“It could destroy domestic wiring systems”: on the unexamined costs of the petrol ban

Fill 'er up, guv. Image: Getty.

The ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 is perhaps the most significant policy announcement made by the UK government in the past decade (with the possible exception of Brexit). It feels like a key moment for the fight against pollution and climate change.

But the shift from petrochemicals to electric vehicles will be disruptive and extremely expensive. The ramifications need to be considered systematically.

The issue that springs most immediately to mind is that the UK’s national taxation system will experience a major shock. The government raised about £28bn from fuel duties over 2016-17. It is the largest component of indirect taxation and pulls in about the same as tobacco, alcohol, gambling and vehicle duties combined.

The removal of diesel and petrol cars and vans will undermine this tax stream and it will need to be replaced. Tax on petrol and diesel currently accounts for 69 per cent of the total price. To put it in context, one year’s worth of fuel duty revenue pays for more than 4m UK state pensions.

Electric dreams

One option to replace lost fuel duty might be a tax on electric vehicle charging. Currently, VAT on domestic energy consumption is charged at 5 per cent – this will have to rise dramatically to cover the shortfall.

The government has been silent on this: the issue appears to have been taken for granted, or perhaps overlooked. It may seem that 2040 is a long way off, and the transition will be softened by product lifecycles, but people’s vehicle buying habits will start to change long before deadline day.

A creative solution to the taxation deficit will have to be developed for every country pursuing a similar course.

Generational change. Image: Michael Oakes/Flickr/creative commons.

Tax is not the only worrying unknown. The gradual replacement of more than 31m diesel and petrol cars with electric or autonomous vehicles represents a moment of transformation that is arguably more of a threat to the UK automotive industry than Brexit.

During 2017, electric car pioneer Tesla’s market capitalisation reached $51bn (£39bn), briefly surpassed that of General Motors and is well above that of Ford. We are seeing the impacts of disruptive technologies on established and conventional automotive manufacturers. We simply don’t know how this will play out in a UK sector which directly employs 169,000 workers and which generates annual turnover of more than £70bn, but which has little or no exposure to this new industry. Where is the UK or European version of Tesla?


Grid lock

The 2040 ban presents another huge problem too. The 25,410,360 houses and properties in England and Wales will need to be rewired. The current system will not be able to cope. Charging two cars for daily commuting could destroy existing domestic wiring systems given the demand placed on the system.

That means all houses, and the grid feeding them, may need to be altered to ensure that they have the ability to cope safely with the demands of charging electric vehicles. This would be a major cost and create more disruption.

It is possible to plug a vehicle into 13-amp domestic wall socket, but the charge time would be 12 to 15 hours and it carries a fire risk if the plug is old or unsuitable for the high loads required. Dedicated 32-amp charging points could be installed with a charging time of five to seven hours, but does the UK have sufficient electricians to deal with all these alterations?

Those changes also assume there will be enough electricity in the first place. The UK has suffered from major under-investment in generation capacity for more than two decades. As we stand right now, recharging electric cars would result in blackouts and systemic failure across the grid.

This will require hundreds ofbns of pounds of investment in additional generation capacity. This is a challenge that must somehow be met just as the UK starts to lose a huge chunk of tax revenue from fuel duty.

Rules of the road

The fundamental questions just keep coming. Roads and pavements will experience a major upheaval as electric vehicle charging points are installed. And what will happen to the UK’s 8,500 filling stations? Even if most become electric charging stations, they will have to be repurposed and decontaminated. There will also be a significant employment and economic loss as refineries close. This will affect the equivalent of 18,000 full-time jobs in Britain. More subtle changes will present themselves too. New approaches to etiquette will be needed – when can you use someone else’s charging point for free, or for a fee?

The ban will require a dramatic restructuring of the tax system alongside massive new capital investment in infrastructure. Our estimate here of £1 trillion is a calculation based on the cost of new electricity generation combined with the installation of charging points. It is a starting point for discussion. No one has yet calculated, or perhaps could calculate, the full cost of this simple policy statement.

The ConversationIt might be that vehicle use alters in a way that means many of the potential investments will not be required – car ownership may be replaced by a car version of city bike hire schemes perhaps. But there are only 23 years for the UK to adjust to what will be the most significant transport, infrastructure, electricity generation and tax revolution since the arrival of personal computing and the internet.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained some fairly dodgy maths. We’ve removed the offending paragraph.

John Bryson is professor of enterprise & competitiveness, and Tasos Kitsos is a policy & data analyst at City-REDI, at the University of Birmingham.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Where actually is South London?

TFW Stephen Bush tells you that Chelsea is a South London team. Image: Getty.

To the casual observer, this may not seem like a particularly contentious question: isn’t it just everything ‘under’ the Thames when you look at the map? But despite this, some people will insist that places like Fulham, clearly north of the river, are in South London. Why?

Here are nine ways of defining South London.

The Thames

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

It’s a curvy river, the Thames. Hampton Court Palace, which is on the north bank of the river, is miles south of the London Eye, on the south bank. If the river forms a hard border between North and South Londons, then logically sometimes North London is going to be south of South London, which is, to be fair, confusing. But how else could we do it?

Latitude

You could just draw a horizontal line across a central point (say, Charing Cross, where the road distances are measured from). While this solves the London Eye/Hampton Court problem, this puts Thamesmead in North London, and Shepherd’s Bush in South London, which doesn’t seem right either.

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

And if you tried to use longitude to define West and East London on top of this, nothing would ever make sense ever again.

The Post Office

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Some people give the Post Office the deciding vote, arguing that North and South London are defined by their postcodes. This does have some advantages, such as removing many contentious areas from the debate because they’re either in the West, East or Central postcode divisions, or ignoring Croydon.

But six of the SW postcodes are north of the river Thames, so we’re back to saying places like Fulham and Chelsea are in south London. Which is apparently fine with some people, but are we also going to concede that Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are South London landmarks?

Taken to the extreme this argument denies that South London exists at all. The South postcode region was abolished in 1868, to be merged into the SE and SW regions. The S postcode area is now Sheffield. So is Sheffield in South London, postcode truthers? Is that what you want?

Transport for London

Image: TfL.

At first glance TfL might not appear to have anything to add to the debate. The transport zones are about distance from the centre rather than compass point. And the Northern Line runs all the way through both North and South London, so maybe they’re just confused about the entire concept of directions.

 

Image: TfL.

But their website does provide bus maps that divide the city into 5 regions: North East, South East, South West, North West and the Centre. Although this unusual approach is roughly speaking achieved by drawing lines across and down the middle, then a box around the central London, there are some inconsistencies. Parts of Fulham are called for the South West region, yet the whole of the Isle of Dogs is now in North East London? Sick. It’s sick.

The Boundary Commission

One group of people who ought to know a thing or two about boundaries is the Boundary Commission for England. When coming up with proposals for reforming parliamentary constituencies in 2011, it first had to define ‘sub-regions’ for London.

Initially it suggested three – South, North East, and a combined North, West and Central region, which included Richmond (controversial!) – before merging the latter two into ‘North’ and shifting Richmond back to the South.

In the most recent proposal the regions have reverted to North Thames and South Thames (splitting Richmond), landing us right back where we started. Thanks a bunch, boundary commission.

The London Plan

Image: Greater London Authority.

What does the Mayor of London have to say? His office issues a London Plan, which divides London into five parts. Currently ‘South’ includes only Bromley, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, and Wandsworth, while the ‘North’ consists of just Barnet, Enfield, and Haringey. Everywhere else is divvied into East, South or Central.

While this minimalist approach does have the appeal of satisfying no-one, given the scheme has been completely revised twice since 2004 it does carry the risk of seismic upheaval. What if Sadiq gets drunk on power and declares that Islington is in East London? What then?

Wikipedia

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

The coordinates listed on the South London article lead to Brockwell Park near Herne Hill, while the coordinates on the North London article lead to a garden centre near Redbridge. I don’t know what this means, so I tried to ring the garden centre to see if they had any advice on the matter. It was closed.

Pevsner Guides

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

Art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner might seem an unlikely source of help at this juncture, but we’ve tried everything else. And the series of architectural guides that he edited, The Buildings of England, originally included 2 volumes for London: “The Cities of London and Westminster”, and “everything else”. Which is useless.

But as his successors have revised his work, London has expanded to fill 6 volumes: North, North West, East, The City, Westminster, and South. South, quite sensibly, includes every borough south of the Thames, and any borough that is partly south of the Thames (i.e. Richmond). And as a bonus: West London no longer exists.

McDonald’s

I rang a McDonald’s in Fulham and asked if they were in South London. They said no.

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