It is great to see the UK joining the US and a few other countries by investing in private and public car-charging points. The amount is still minimal compared with the $100m invested by the US in the EV Project back in 2009, but £11m over two years shows leadership and will pay dividends for years to come.
Is For some, of course, it's a handout. They don't see the roads teaming with electric cars yet, so why build charging points? They fail to see is that the charger/electric car question is the classic chicken and egg issue that even petrol cars faced 100 years ago.
Back then, people didn't want cars until they knew there were fuelling stations. And likewise, nascent oil companies didn't want to build petrol stations until people had cars. It took years for "market forces" to sort it all out and in the meantime most people were content with horses. The difference in 2012 is that we don't have time to wait. National defence, oil price volatility and climate change issues are deadly serious. Smart leaders are making sure electric cars are given a true chance to succeed.
In the film The Revenge of the Electric Car it documents the car industry's about-face on the subject at three companies. Former EV-basher and GM vice-chair Bob Lutz admitted simply that "the electrification of the automobile is [now] a foregone conclusion". Electric propulsion makes cars faster and cleaner. GM's plug-in car, the Volt, runs on electricity and uses gasoline for times when batteries can't do the trick. Nissan's no-nonsense CEO, Carlos Ghosn, invested $6bn to develop the Leaf, making it the world's bestselling electric car in 2012. And the start-up Tesla's Model S made headlines as Motortrend's car of the year for 2013. Charging stations will bring even more players to the game.
Questioning subsidies is healthy, but the public may want to stay alert to the bias driving some electric car stories.
This is a disruptive technology threatening many vested interests. A quick glance of three of the four "related stories" on the BBC website, for example, included: Electric cars 'pose green threat'; Electric car money 'only for few'; and Car charging points 'hardly used'. Really?
The green threat posed by electric cars is only a threat if the UK chooses coal for all of its electricity and never recycles its batteries. The elitism charge only plays out if the government gives up on the programme. And charging points may hardly be used only because there are so few of them – so far. Chicken and the egg.
In the UK, there are nearly 9,000 public petrol filling stations. There are a handful of charging points. This new concerted effort to subsidise them in homes and public places is thus long overdue. So far the US subsidies have helped build 14,000 public stations and the sale of more than 50,000 cars by Tesla, GM and Nissan. It's what's needed to help break the monopoly of petrol-powered cars.
The future isn't any one kind of car or transportation, but subsidising new infrastructure like charging stations reduces risk for the future and generates more options for everyone.