Are green number plates the solution for zero emissions by 2040?

The UK government has recently announced a consoltation period for Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) to have green number plates. The purpose for this new initiative is to help reach the ‘road to zero’ target, aiming to have all vehicles zero-emission by 2040. The central reason behind green number plates is to promote and raise awareness of ULEV and encourage people to make the switch. But how far will this encourage people to purchase electric vehicles? Are green number plates enough of an incentive? It's questionable.

According to the government policy paper ‘Introduction of green number plates for ultra low emission vehicles’, green number plates will provide a competitive edge for mobility companies. Promoting environmentally responsible policies may create a knock-on effect for other companies to do the same. Although, a green number plate, for most people, will not provide the financial incentives to spend extra on the upfront costs for a ULEV.

The concept of green number plates is not a new idea: Canada, Norway, China, and Hungary have already implemented this policy. Norway leads the transition to electric cars, as 60% of cars purchased in Norway were electric in 2019, with plans to end all fuel cars by 2025 looking promising. Norway also allows electric vehicles to travel on bus lanes and park for cheaper or free as the cars are easily recognisable from their number plates. Both of these policies are being considered within the consolation period.

However, the answer to boosting the sales of electric cars is not as simple as replicating Norway’s green number plates. Economic incentives in Norway are central to the rocketing sales of electric cars. Norwegians do not pay VAT or import tax on a ULEV, no registration fee, charging points are completely free and so is parking. As well as, Tesla does not have to pay for sales tax, all adds up to being viable option for Norwegians. Although, there are arguments stating this also provides a tax break for the rich to acquire another car.



Within this ‘road to zero’ campaign, the government does provide a grant allowing 35% off the purchase price of electric cars, with the maximum grant being £4,500. However, even the cheaper range electric vehicles after the government grant have costly starting prices: the Nisan leaf at £21,990, Renault ZOE at £17,854 (excluding battery rental), BMW i3 at £25,680 The government should invest more money into greater reductions for purchasing electric vehicles.



It is also clear there is a large lack of investment in charging points. Those who live in apartments or shared housing without a private parking space are likely to face problems when charging their electric cars. Without clear infrastructure into electric charging points, they lack the accessibility for so many. As the Oxford transport unit studies have suggested there is uncertainty around funding and the maintenance of charging points. The private sector is hesitant to invest, whilst the government lacks clarity in their plans for charging points.

A green number plate does not simply amount to a ‘green vehicle’. Green number plates should not disguise the fact that electric cars often have harmful practices along their supply chains. Lithium batteries tend to come from salt lakes in Argentina using non-recyclable materials. In addition to this, importing the batteries over to the UK has a large carbon footprint.

Charging an electric vehicle does not directly mean it will come from a renewable source. Norway has invested large amounts into their electric grid systems, to ensure renewables are generating the electric grids. The UK, however, relies on coal during busy periods to generate electricity. During peak times electricity will use back up carbon generators to provide electricity. Sheffield are proving it can be done. They have become the “first full integrated solar PV, storage and EV charging hub”. Reading are setting the example too by providing an electric charging point that is directly connected to wind turbines.

Overall, the focus on green license plates within the ‘road to zero’ initiative is a step in the right direction. The policy needs to be supported with investments into charging points, renewable infrastructure within the electric grid and greater economic incentives for the public.


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Thumbnail Image credit to the BBC

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