During the multi-million euro refurbishment of Leinster House, Eamon Ryan cast an eye over the four new electric car charging spots provided and declared these would not be enough. Not for the first time in his political career, the Environment Minister was ignored.
Yesterday, three years on, he told a gathering of transport, public body and motoring industry representatives: “I was talking to the Ceann Comhairle the other day and he said to me, ‘We don’t have enough charging points.’”
He resisted an ‘I told them so’ – wisely, as the anecdote from the corridors of power could be retold along motorway corridors all over the country.
Eamon Stack of the EV Owners Association painted a picture of minor hell as he described waiting two hours in the Barack Obama Plaza, Co Offaly, in last weekend’s heat for his turn to charge.
Denis Murphy of Blackwater Motors in Kerry spoke of lost opportunities to have EVs ferrying tourists along the Wild Atlantic Way because of the lack of charging points.
Breege Kilkenny of Wicklow County Council spoke of grants for local authorities to install public charging points but which could not be drawn down because they could not get electricity connections.
“We don’t have enough” was the common cry.
Never fear, ZEVI is here. ZEVI, or Zero Emission Vehicles Ireland, is a new office in the Department of Transport whose job, Mr Ryan said, will be to turbocharge the uptake of EVs and the roll-out of infrastructure to support them.
It’s quite a task. The Climate Action Plan aims to have 945,000 EVs on the road by 2030. There are 60,000 so far and many barriers to further uptake. Price, shortage of supply, scarcity of second-hand models, long lead-in times for new orders and an insufficiency of charging points at residential, communal and commercial level all mitigate against a would-be switcher.
Fuel stations are private enterprises that cannot be forced to provide chargers; public chargers don’t make money for the authorities providing them; and many people live in apartments or homes without driveways where EVs can’t be plugged in overnight.
According to the minister, and ZEVI head Aoife O’Grady, there are plans to work with, encourage, grant-aid or otherwise support or require the installation of chargers.
“The idea is that you can drive anywhere with confidence – that when you get to the end of a peninsula, there’ll be somewhere to charge,” Mr Ryan said.
On increasing sales of EVs, ZEVI is to work with businesses and leasing companies to encourage them to switch to electric with the knock-on effect that they feed a hungry second-hand market when they refresh their fleet every few years.
Grants and reliefs, which currently work out at about €9,000 on a €40,000 EV, will continue but not indefinitely.
That rattles the motor industry which already finds the annual uncertainty over what measures will be maintained or cut on Budget Day makes advance ordering a gamble.
ZEVI’s belief is there will be 175,000 EVs on the road in about three years or so and the market will create its own momentum, and then financial supports can be phased out. Eventually there will no choice but to buy electric as the EU plans to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, though the Government here wants to do this by 2030. (A lot of lawyer time has already been used up trying to navigate the regulations and a clear route has not yet been found.)
In any case, the plan is not to have every car currently on the road replaced with an EV. The goal is fewer cars.
Transport was the one very tiny bright-ish spot in the gloomy annual greenhouse gas data published yesterday.
Emissions from transport rose last year but were still below pre-Covid 2019 so clearly a sizeable number of people were still working from home, using public transport, cycling or walking.
Data for this year could be different but if there is even a hint of a trend of less car usage and fewer cars, ZEVI wants to nurture it.
Sharing is the way forward, Mr Ryan said. To avoid an expensive machine sitting idle outside 95pc of the time, to remove the temptation to drive it for walkable trips and to reduce the demand for rare earth metals, car-pooling, community cars and sharing apps are to be encouraged so a set of wheels can be summoned at the swipe of a screen.
Access, not ownership, is key. He didn’t offer Leinster House as a good place to start but as they’re sharing power then sharing seats shouldn’t be much of a stretch.