24 July 2019
The national context
In May 2019, the Scottish Government declared a global climate emergency.
Amendments to the Climate Change Bill have been lodged to set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
In addition to the net-zero target for 2045, Scotland has committed to reducing emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040.
These are very ambitious targets and a clear statement of the Scottish Government’s intent in relation to carbon reduction.
Transport, including international aviation and shipping accounts for 37% of Scotland’s carbon emissions and in 2015 transport overtook energy supply as the largest sectorial contributor to Scottish greenhouse gas emissions.
Decarbonising transport has a significant role to play in meeting Scotland’s climate change targets and widespread adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) is critical to this. These national targets provide the framework within which the Regional Transport Strategy sits and sets an expectation that regional and local policies will support these ambitious targets.
The term ultra-low emission vehicle is most often used to refer to plug-in hybrids, battery powered electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels. Road transport accounts for around 68% of transport carbon emissions and therefore provides the biggest opportunity for reduction. Changes will however also be needed within the shipping, aviation and rail industries if we are to meet these targets.
To meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032, the Scottish Energy Strategy outlines the following actions:
- Expand our electric charging infrastructure between now and 2022, making ‘range anxiety’ a thing of the past;
- Work with each of our delivery partners to create Scotland’s first ‘electric highway’ on the A9, with charging points along the route;
- Accelerate the procurement of ULEVs in the public and private sectors, transforming public sector car and van fleets by the mid-2020s and commercial bus fleets by the early 2030s;
- Introduce large scale pilots across the country, removing barriers and encouraging private motorists to use ULEVs;
- Address the particular challenges to expanding the charging infrastructure in Scotland, such as charging in tenement properties; and
- Take steps to better integrate electric vehicle policy with wider energy systems policy including renewable generation and energy storage systems.
 Source: Carbon Account for Transport, No.10, 2018, Scottish Government
Electric vehicles and charging infrastructure
A number of publicly available electric vehicle chargers have been installed across the north east in order to encourage the use of electric vehicles. As of 2018, this equates to some 85 facilities, 8% of the total number of chargers available in Scotland, up significantly from 2017 when there were 52. Work is currently underway to install more rapid and fast chargers in order to allow users to charge their vehicles more quickly. Consideration will need to be given over the lifetime of the next strategy as to the most effective way to roll out further infrastructure and to strike the correct balance of rapid vs slow chargers across the region. Consideration also needs to be given to the source of the electricity being used to charge electric vehicles. If they are to contribute to reducing carbon emissions, they must be powered by renewable energy.
In addition to the number of charging points increasing across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, the number of plug-in electric vehicles has also seen significant growth year-on-year. As of Q3 in 2018, there were 872 plug-in vehicles registered across the north east (an increase of 27% on the previous year’s total of 689 and representing almost 9% of such vehicles in Scotland).
Cars and LGVs are responsible for the majority of emissions from road transport and therefore provide the most significant opportunity for reduction. Buses contribute 4.5% of carbon emissions from road transport (although do contribute more significantly to other emissions levels such as nitrogen dioxide and particulates which lead to poor air quality and negative health impacts) however HGVs contribute just under 20% of carbon emissions from road transport. It is perhaps a more significant challenge to reduce emissions from HGVs and longer distance buses and coaches as well as rail and shipping, but one that will have to be met if national targets are to be achieved.
Hydrogen fuel cells are considered best suited for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles versus battery technology. Hydrogen buses can be refuelled in around 8-12 minutes, unlike battery vehicles and a hydrogen refuelling station takes up significantly less space than electric chargers. For HGVs, hydrogen fuel cells take away much less valuable commercial space than batteries.
Hydrogen power in the north east
In the north east significant progress has been made in the take up of hydrogen vehicles with a fleet of 10 single decker buses, 2 waste trucks, 1 road sweeper, 36 cars and 11 vans (60 vehicles in total) all powered by hydrogen and currently operating across the region. Two hydrogen re-fuelling stations have also been constructed, one at Cove and one at Kittybrewster. Both hydrogen refuelling stations use green tariff electricity to reduce carbon emissions even further. A further 15 hydrogen buses are due to arrive in October 2019 and another 6 double decker buses are in the pipeline for early 2020 pending an ability to scale up hydrogen fuel production. These will replace the existing 10 buses currently in operation. The Hydrogen cars are currently in use by Aberdeen City Council as pool cars; Co-Wheels Car Club, which has the first publicly available hydrogen van and cars available in the UK; SEPA and NHS Grampian.
Rail, aviation and shipping
Previous Government commitments to electrify the rail network are only making slow progress and an electrified railway to the north east would seem to be decades away. This is perhaps an area where hydrogen could provide a feasible alternative and with the first hydrogen trains now operating in Germany there is an opportunity for the north east to lead the way in the UK and build on its ambition to develop a hydrogen economy and be at the forefront of hydrogen technology in Europe.
The Government’s declaration of a Climate Emergency means that the aviation industry will also need to take action, both in terms of efficiencies and in technological advances. These will need to be led by manufacturers and others at a national and international level and is not something that can be addressed by Nestrans.
Low Emission Zones
Aberdeen has three air quality management zones. These are locations where the air quality is monitored due to emissions breeching or being near the World Health Organisations safe levels. As such the Scottish Government has said that Aberdeen will be required to have a low emission zone (LEZ) by 2020. A LEZ is where restrictions on certain vehicles (that pollute the most emissions) will be restricted from entering a zone and penalty charges will be put in place. Transport is a key emitter of pollution and Aberdeen City Council is currently working to establish the most appropriate LEZ model for Aberdeen.
Glasgow City Council implemented Scotland’s first LEZ in December 2018, and it is now being phased in with current restrictions applying only to local service buses. It is intended that by December 2022 the LEZ will be fully implemented with all vehicles entering the LEZ having to meet specific exhaust emission standards.
The location and extent of an Aberdeen LEZ is still to be determined by Aberdeen City Council however is likely to cover all or part of the city centre as it is here that the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions are found.
Questions for consideration
Although we welcome comments on the range of issues related to this topic, we have posed some key questions below for consideration in any response you may wish to make.
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References / Further Information
Transport Poverty in Scotland, Sustrans, August 2016, https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_content_type/transport_poverty_in_scotland_report.pdf
All Aboard: Young People’s Views on Public Transport in Scotland, Scottish Youth Parliament, January 2019 https://www.syp.org.uk/public_transport_campaign