A decade from now, electric cars are expected to be the norm on Scotland’s roads. 

The Scottish Government has said it wants to “phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans” by 2032, while the UK Government set a target in October last year to ban the sale of all new diesel and electric vehicles by 

Given the uncertainty of the current political landscape, cynics can rightly wonder how likely governments are to stick by goals that remain decades off. 

But the growing clamour around climate change, the health dangers from poor air quality and, probably most telling of all, the increasing investment from the motoring industry in research to make electric vehicles more affordable and efficient, shows that the direction of travel is most certainly away from 
fossil-fuel engines in favour of green technology. 

Scotland already has one of the most comprehensive vehicle charging networks in Europe, and official statistics show that new registrations for  battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are growing faster in Scotland than the UK average – up by around 46 per cent last year, compared to 33%. 

There are now more than 10,000 Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) licensed in Scotland. In addition, around 1.6% of all new car sales registered in Scotland, up to the end of October 2018, were ULEVs, which can include everything from pure-electric to plug-in hybrids. This figure is up from 1.1% in October 2017.

Of course, this also means less than two in every 100 new vehicles being purchased in Scotland are low-emission types. 

So, what needs to happen to persuade motorists to make the switch? 

One of the first priorities is bringing down the cost as conventional cars still remain considerably cheaper. 

For example, the newest model of the Nissan Leaf, the bestselling electric car in the UK, retails from £27,995 compared to a starting price of £15,670 for a brand-new petrol Ford Fiesta – the most popular car in the UK of any fuel type. 

Subsidies are available, however. In Scotland, drivers can apply to Transport Scotland for an interest-free Electric Vehicle Loan of up to £35,000 to 
cover the cost of purchasing a new pure-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. The loan is repayable over six years. 

Homeowners can also apply for up to £800 towards the installation of a home charging point which could be fitted in their driveway or garage, enabling them to charge their car overnight, for example. 

But not everyone is a homeowner, and huge numbers of people across Scotland live in blocks of flats or tenements with no access to a parking space, let alone anywhere to install a charging point. 

It is all very well expanding the number of public and roadside charging points, but a key test for policy-makers in the years ahead will be how to deliver residential charging facilities to people living in shared buildings – particularly in busy urban areas. 

The price tag for electric vehicles will come down as more manufacturers bring their own models on to the market and competition forces down the cost. But cheaper, more efficient batteries will also be pivotal in making them more affordable. One of the key aspects industry scientists in the US, China and Japan will focus on is how to improve battery technology to enable electric vehicles to travel 500 miles on a single charge, bringing their driving range into line with a full tank of gas.

If they can master so-called “solid state” battery technology – replacing flammable liquids with solid materials – it is believed that the length of time needed for a full charge would be slashed from several hours to as little as 10 minutes, hastening the demise of traditional vehicles. 

Another major challenge, however, will be supplying enough electricity to meet demand. 

National Grid chiefs insist that, while electric vehicles  could lead to large increases in peak power demand, it will be able to cope. Smart-charging, which intelligently controls when vehicles draw electricity from the Grid to avoid peaks and troughs, is one suggestion. 

There is even speculation car batteries could return power to help “recharge” the Grid.