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UK case study: accelerating the transition to zero emission

Ben Sasson explores how the UK is moving towards an electric future

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show the annual number of new cars made in the UK recently dropped to its lowest level for 66 years. Although this highlights the decline of the UK’s output, it poses an opportunity to accelerate zero emissions vehicle production and halt the downturn in the country’s automotive manufacturing.

As part of its commitment to ban the sale of new vehicles with gasoline and diesel engines by 2030, the UK Government introduced the requirement for all new cars and vans to conform to zero-emissions status by 2035. Sales of electric cars continue to grow, having risen from 190,700 to 267,000 in 2022—with their market share climbing from 11.6% to 16.6%. Moreover, the European Union, one of the world’s largest automotive markets and the UK’s largest importer of vehicles, has recently approved a landmark law that will ensure all new cars sold from 2035 must have zero emission, further emphasising the need to make the transition to zero emission vehicles as quickly as possible.

A number of pieces of legislation that encourage the adoption of zero emission vehicles have been introduced by the government , which in turn set targets for air quality, impose product recall measures for vehicles not meeting a “relevant environmental standard” and encourage the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charge points across the country. However, much is still needed to drive this acceleration to zero emission vehicles.

UK sales data for 2022 (Source: SMMT)

Air quality targets

The Environment Act 2021 imposed a legal duty on the UK Government to introduce two new air quality targets by 31 October 2022 in the form of secondary legislation. A long-term air quality target (set for a minimum of 15 years) which will specify a standard to be achieved, how it will be objectively measured and at what date it should be achieved by. This is intended to encourage long-term investment and provide certainty for businesses; and an ambient air target to reduce particulate matter to an annual mean level of PM 2.5.

These air quality targets were due to be laid before Parliament by 31 October 2022 in the form of a draft statutory instrument, but this deadline has now passed. There are no further timescales as yet for when the targets will be published following this delay.

Product recall

The Environment Act 2021 also introduced a number of provisions to assist with achieving air quality targets, including financial penalties for domestic smoke, environmental recall of motor vehicles and compulsory recall notices for products that do not meet a “relevant environmental standard”. A “relevant environmental standard” is effectively any legal standard that a product is required to meet.

The Secretary of State (SoS) has the power under the Environment Act 2021 to issue a compulsory recall notice (CRN) to a manufacturer or distributor of a relevant product. This notice will require the recipient to organise the return of a relevant product to them, or to any other person specified in the notice, from persons who have been supplied (whether or not directly by the recipient) with the product. The burden of future recall costs will fall on the manufacturer who will need to compensate consumers for vehicles that no longer meet “a relevant environmental standard”.

EV charge points

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 gave Government powers through secondary legislation to mandate that all EV charge points sold and installed in the UK have smart functionality and meet minimum device-level requirements.

The Electric Vehicles (Smart Charge Points) Regulations 2021 came into force on 15 December 2021, with the first part of Schedule 1 brought into effect from 30 June 2022. During the first part of Schedule 1, smart functionality, monitoring and reporting of energy consumption, default smart charging, supplier interoperability and randomised delay functions are legal requirements in any EV chargers sold. From 30 December 2022, the second half of the regulations were brought into effect: cyber and data security requirements.

Charge points are incorporating smart functionality

Building regulations and planning requirements

The Government has passed the Building Regulations etc. (Amendment) England (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (the Regulations), which took effect on 15 June 2022 and set out requirements to install EV charge points in new and newly renovated buildings.

The proposals impact both buildings undergoing renovations/redevelopment and new buildings that are residential, commercial and mixed use. In respect of each form of development there is a “minimum requirement” and a “surplus requirement”, which is relevant either if there are more parking spaces than there are dwellings or in a commercial development context where the total number of parking spaces exceeds ten.

There is a spend cap for new residential EV charge point connection costs of £3,600 (US$4,400) per parking space (the Spend Cap). Where the connection cost exceeds the Spend Cap, then the maximum number of EV charge points should be installed, applying the Spend Cap multiplied by the number of parking spaces that require an EV charge point.

More to be done

The implementation of these new pieces of legislation demonstrates the UK’s push towards zero emission vehicles and net-zero. As consumer demand continues to grow, the transition to zero emission vehicles can be capitalised on by automotive manufacturers which will likely help to stimulate the resurgence of the UK’s automotive industry. However, much is needed to be done if this to be achieved, including greater investment from those businesses who already have a manufacturing presence in the UK, while there is a clear need to develop battery production domestically if the country is to be seen as a leading automotive nation again.

Although the UK is a global leader in the decarbonisation of vehicles, it needs to evolve this to also be a leader in the production of zero emission vehicles, with a stable and reliable supply chain. If the government can re-establish the UK as a viable manufacturing hub, this will not only accelerate the UK’s transition to zero emission vehicles but also the global industry’s.

About the author: Ben Sasson, associate at Gowling WLG


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