THE LEADER of Edinburgh City Council has warned that the electricity grid “cannot cope” with a huge shift away from petrol and diesel cars – as he sets out the authority’s strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Adam McVey has set out the authority’s strategy to become a net zero city by 2030, 15 years ahead of the Scotland-wide pledge.

The SNP council leader stressed plans for a low emission zone for the city would “probably” need to be tightened to a zero emission zone as part of the city’s ambition – adding that he “wouldn’t expect us to be a completely petrol-free city by 2030”.

As part of its strategy, the council is hoping to create electric charging hubs for public service vehicles, which could be used by residents.

But Mr McVey warned that the focus in developing a net zero strategy should be on improving public transport and active travel rather than relying on ramping up electric vehicle infrastructure.

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He said: “Our electricity network in the city cannot cope with everyone making the shift from diesel or petrol to electric. It just doesn’t have anywhere near that baseload capacity.

“If we’re going to be serious about that being a strand of major rollout across residential communities in a huge way, we seriously need a lot of things to change.

"We need UK Government regulations to change which are restricting hugely Scottish Power’s ability to leverage investment and invest it in infrastructure in places like Edinburgh and other major cities.”

He added: “There’s a huge amount that needs to change before we can really explore that as a significant strand to this work.

“There’s a cost for benefit question that we need to ask ourselves. The most efficient for space, the most efficient for (public) finances is definitely investing in walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport.”

Frank Mitchell, CEO of SP Energy Networks, said that networks "need significant investment over the next few years to not only support the electrification of transport but also the decarbonisation of heating and buildings and connecting more renewables than ever before".

He added: “We have ambitious plans to revolutionise the distribution network between 2023 and 2028 – we’re going to reinforce or replace hundreds of miles of cables, upgrade more than 800 substations and bring new technologies online to help us manage the increased energy flowing through our grid.

“These investments will help get Edinburgh’s electricity networks ready for net zero.

“We are at a critical moment for our electricity networks but, with the right investment and Government support, we can deliver a network that will deliver for our customers’ needs both now and well into the future.”

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Mr McVey said he expected that the level of pollution-emitting cars will gradually decline from the city – ahead of the authority's plans for a low emission zone being revealed later this month.

When asked if the low emission zones would inevitably become a zero emission zone, he said it “probably” would in time.

He added: “The low emission zone as configured is certainly not a block to actually any vehicle entering it. But what it does do is provide a huge incentive to the bigger industrial vehicles like bus fleets and HGVs to convert.

"In the natural turnover of vehicles, we are seeing a huge shift towards low emission vehicles in any case.

“I wouldn’t expect us to be a completely petrol-free city by 2030. I’m not expecting us to put a big fence around the city for any vehicle that’s petrol or diesel.”

Aim to 'test' insulating historic buildings

The council also aims to test approaches to retrofit old and historic buildings in Edinburgh’s World Heritage sites, which face planning barriers to become better insulated.

Mr McVey said officials “need to test some of the planning lay of the land”, with tight planning rules around double glazing and other measures for listed buildings.

He added: “We’re absolutely not doing that in isolation – we're doing that with the right partners around the table and Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland are there helping us develop that.

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“There are double-glazing solutions that are in keeping with the heritage status. What I understand (is) they can be more expensive and that’s why there’s that kind of friction. Those solutions are there.

“This will not be a set of concrete boots of the council marching in to instruct everybody to rip out their windows and replace them immediately.

“But it will be setting out clearer conditions about that balance and how we protect our natural environment, how we protect our built environment, which is hugely important and how we protect our World Heritage in the New Town and how we protect that while getting those innovative solutions that are being developed here in Edinburgh and across the world.”