Blackout warning: Drivers must charge electric cars off-peak to avoid overstretching National Grid

Electric cars could cause “blackouts” if drivers don’t charge them at night, MPs have warned as they recommended VAT cuts to help motorists switch over.

Ministers have been told the UK’s power grid will come under increasing strain as more drivers buy electric, unless they are convinced to plug-in at off-peak times.

The Government has also been urged by MPs to prevent rural areas becoming electric vehicle “not spots” due to a lack of public charging points, and to make public charging as cheap as plugging in at home by reducing VAT.

Huw Merriman MP, and the chairman of the transport committee, said: “Unless the National Grid gains more capacity, consumer behaviour will have to alter so that charging takes place when supply can meet the additional demand. The alternative will be blackouts in parts of the country.”

The calls come as the UK prepares to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.

However, a report by the parliamentary transport select committee questioned whether government efforts to expand the country’s charging network will be enough to cater for the millions of drivers expected to switch to electric in the coming years.

MPs warned the electric grid could need to be strengthened to cope with surging electric car use.

How the charge cycle works: Electric cars to national grid

The National Grid has previously been bullish about the network’s ability to cope over the coming years, arguing the improving sources of renewable energy will help meet the additional demand.

Last year, Graeme Cooper, the National Grid’s transport decarbonisation director, said: “There is definitely enough energy and the grid can cope easily.”

The company also argued that the development of smart charging – internet-connected electric car plugs that wait for off-peak times to charge the vehicle – would also help ease the strain on the grid.

Ministers are currently drawing up rules to mandate that all public charge points have smart charging.

A government report on smart charging earlier this year warned of the need for drivers to adopt the technology en masse as most motorists are expected to charge their cars at peak times, such as between 5pm and 7pm when they get home from work. 

The paper warned that if smart charging doesn’t take off, the UK’s electricity grid will “require significant levels of additional investment” and that “the costs [will be] borne ultimately by consumers”.

However, MPs said ministers should not rely solely on the take-up of smart charging to avoid electricity shortages and that they had to directly encourage drivers to avoid charging at peak times with schemes such as flexible tariffs.

The MPs’ report also highlighted that some drivers are unable to charge at home and are paying more to charge at public points due to VAT.

The tax is charged at 20 per cent at public charge points compared to just five per cent for domestic charging.

The report said ministers should “address the discrepancy” so charging costs the same wherever drivers plugged in.

The committee also voiced concerns about rural areas being left behind in the rollout of the charging network.

Earlier this year, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he aims to make charging an electric car as easy as filling up at a petrol station. 

The Government is currently spending £1.3 billion on increasing charge points along motorways and A-roads as well as at homes, workplaces and on-street parking bays.

Yet, a study by the Competition and Markets Authority earlier this month showed areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber have a quarter of the number of charge points per head compared with London.

MPs said the Government needed to work with the National Grid to identify “weak areas” that need their infrastructure improving to ensure drivers in the countryside have access to public chargers.

Mr Merriman, a Conservative, added: “We also cannot have a repeat of the broadband and mobile ‘not spot’ lottery which would mean those in remote parts cannot join the electric vehicle revolution.”

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