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UK Government subsidises electric and plug-in hybrid cars

The UK Government has launched a strategy to put electric and plug-in hybrid cars on British roads by subsidising £2000-5000 towards buying the first cars when they hit the showrooms – expected from 2011 onwards.

The initiative is part of the Government’s vision to promote low carbon transport over the next five years. The strategy also includes the promotion of infrastructure, supporting technology development and encourages manufacture in the UK, whilst also incentivising consumers.

The funding is included in a £250 million scheme to deliver a “green motoring transformation,” according to the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, says: “Less than 0.1% of the UK’s 26 million cars are electric, so there is a huge untapped potential to reduce emissions.”

Charging points

The strategy also includes plans to provide £20m for charging points and related infrastructure to help develop a network of ‘electric car cities’ and an expansion of an electric and low carbon car demonstration project on British roads – meaning over 200 motorists throughout the UK will have the opportunity to drive an electric or plug-in hybrid car and feedback the information needed to make motoring greener.

The Government has already committed around £400m of support to encourage development and uptake of low emission vehicles. This is in addition to a £2.3 billion package of support for the automotive sector in the economic downturn that has been specifically designed to support the development of green technologies to provide solutions for carbon reduction and a low carbon automotive industry.

Early March, the Government launched its Low Carbon Industrial Strategy: A vision outlining its ambition for the UK to be a world leader in low carbon transport.

Need to use renewable energy

The British Wind Industry Association (BWEA) welcomes the announcement, but warns that the scheme only makes sense if the electricity for electric vehicles comes from renewable energy sources. Policy makers need to ensure that the net saving in greenhouse gas emissions made by switching to electric vehicles is not cancelled by increased emissions from fossil fuel plants supplying the electricity.

Ahead of the announcement made on 16 April, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) also emphasised the importance of using renewables to generate electricity for the cars.

“This move is only as green as the electricity that charges the batteries,” said Gaynor Hartnell, REA Director of Policy. “It is vital that the electric vehicles push ties in directly with an even greater expansion of renewable electricity at all scales.... The Government will need to bring renewables, the network infrastructure and car industries together to ensure that this happens.”

According to REA, 93% of cars do less than 50 miles per day and the charging of the batteries can be done using single phase electricity, by plugging them in at home for overnight charging and/or by plugging them in where they are parked during the day. Decentralised technologies, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) or wind can be used to charge cars locally. The nation’s battery bank would also play a role in smoothing power flows and help with the integration of variable sources of renewable energy such as wind, wave and tidal power.

Economic sense for consumers

According to British daily newspaper The Times, electric cars enjoy tax breaks and exemption from the Congestion Charge in London, although at the moment, there are not many charging points outside of London.

The car lists cars currently available including the G-Wiz city car, the hybrid Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and the Tesla electric roadster. In the near future, consumers can expect a next-generation Toyota Prius (2012), Vauxhall Ampera (2011), BMW’s 500 Mini Es (summer 2009), and the Jad P1-E from former McLaren designer John Dowle.

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Policy, investment and markets