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Governments missing the ‘bigger picture’ in rush to roll-out zero emission vehicles

Bureau Veritas, a leading sustainability consultancy, has stated that while various worldwide governments setting dates to target the ban of petrol and diesel vehicle sounds optimistic, there is a significant lack of a bigger picture around the wider environmental impact that comes with the roll-out of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and the capabilities of the network evolving quickly to meet demand.

The announcement came as world leaders united on COP26’s ‘Transport Day’ to discuss the roll-out of ZEVs,
net-zero shipping routes and a sustainable aviation sector. The significant pledge to come out of the discussions as the end of COP26 nears include more than 30 countries and six major vehicle manufacturers committing to 100% zero emission car sales by 2040 or earlier. In the UK, the target is 2030.

According to Richard Maggs, Head of Environment & Sustainability at Bureau Veritas, these climate pledges significantly lack in detail and big picture thinking. He says: ‘COP26 [transport] discussions had a strong focus on vehicles themselves having zero-emissions and reducing tailpipe gases. However, there continues to be a lot of tunnel vision around the wider impact on the supply chain…To achieve a true circular economy in the line with the government’s 2050 net zero target, more must be done to improve the environmental impact of the whole lifecycle of car production. As EVs become more commonplace around the globe, the demand for lithium (for example) will drastically increase – an issue made more difficult by the fact that just nine countries are currently major producers of the metal. Therefore, consideration must be had around the sustainable transportation and distribution of the product globally, to ensure the entire lifecycle of ZEVs will improve carbon emissions and air quality.’

The circular economy considers emissions across the entire supply chain, from procurement to disposal. It also considers improving the social sustainability of practices, including ethics and societal impact of these changes.

He continues: ‘On the other end of the lifecycle of an electric vehicle, processes must be put in place to ensure sustainable practices around re-using or recycling batteries, as products like this cannot simply go into landfill. This can be done by utilising batteries in battery storage systems for renewable energy.’

Utilising battery storage systems not only provides a sustainable practice for re-using vehicle batteries, but also supports the electricity grid in the supply of power – especially as the use of electric is increasing not only in vehicles, but in heating systems too as gas is phased out.

Michael Kenyon, Head of Electrical Technical Development at Bureau Veritas, adds: ‘Battery storage systems are an excellent way to combat energy usage, as they can store up energy collected when renewable sources are plentiful. Using battery storage means the home and workplace are “prosumers” – both producers and consumers of energy – which will ultimately help the grid cope with the increasing demands of a society on the road to net zero.’

Kenyon also highlights that there must be a focus on installing smart systems to support the increased demand on the grid, to ensure it is not overloaded by the increased use of electric in the home and workplace.

A recent survey by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) concluded that the UK will need more than 10 times the current 25,000 existing charging points to meet the demands of the government’s 2030 ban on fossil fuel powered cars. Kenyon states that while there is a big job still to be done, charge points operators (CPOs) must ensure correct installation and maintenance of charge points and accessibility, so that ‘quick’ does not take priority over ‘quality’, resulting in greater risk to the users and business reputation.

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