Plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 in a bid to encourage people to buy electric vehicles are a “tall order” and will place unprecedented strain on the National Grid, motoring experts have warned.
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has warned that Britain “can’t carry on” with petrol and diesel cars because of the damage that they are doing to people’s health and the planet. “There is no alternative to embracing new technology,” he said.
However the AA warned that the National Grid would be under pressure to “cope with a mass switch-on after the evening rush hour”, while Which? Car magazine warned that electric cars are currently more expensive and less practical.
According to a National Grid report, peak demand for electricity could add around 30 gigawatts to the current peak of 61GW – an increase of 50 per cent.
The extra electricity needed will be the equivalent of almost 10 times the total power output of the new Hinckley Point C nuclear power station being built in Somerset.
National Grid predicts Britain will become increasingly reliant on imported electricity, which will rise from around 10 per cent of total electricity to around one third, raising questions about energy security.
Just 4 per cent of new car sales are for electric vehicles, and concerns have also been raised about whether Britain will have enough charging points for the new generation of cars.
Diesel drivers on congested roads in towns and cities across the UK face new pollution taxes and could also be barred from travelling at rush hour.
Ministers have identified 81 major roads in 17 towns and cities where urgent action is required because they are in breach of EU emissions standards, putting people’s health at risk.
The air quality strategy urges local authorities to first try to reduce emissions by retrofitting the most polluting diesel vehicles, changing road layouts and removing speed humps.
However it concedes that as a last resort councils will be allowed to impose tough restrictions on the most polluting diesel vehicles as soon as 2020 to bring down the levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions.
The strategy stops short of meeting the demands of motoring groups for a diesel scrappage scheme, under which diesel drivers would receive compensation for trading in their polluting vehicles.
It instead says that the Government will hold a consultation on a “possible” scrappage scheme in the autumn, which sources have suggested is likely to be “very, very targeted”.
The Government will also commit to banning the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 in a bid to encourage people to switch to electric and hybrid vehicles.
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is expected to warn local authorities against “unfairly penalising” drivers by imposing pollution taxes and other restrictions on diesel drivers.
Mr Gove suggested on Wednesday morning that more wind farms may be needed to meet the Government’s ambition.
Asked if there was no alternative to more wind farms and nuclear power energy stations, Mr Gove told the BBC Radio 4’s Today: “There is no alternative to embracing new technology.”
Told the Conservatives had a manifesto promise against more wind farms, Mr Gove said: “The Conservatives had a manifesto promise to ensure by 2050 there would be no diesel or petrol vehicles on our roads.”
The Government is concerned that motorists were encouraged to buy diesel vehicles under Labour more than a decade ago because of concerns at the time over carbon emissions.
Mr Gove has significantly stripped back previous plans which could have seen restrictions on diesel cars across entire city and town centres. He instead wants councils to focus on reducing emissions on specific roads.
A new analysis found that 48 of the most polluted roads are in London. Others have been identified in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton, Bristol, Bolton, Manchester, Bury, Coventry, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, Cardiff and Middlesborough.
The pollution hotspots are predominantly on A-roads but also include stretches of two motorways – the M4 near London and the M32 in Bristol.
The strategy will insist that any restrictions on diesel cars must be “time limited” and lifted as soon as air pollution levels fall within legal limits.
A Government spokesman said: “Our plan to deal with dirty diesels will help councils clean up emissions hotspots – often a single road – through common sense measures which do not unfairly penalise ordinary working people.
“Diesel drivers are not to blame and to help them switch to cleaner vehicles the government will consult on a targeted scrappage scheme – one of a number of measures to support motorists affected by local plans.
”Overall we are investing £3bn to tackle the effects of roadside pollution and supporting greener transport initiatives.”
The Government has been forced to come up with tougher measures to target diesel drivers after losing a case against environmental campaigners ClientEarth over breaches of EU emissions standards.
Instead of pollution taxes, councils will be urged to improve the flow of traffic with measures such as removing speed humps to prevent cars repeatedly slowing down and speeding up, which almost doubles the amount of harmful gasses they pump out.
Other options which are expected to be put forward include better sequencing of traffic lights to ensure that drivers will keep arriving at green lights rather than red ones if they drive within the speed limit.
Ministers will provide an extra £255million to help councils implement their plans, which could come into force as soon as 2020.
The number of diesel vehicles on Britain’s roads has risen from 3.2 million in 2000 to more than 10 million today after the Labour Government slashed fuel duty on diesel cars in a drive to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
It has since emerged that diesel vehicles emit harmful nitrogen dioxide, which can raise the risk of strokes, heart attacks and asthma attacks.
Senior Labour figures including Sir David King, who served as Tony Blair’s chief scientific adviser, have since admitted that they were “wrong” to promote diesel cars.
Other proposals are expected to include “real driving emissions” vehicle tests in the wake of the Volkswagen emission scandal and encouraging the public sector to buy cleaner vehicles.
Ministers also want to crackdown on parents who leave their engine running during the school run. Councils have introduced on the spot fines of up to £80 in a bid to crackdown on the practice.