Last year’s Government U-turn on the phase-out of sales of new petrol cars will likely reduce the number of EVs that might have been on the UK’s roads, weakening our energy security, leaving us more dependent on foreign oil.
The switch to electric cars by 2030 is likely to deliver a reduction in necessary foreign imports for petrol by as much as any production from newly licensed North Sea fields could, according to a new analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) timed for the delayed second reading of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.
Just a small proportion of production from UK oil fields - about a fifth in recent years - is piped back to British refineries to make petrol and other fuels, with the rest being sold abroad.
There are already around a million electric cars on British roads, and under the UK Government’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which requires car makers to sell an increasing proportion of EVs, an additional 5.3 million are expected to be added by the start of 2030.
The analysis suggests that these 6.3 million EVs in 2030 would have the same effect as new oil licences in terms of limiting imports for petrol consumption, and that beyond 2030 the impact of EVs would begin to exceed that of new oil licences.
And by pressing ahead with an accelerated build-out of renewables, the majority of British electricity powering those EVs will be generated in the UK.
Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin is head of analysis at ECIU, a non-profit organisation supporting informed debate on energy and climate change issues in the UK.
He said: “The licencing debate only distracts from a more permanent solution to securing the UK’s energy independence which means building out British renewables more quickly to power homes and EVs as well as cutting energy waste by insulating roofs.
"The government’s recent track record on some of these policy areas is less than stellar. The government’s electric vehicle mandate policy is in effect an energy security policy weaning us off foreign oil imports as the North Sea’s output inevitably declines.
"But as the OBR has noted, last year’s Government U-turn on the phase-out of sales of new petrol cars will likely reduce the number of EVs that might have been on the UK’s roads, weakening our energy security, leaving us more dependent on foreign oil.”
The OBR noted in November last year that the government’s delay to phasing our new sales of petrol and diesel cars, from 2030 to 2035, could result in some consumers delaying a switch to EVs, meaning that new EV sales in the run-up to 2030 could have been even higher were it not for the change in policy.
Were sales to actually reach those higher levels, the EVs would boost the UK’s energy independence further and could exceed the impact of new oil licences by 2030.
Having claimed that the Bill mandating new licencing rounds would ‘bolster’ the UK’s energy security, the government recently acknowledged that 80 per cent of oil from new fields, such as Rosebank, will be traded internationally and said that “it is not desirable” that it be allocated to the UK.
Britain has the least efficient homes in western Europe. Since 2013, when government support schemes were cut, insulation rates have been 90 per cent lower than their 2012 peak, and have actually fallen even further during the gas crisis.
The government failed to secure any offshore wind bids in the 2023 Contracts for Difference auction. Changes have been made to the scheme’s parameters for the next auction round in 2024 with the hope that construction of these windfarms will begin shortly after the auction.
Previous ECIU analysis found that British fuel from new North Sea licences would make up less than one per cent of a tank of petrol in 2030.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.