Electric cars – will the UK follow in the footsteps of Norway and Japan?

Battery storage has become the latest hot topic of the energy industry and one technology that naturally goes hand-in-hand with advances in battery storage is the electric car. We take a brief look at how other countries have lead by example in this area and what incentives are currently available in the UK.

Japan has a reputation for being space-efficient and a global leader of technological development. This is certainly reflected in the light vehicle fleet of the country; the popular 660cc kei cars and trucks are surprisingly roomy for their size, exempt from certain taxes and can run up to 58 miles per gallon. Why then do so many Japanese opt for electric vehicles (EVs)?

Since the early nineties, for over a decade the government incentivised the purchase of electric vehicles, offering a subsidy of up to 50% of the total cost. From 2013, EV purchasers can claim up to 850,000 yen. In addition, they are exempt from automobile acquisition tax (5% of the purchase price) and automobile weight tax. Electric vehicles also see a reduction from annual automobile tax.

During 2012, global sales of electric vehicles were led by Japan, with 28% market share of the total sales.

The charging infrastructure for electric vehicles rose from just 60 public charging points in 2010 to 1,381 in 2012. The government has set a target to deploy 2 million slow chargers and 5000 fast charging points by 2020.

That said, the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, doesn’t believe the popularity of electric vehicles will last once hydrogen fuel cell cars become more affordable. The Japanese government hopes to introduce subsidies and tax breaks for fuel cell vehicles, as well as more hydrogen fuel stations. They hope for the cost of a fuel cell vehicle to fall to $20,000 by 2025.

Japanese car manufacturers including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are all developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, although they anticipate the initial uptake to be slow. Toyota predicts a combination of electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles in the medium term but in the long term they believe hydrogen vehicles will overtake because of their fast re-fuelling time and ability to travel a greater distance on a single refuel.

Another advantage to both electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles is that they can be indirectly powered by renewables. This is a major benefit in Japan, solar farms are plentiful.

Tokyo is set to become the city with the highest number of electric vehicles by 2023, with 260,000 vehicles (2.3% of the total light vehicles), overtaking the current leader, Los Angeles.

Cities with smaller populations will reach higher figures proportionally. For example, electric vehicles in Oslo are expected to represent 10.7% of the cities light vehicle fleet by 2023. In fact, Dinside Motor recently reported that electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle registrations in the country of Norway during March 2016 made up around 60% of total automotive registrations in the country during the month.

Electric vehicles in Norway get free public parking, free ferry transport and are exempt from tolls on bridges, roads and tunnels. They pay no road tax, no sales tax and no VAT. They can even use free public charging points. Interestingly, Denmark offers similar generous incentives but the uptake has been far lower, perhaps due to a lack of awareness.

What about the UK?

The number of electric vehicle registrations has risen dramatically in the UK in the last few years. The government will currently subsidise the cost of a new electric car by up to £4500, although this incentive will be reviewed again in the near future.

In the UK, electric vehicles are exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty and the running costs can be considerably lower than a petrol vehicle, depending on your tariff. The incentives aren’t quite as attractive as Norway but an electric vehicle might work out cheaper if you are looking at purchasing a new car, particularly if you generate your own renewable energy.

There are currently just a handful of hydrogen fuelling points in the UK but this could rise if the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become more popular.

The UK is also similar to Japan in that we now have a large resource of solar power that can be utilised to power either electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel, which needs to be stored under high pressure. This could be achieved using existing solar PV systems or by installing new systems that are now more affordable than ever. The introduction of battery storage will also play an important role in helping these technologies become viable alternatives to petrol vehicles.