Nissan Autonomous Drive Vehicle. Image by Norbert Aepli. Shared under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
There is a great deal of excitement about the potential of driverless vehicles (also called self-driving, autonomous, connected and autonomous (CAV)) to contribute to a safer, cleaner, and more efficient and equitable transport system. New entrant (e.g. Tesla) and incumbent (e.g. Volvo) vehicle manufacturers, mainstream news media, the government and even the Queen are all leading discussions of the UK’s role in the design, development, demonstration, manufacturing, and use of driverless technologies. Read more ›
As the weather turned really cold for the first time last month the UK government published its latest piece of research into fuel poverty (energy poverty) – a report on the behaviours and attitudes of the fuel poor.
The research report contains some interesting if not wholly new insights into the experience of fuel poverty, situational trends within the group and coping strategies.
The researchers interviewed households across a number of inner urban areas, some of who were deemed to have a high likelihood of fuel poverty and others deemed to have a low likelihood. It covered issues around heating the home, bills and paying for energy, accessing advice and energy saving measures. A number of statistically significant trends between the two groups emerged but the strong trends that struck me were: those with a higher likelihood of fuel poverty are less likely to use central heating in the home and if they do they are less likely to have adequate controls; they are notably more likely to be using pre-payment which in some cases is reported to be preferred as a method of managing fuel expenditure and avoid unexpected bills (which highlights the potential for smart meters, but only with really user friendly user displays, to help this group move from expensive pre-payment tariffs but maintain control of their expenditure); and they were significantly less likely to have installed the main energy efficiency measures due in part to the fact a much higher proportion of the high risk group lives in private rented sector.
The survey also asked about energy advice and found that significantly fewer higher likelihood households had ever switched energy supplier. Of those who had accessed advice, the higher likelihood of fuel poverty group found it harder to do so than the low likelihood group which is worrying and indicates that services are perhaps not reaching the most vulnerable and in need. When asked what medium for advice is preferred, although both groups preferred web-based sources first followed by face-to-face, those within the higher likelihood of fuel poverty group that the surveyors deemed to be most in need preferred face-to-face advice.
These are a few of the headlines I take away from reading the report but my overarching thought is a reminder that fuel poverty is complex. Multiple causal and contributing factors influence the diverse group of households that experience fuel poverty, these households each develop different attitudes and coping strategies to manage the need to heat and power their homes affordably, avoiding surprise bills and arrears.
Given this vast complexity our strategy for reducing and eventually eliminating fuel poverty needs to respond appropriately. No single ‘one size fits all’ policy measure has proven (in nearly 2 decades) in the UK to be sufficient to address not only the short term need to reduce the cost of energy and deal with fuel debts but also to provide longer-term protection to prevent a return to a stress situation in the next heating season or when energy costs rise. Furthermore, we are still lacking a truly effective but cost effective targeting method to ensure that those who are in need are eligible for and reached by the support available.
In order to reach the diverse group of the fuel poor, and particularly the vulnerable and socially marginalised, I believe we need a complex referral network (e.g. healthcare services, citizen’s advice, social housing providers, etc.) and a well-rounded service into which to make referrals.
With all of this in mind I was really pleased to come across a new briefing also published recently by the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand at the University of Sussex on the role of ‘energy cafes’ in alleviating fuel poverty. The briefing is written with South East London Community Energy which runs an energy café (not far from where I live). Energy cafés (or energy shops) are a local initiative providing face-to-face energy advice in an informal, physical space, often on a temporary or pop-up basis. The CIED have found that the combined benefits for clients typically outweighs the costs of the service by a factor of three. They found that a drop-in service is cheaper to deliver than a home visit but the service can act as a ‘triage’ referring clients on to the most suitable further support whether that be a home visit to assess and recommend energy efficiency measures, support from a local authority, health service or community group.
The energy café approach unsurprisingly shares many of the principles of broader energy advice for renovation that we, as the Energy Advice Exchange, have been promoting over the last couple of years. For example, the importance of a local service that is physical and provides face to face support, supported by outreach or marketing, which offers not just a single service but a range of support that can be tailored to the client’s needs.
CIED conclude that, coupled with a strong interagency referral network and the all-important funding, there is clear potential for good quality, trusted, local energy advice to alleviate fuel poverty. Unfortunately, in UK the quantity and quality of energy advice has been cut over recent years.
All consumers, particularly those who are most vulnerable, benefit from client focussed services that can respond to their own complex situation and draw together the various support available – whether that be, in the situation of fuel poverty, energy supplier programmes, debt advice or energy efficiency advice or measures. And energy cafés are just one example of many throughout Europe to help empower consumers – to save energy in their homes and improve their quality of life. No consumers can be left behind in the energy transition so we need to learn from and replicate these good examples.
Events across the country are taking place this week to create public awareness around saving money on energy bills. The Big Energy Saving Week is an initiative run by Citizens Advice, the Energy Saving Trust and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and its aim is to combat fuel poverty.
The main focus of these events is to tell people about how much money they can save by switching energy supplier. According to the Energy Saving Trust , consumers who haven’t switched energy supplier in the last six years have lost out on £1,500. Read more ›
Reducing energy demand in the transportation sector is one of the most difficult challenges we face to meet our CO2emission reduction targets. Due to the sector’s dependence on fossil fuel energy sources and the monumental negative consequences for climate change, air pollution and other social impacts, countless researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders view a widespread transition to electric mobility as both feasible and socially desirable.
How do we go about making it happen? As researchers working on low carbon mobility we need to start looking beyond technical challenges and look at the role of consumer acceptance and driver behavior, as well as the role for policy coordination, to move forward. My colleagues and I have been looking at research on vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-grid-integration (VGI) and found that the focus has been too narrow so far. To help make the transition to electric mobility happen, we need to understand the benefits of the technology and propose areas where research should expand. Read more ›
Despite the hype and excitement, not to mention the fanciful visions put forth by Tesla’s Elon Musk, electric vehicles (EVs) are not yet winning over the transportation sector.
Aside from a few outliers, one to two per cent of the vehicles sold in most developed nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, are electric vehicles. Canada is a clear laggard, with market share well below one per cent.
This is nowhere near the goal set by the Clean Energy Ministerial for electric vehicles to make up 30 per cent of the vehicles sold by 2030, which seems to be the minimum trajectory to achieve the long-term mitigation goals for greenhouse gases.
Despite these unimpressive sales, enthusiasts argue that the electric future is inevitable, driven by ever-cheaper batteries and consumer interest. But we’ve seen such predictions of unbridled optimism before for several alternative fuel visions — all followed by periods of unmet expectations and disappointment.
Perhaps recognizing its lack of progress to date, the Canadian government plans to announce a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Strategy in early 2018.
To help inform this strategy and the Canadian public, my research team at Simon Fraser University, supported by the Metcalf Foundation, has this month released Canada’s ZEV Policy Handbook. This report builds off of our 2016 EV Policy Report, which found that no part of Canada was on its way to meet long-term EV sales goals. Our new handbook provides a toolbox to get us on track.
The future of EVs: Why we need public policy
My team’s published research shows that some of the biggest barriers to EV sales are a lack of supply, limited availability and variety of EV makes and models, and limitations in charging infrastructure. The only thing that can overcome these barriers is public policy.
All of the improvements in cars and trucks over the last century, be they safety, environmental or otherwise, can be linked directly to policy. Seat belts, air bags, unleaded gasoline, fuel economy improvements — all came about through strong policy support.
The same is true for EVs.
For example, much of the initial and ongoing development of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicle technology can be linked to one particular policy: California’s ZEV mandate
First introduced in 1990, the ZEV mandate requires automakers to develop and sell EVs (or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles) in California. Automakers that do not sell enough EVs relative to their other vehicle sales can either buy credits from those that over-comply (e.g. Tesla) or pay a stiff financial penalty.
Only a few regions globally are breaking through the two per cent barrier for EV sales. In each case, policy can be viewed as the main driver.
The clear champion to date is Norway — no other country comes close.
In 2017, about one in every three new vehicles sold in Norway is an EV. The explanation is no secret: Norway offers huge incentives.
Specifically, the country has removed the high taxes typically applied to the purchase of a new car in that country, effectively lowering the purchase price of an EV to about equal that of a conventional vehicle.
California is a different sort of EV champion. For decades, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has sought to support and direct innovation to help the state to achieve its environmental goals. In recent years, CARB has solidified a vision of deep greenhouse-gas mitigation for each sector.
Its approach to passenger vehicles includes a number of complimentary policies — financial subsidies, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access and deployment of charging infrastructure. But what stands out is the ZEV mandate.
This policy is unique in that it puts the onus on automakers to leverage their marketing skills and innovation to build the EV market, and to develop the makes and models that consumers want. In addition to California and the nine other ZEV states, Québec has recently developed a ZEV mandate, along with China.
These two leading regions provide two different strategies for EV success. Norway’s strategy is largely “demand-focused,” using exceptionally large incentives and tax breaks to make EVs more appealing to consumers. California’s strategy, on the other hand, focuses more on the supply side, applying a regulation to automakers to channel innovation and marketing strategy.
In our new ZEV Policy Handbook, we find that both demand-focused and supply-focused policy packages can work in Canada.
The problem is that current policies in Canada, and most countries globally, are too weak: Short in duration and lacking in “teeth.”
Many regions offer EV purchase subsidies, but these are too small and temporary to make a noticeable difference in EV sales in the long term. Ontario’s purchase incentive is notably large, offering $3,000 to $14,000 for an EV. But because it’s not clear if such a policy will be in place for more than a year or two, automakers and other stakeholders don’t get a clear signal if EVs really are the future.
Comparing subsidies and regulations
While both approaches can be successful, they have different strengths and weaknesses. Our handbook compares each policy package across five criteria: Effectiveness, cost-effectiveness for government, political acceptability, complexity and strength of “signal” for transition.
Offering strong, Norway-like subsidies can indeed push EV sales, and subsidies in general are found to be publicly acceptable. However, to have a lasting impact our modelling indicates that such incentives will need to be large in value and offered for a long duration, likely a decade or even longer.
Such a plan would be costly for government, which could lead to public backlash in the long run, not to mention limiting public funds that could be used for other societal benefits such as education or health care.
The ZEV-mandate approach has the advantage of being clear and direct. Automakers are given a sales target, with firm penalties for non-compliance, in effect harnessing and guiding the powers of innovation and product development at the source.
Most immediately, research shows that regions with a ZEV mandate have significantly increased EV availability and EV sales.
In the longer term, such a policy can send a strong, durable signal to the many relevant stakeholders that the transition to electric mobility is under way, producing confidence to develop and build supporting infrastructure and services.
The main drawback is the political resistance by automakers, who understandably bristle at the thought of added regulation. For this reason, some policymakers see a ZEV mandate as politically uncomfortable, especially in regions where automakers have strong political clout, such as Canada, the United States and Germany.
Due to such potential opposition, our handbook also considers a third pathway to success: Dramatic tightening of our vehicle emissions standards, to about 40 per cent of the current fleet average by 2040. Such a policy could also send a signal about a transition to EVs, without requiring extensive government expenditure.
Either way, go big
There is an easy answer for what can make EVs thrive: Strong policy.
However, there is no easy answer for which strategy is best for a given region. Norway and California provide excellent examples of leadership — though each has its own unique cultural and political contexts. Any region, national or subnational, that is serious about supporting EVs will need to consider the trade-offs for themselves.
But it’s clear that the only way to be successful is to go big: Either implementing large subsidies for a long time, or enacting strong, durable regulation with “teeth.”