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The case for electric vehicles

It is widely accepted that electric vehicles (EVs) will have lower running costs, are quieter, better for the environment and simpler to repair. National government policy is encouraging a transition away from internal combustion engines and towards ultra-low emission vehicles, including EVs, over the next 20 years. Below we set out some of the key reasons why many councils are already promoting EVs and charging infrastructure.


Air pollution

We are still discovering new ways in which polluted air affects our health but it has been shown to cause or worsen a range of lung and heart conditions including: asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic heart disease (CHD), and stroke.

As a result of suffering from these conditions, many people are less able to work and need more medical care. In this way, air pollution costs our economy and our NHS millions of pounds every year.

As a result of these conditions many people also die earlier than they otherwise would. In 2018, a committee of health experts brought together by the Government estimated that at least 28,000 people die prematurely in the UK every year as a result of poor air quality.

Road transport is a major source of air pollutants, including 34 per cent of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) (contributing to 80 per cent of concentrations at the roadside), 12 per cent of particulate matter (PM) and four per cent of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

Full EVs have zero exhaust emissions. This means they do not release NOx emissions or carbon dioxide. However, they still generate some PM from wear on brakes and tyres.

Given current concerns about on air pollution, especially Nitrogen Dioxide levels which are above EU legal limits in many towns and cities, transitioning a council’s fleet would show that it is leading by example.

Carbon reduction and climate change

Today, transport is the largest greenhouse gas‑emitting sector in the UK, accounting for 28 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.2 Road transport accounts for 87 per cent of this. If we are to meet our commitments to reduce carbon emissions there will have to be a switch to much greater use of active travel for short journeys. However some journeys will inevitably need to be taken in cars and, in the future, EVs will ensure those journeys are taken in a way that minimises carbon emissions.

Making the case for electric charging investment

Battery EVs have significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, even when taking into account the emissions from producing electricity.

In the UK, a battery electric car is estimated to have greenhouse gas emissions which are 66 per cent lower than a petrol car and 60 per cent lower than a diesel, when recharged using electricity from the national grid.3 As the proportion of renewable and low carbon electricity supplied via the grid continues to grow, electric vehicle emissions will continue to fall in parallel.

To realise the maximum reduction in emissions, drivers or organisations can choose to recharge their EVs using renewable energy, for example through generating energy on-site or at home, selecting a renewable energy tariff or using chargepoint companies that have committed to only using renewable energy for their networks.

Reduced motoring and fleet costs

Switching to EVs can be economically advantageous for fleet operators, in both the public and private sector, and car drivers more widely. As electricity is cheaper than petrol and diesel per mile, EVs are cheaper to operate. EVs are also mechanically simpler than conventional vehicles so are likely to be more reliable and need less servicing, lowering costs for consumers and businesses

. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) is able to offer free, in-depth Ultra Low Emission Fleet Reviews to both private and public sector organisations. This analysis helps fleets to identify when EVs would be appropriate and cost-effective for them. More information can be found in ‘Next Steps’.

Resident and business demand

In the Government’s social attitude survey on motorists’ views on upgrading to EVs, the two most important issues raised after the purchase cost were the distance that could be travelled on a single charge and the availability of charging infrastructure.

Councils can help release the latent demand for EVs by providing EV charging infrastructure in their areas, increasing driver confidence. Councils can also encourage drivers to switch to electric cars in a range of ways, including by identifying an EV champion or committing to free or discounted parking permits for EVs, following the example of Milton Keynes.


Road traffic is the single biggest contributor to noise pollution according to analysis done by the European Environment Agency.

Noise from conventional vehicles affects human health and damages the environment. The World Health Organization estimates that the noise impact of road traffic is second only to pollution as the biggest environmental impact of vehicles. In England alone, the annual social cost of urban road noise is estimated to be £7–£10 billion.

Although the noise of vehicles travelling above 12 mph is principally due to tyres and road surface noise, at the lower speeds typically found in urban centres engine noise is the main contributor.

At low speeds, vehicles driven by electric motors are significantly quieter than those powered by conventional engines.

The potential reduction in noise should be transformative for those living close to busy roads and city centres. A reduction of urban noise levels by 3dB can reduce annoyance effects by 30 per cent. At average central London speeds, the reduction in vehicle noise arising from the use of EVs is approximately 8dB.9

Income generation

There are many different models for the deployment of charging infrastructure. This includes models where provision is left to private firms who will take on the commercial risks and the local authority exposure is minimal. There is also potential for charging infrastructure to raise revenue for councils or to be installed for little capital expenditure.

Different models will be appropriate for different areas. Higher-power chargepoints and chargepoints in busy locations are likely to be more profitable and the best choice will also depend on the council’s appetite for taking on risk and the availability of government grant funding. Some councils have already shown that charging infrastructure can be a revenue generating opportunity for councils. Transport for Greater Manchester and Oxford City Council have been looking at how they can generate income and you can find out more in their case studies.