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Electric vehicles risk causing 'a tale of two cities'

Ev 'filling station' grid 3to2

Electric vehicles could risk widening social divides in the UK as some communities miss out on the benefits of the technology, according to think-tank Localis. 

The think-tank’s report Smart Cities: Fair investment for sustainable growth argues that outdated energy and infrastructure policies must urgently be modernised, and local network operators freed up to invest ahead of demand, if the government is to meet its ambitious targets for ensuring all new cars sold are zero-emission by 2040. 

Localis calls on government to devolve certain Ofgem powers to city regions and strategic authorities, allowing them to develop their own smart city plans and energy policies built upon their own expertise and local knowledge.  

The report argues that without change, families across the UK are at risk of sharing the cost for necessary new energy infrastructure, but not being able to access it for themselves,  

Localis chief executive Jonathan Werran said that we risk “a tale of two cities” in urban areas.  

“Without a change in regulation, behaviour and a wholesale transfer of powers for local energy policies, we risk a tale of two cities in our major urban centres – deepening levels of inequality between the prosperous and more deprived parts of town,” he said.  

“A ‘devolution revolution’ in locally-regulated energy markets has the potential to accelerate the nation’s switch to clean growth, turn UK cities into powerhouses for sustainable and inclusive prosperity and improve livelihoods in towns and cities across the UK.” 

A similar report was published last year looking at low carbon energy in general - Energising Britain. Conducted by researchers from E4tech and Imperial College London, that report praised the rapid decarbonisation of the power sector as a ‘‘feather in the UK’s cap’’ but akin to Werran warned that ‘‘Britain risks creating a two-tier energy system”. 

One issue highlighted by Energising Britain is that investment in clean energy is weighted towards southern regions. For example, the UK’s last remaining coal-fired power stations are in Yorkshire, the Midlands, the North West and Wales. Whereas no thermal generation plants remain in London. 

Recommendations in the Localis report include:  

  • Upgrades to networks to enable smart energy and the roll-out of EVs must be done fairly to ensure equitable opportunities for households across different socioeconomic backgrounds and to ensure existing disparities are not exacerbated. 
  • Ofgem should loosen regulations to allow energy network providers to invest ahead of demand.  
  • Certain regulatory powers of Ofgem should be regionally devolved so that cities can develop their own energy policy. 
  • Local authorities should be given a mandate to form consortia and develop smart city plans which integrate various initiatives across geographical boundaries.  
  • Public awareness of the environmental and financial benefits of smart city growth and development should be increased.  
  • Local government should work with private energy network providers to deliver physical infrastructure.  
  • In developing smart city strategies, private providers should be given access to public data and vice versa.  
  • Government must produce a standardised framework for electric vehicle charging equipment and associated infrastructure upgrade requirement 

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