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EV charging image via f-r-a-n-k/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

A decade ago electric cars were a lost cause. The popular 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, highlighted the role of carmakers, oil companies and politics to explain why a technology with a lot of promise never caught on. But these days there is a very different tone among car industry commentators.

The dramatic rise of Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, continues to surprise industry analysts and traditional carmakers are now throwing their own weight behind EVs.

VW made news recently with its admission that it was cheating emission tests, but what passed unnoticed just days before was their launch of 20 new electric and plug-in hybrid models by 2020, including a luxury Porsche and an Audi sports utility vehicle. The degree to which VW knew this scandal was coming is unclear, but it does look like EVs are central to VW’s strategy for adapting to a new world of sustainable transport.
Constantly tightening emission standards are one driver of the rise in EVs but they are not the most important. Most of the surge is credited to government programmes designed to increase EV uptake. Interestingly the evidence shows that non-financial incentives play a large role here.
Cross-country comparisons show that countries with similar financial incentives like Norway and Denmark have very different rates of EV ownership. Some analysts have credited this difference to environmental attitudes, more indirect incentives like parking spaces, and overall awareness about the available programmes – something we’ve recently observed in other policy areas, such as the plastic bag levy in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The recent fall in oil prices provides another example where EV sales did not drop as much as traditional economic models would assume, and sales are now rising again despite little change in oil prices.
What makes this rise of electric vehicles particularly interesting is how it could link up with other changes in the energy industry. Analysts with an eye to the future are now trying to piece together what the electrification of nearly all energy use, the inevitable dominance of distributed and renewable energy, and the creation of smart homes means for who holds power in the energy market. Could communities soon be generating their own renewable energy, charging their cars and controlling home appliances remotely? Take a look at our previous energy round-up for some of these key shifts taking place in homes across the country.
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