Sunderland and Estonia emerge as unlikely role models for London’s EV hopes


With the take-up of electric vehicles in London “slower than first anticipated”, Alex Blackburne looks at what happened to Boris Johnson’s ‘100,000 electric vehicles as soon as possible’ pledge, and why the capital should look up to Sunderland and Estonia.

Politics is mostly about talking a good game it seems. Shock horror, I know. But after nearly three years since London Mayor Boris Johnson promised that there would, as soon as possible, be 100,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the capital’s streets, there is currently just 0.006% of that figure.

Yes, that’s right. According to a report by the London Assembly, in that time, just 588 fully electric vehicles have been added to the transport tally in the Big Smoke.

This means that the clichéd but equally witty headline of, ‘London: the not-so-Big Smoke’ cannot be used to describe the capital’s remarkable advances in EV production. Such a shame.

Let’s not be too critical; Johnson’s sneaky end-of-sentence add-on – “as soon as possible” – covers his back in a sense. But the Mayor has now set other targets.

He wants 1,000 EVs and 25,000 charge points (currently 400) by 2015. That’s do-able. But for a leading global city like London – arguably the financial capital of the world – is that really as ambitious as it can go?

Other smaller cities across Europe are continuing to overshadow it with their EV exploits.

Sunderland, a North East city with under 4% of London’s population, is on its way to become the UK capital for EVs, after transport minister Norman Baker announced funding for zero-emission vans.

Baker commented on the North East’s “very positive future” in the EV industry, after launching the UK’s first low carbon vehicle academy in Washington, Sunderland.

In Continental Europe, Estonia is emerging as a frontrunner in the EV race. Better known (or not) for kiiking and its beautiful women, Estonia has attracted the Swiss power and automation group, ABB, to kick off an innovative scheme in the country. It is to install Europe’s largest EV fast-charging network, which is sure to propel the state from Baltic obscurity to technological innovator.

Scheduled to be operational by the end of this year, the network is able to fully charge EVs in 15 to 30 minutes, with stations placed 50km apart across the country.

Back in December, Blue & Green Tomorrow asked whether the UK could mimic France’s EV revolution. The answer was, unequivocally, not yet.

But a step forward from our cousins across the Channel might just be what is needed to spur London on. Boris Johnson, take note.

The London Assembly report questions whether or not his 2009 targets are even applicable now.

It says, “Accelerating EV use in London will hinge on three key factors, two of which the Mayor has a considerable degree of influence over: developing a recognisable and easily accessible charging infrastructure; and improving on the level of information available on EVs and making access to it easier.

The third, access to EVs, will be driven by the market”.

So, how long will it be before we’re calling London ‘the Big Whirr’ instead of ‘the Big Smoke’?

Hopefully not long at all, but there is still a long way to go.

It might take a push from Sunderland or an innovation from Estonia to push EVs to the front of Johnson’s mind (or one of the other five candidates’ running at this year’s election for that matter).

One of the points that the London Assembly makes is that not enough people are aware of the possibilities of EVs.

You should have a look, because the long term advantages of such an investment are wondrous.

It’s possible to invest in sustainable transport. Ask your financial adviser about it, or fill in our online form and we’ll show you how.

Picture source: Birmingham News Room