

Private companies participated in the initial battle for market share. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell proposed installing 50,000 street chargers in the UK by 2025, a third of the total estimated by the government’s official climate advisors to be needed by that date.

The oil major has offered to help UK local authorities share installation costs to accelerate the rollout.

Analysts viewed the move as part of energy and utility’s “land grab” of key charging locations, which are primarily in large and affluent urban locations, with charging “deserts” tending to be left in other areas such as northwest England. There is. .

BP also said it wants to double the size of its public charging network by the end of 2030, from about 8,700 today to over 16,000.

McRae said it was “really difficult to make money at the time” on the charging network, but companies were “positioning” to control key positions.

“10 years later, the number [of EVs] Worth a lot of money and they are in control. [of the assets].”

Even so, it shouldn’t give freedom to private networks, said Greg Archer, director of transport and environment in the UK campaign group.

“Local authorities should be involved in the planning of the local networks they are creating and the development of partnerships with companies,” he said, stressing the complexity of expanding charging, which includes negotiating with grid owners.

“The charging points are very uneven across the UK,” Archer adds, “because there are some local authorities that have put their staff resources into developing charging facilities in those areas, and some have done nothing at all”, Archer adds. .

Public Use Charger at Princes Street in Dundee | © Robert Ormerod/FT

David Bunch, UK President of the Royal Dutch Shell, said “there’s going to be a tremendous amount of stuff” to help the community solve problems.

Transport and Environment believes that fare regulations should be part of the City Council’s legal obligations and that funding for professional “charging officers” should be part of future agreements between central and local authorities.

According to the group, city councils need to “bundle up” charging location packages so that private networks do not pick up key areas and leave rural and marginalized communities unserved.

CMA’s July report showed that of the 5,700 street charging stations installed in the UK, only 1,000 were outside London.

Driver fees and payment methods often require different apps or cards and vary widely from network to network. Experts are concerned that this could become an obstacle to the spread of electric vehicles.

The CMA warns that the “local monopoly” of charging networks can also evolve if “unchecked”.

But Archer thinks his fears about the number of public chargers needed are exaggerated. Traffic and environmental studies show that half of drivers rarely use their car, so they typically only need to fully charge their car twice a month.

“People often imagine that all we need is a line of chargers on every street where our cars are parked,” Archer says. “The reality is that EVs don’t need to be charged that often. No need for an off-site charging station.”

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