A COMMITMENT TO increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on Irish roads is central to the government’s recently published ‘Climate Action Plan’, as the State works towards a target of 950,000 EVs on Irish roads by 2030.
It’s an ambitious target, and one that will require considerable investment in charging infrastructure, alongside a rethink of the current incentive schemes for drivers to make the switch from petrol to electric vehicles.
To put the scale of the challenge in context, Holland currently has 33,000 charge points – 19 per 100km of road.
China has a ratio of 3.5 charging points per 100km, which is certainly impressive when you consider the size of the country and its population, with the UK on 3.1 and Germany on 2.8 respectively.
Ireland currently has around 1,100 charge points across the country, a number too small to register on the ‘per-100km’ scale. It’s clear, then, that we have a long road ahead of us if those EV targets are to be realised.
However, the taxi sector is one area where the use of EVs – particularly hybrids – is growing, with more and more drivers making the switch due to large savings on fuel and a desire to reduce their carbon footprint. Over the past few months Lynk has increased its hybrid EV fleet to 250 cars.
While vehicles such as the Toyota Prius are increasingly in high demand, there are restrictions on how many drivers can avail of them.
Currently, the National Transport Authority is accepting new taxi license applications only for taxis that are fully wheelchair accessible, which rules out the Prius and some other alternatives.
Indeed there are few fully accessible EV cars available, limiting the options open to new drivers looking to own and operate a taxi.
Those EVs that are accessible and available to them currently only have a practical range of around 160km. For a working taxi, this would require two or three charges per day, which is not good for the overall health of the battery and is largely impractical anyway.
The second barrier to greater take-up of EVs among taxi drivers is the cost of the vehicles themselves, but this is likely to fall and be more on a par with diesel cars over the next two to three years.
Continued improvements and upgrades to battery technology will also increase EVs’ range and allow them to travel further between charges, making them a more attractive option for taxi drivers.
Costs around charging will also be of concern. While currently all ESB public charging points are available free of charge, this is set to change later this year with the introduction of a fee for fast charge points, and further fees for using standard public charging points to follow in 2020.
A restructuring of the current grant system available to purchase accessible EVs will also be needed.
For those looking to purchase an accessible EV, grants of up to €7,000 are available. But with the Nissan Leaf costing upwards of €30,000 and other accessible EV options like those from the London EV Company costing in the region of €70,000, fully electric vehicles remain expensive options.
Removing Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) for accessible EVs is one way that their affordability could be improved. Equally, lifting the current €200,000 cap for private firms to invest in EVs would help boost uptake.
Investing in public, taxi-only charge points close to the busiest taxi ranks will also encourage drivers who are on the fence when it comes to making the switch to an EV.
Together with boosting demand, there will be a need to increase the availability and ease of access to charging points.
Home charging is by far the most convenient option for those looking to drive EVs as taxis – and indeed the SEAI offers grants of up to €600 for the installation of home chargers – but more public charging points will also be essential.
Outsourcing the installation of public charge points to private business would be an attractive option, but there are risks associated with this approach – particularly of high costs for individual charges.
While a private motorist may be able to bear these costs, they could easily become prohibitive for taxi drivers looking to drive an EV.
For that reason, private partnerships between businesses and local authorities, that can develop charging infrastructure and cap charge costs for public transport such as taxis, will be key to future-proofing the costs to taxi drivers and passengers, and ensuring the greater proliferation of charge points around the country.
Closer co-operation between the government and private enterprise will prove the quickest and most efficient way of building out Ireland’s EV infrastructure. This approach has already yielded results in countries such as Norway, which now enjoys one of the highest rates of EV ownership in Europe.
As the taxi industry has demonstrated, Ireland has the desire to move rapidly in that direction and increase its uptake of EVs, and the ‘Climate Action Plan’ has set clear targets for EV ownership over the next two decades.
How we approach the challenge of meeting that desire with smart investment and the consistent build-out of EV infrastructure will determine whether those goals can be achieved.
Noel Ebbs is the chief executive of Lynk Taxis