Introduction

On August 12 2016 the Hunan provincial government promulgated local legislation regarding the regulation of electric vehicle (e-vehicle) charging infrastructure in the province. The Interim Measures for the Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Hunan)(1) regulate:

  • the planning and construction of e-vehicle charging infrastructure in Hunan Province;
  • the market access requirements for operating entities;
  • service prices; and
  • market supervision.

Further, the law aims to standardise the construction and operation of e-vehicles in Hunan Province.

Background

China's e-vehicle sector is booming in a number of provinces and the Hunan law is not the first to regulate local development in this regard, including with regard to e-vehicle charging infrastructure. China has no national legislation regarding e-vehicle charging infrastructure, only the Development Guide on the Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (2015-2020),(2) which was jointly promulgated on October 9 2015 by:

  • the National Development and Reform Commission;
  • the National Energy Administration;
  • the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology; and
  • the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

Instead, provinces and municipalities have promulgated local legislation regulating e-vehicle charging infrastructure. Between 2015 and 2016, municipalities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou and provinces such as Fujian, Jiangsu, Hebei and Guangdong, Yunnan, Hunan and Shaanxi issued local legislation on e-vehicle charging infrastructure, which was formulated based on local conditions.(3)

While there are some regulations and administrative rules at a national level, these are mostly administrative regulations prescribed by the State Council, as well as departmental rules and local regulatory documents.

On May 24 2014 President Xi Jinping stated in a public speech that "developing new energy vehicles is an essential path for China['s] transformation from a big automobile country to a powerful automobile country".(4) In recent years, with the support of national policies, the development of China's e-vehicle industry has been fast tracked and it has shown tremendous potential for future growth. However, compared with the flourishing development of e-vehicle production, China still lags behind in the development of e-vehicle charging infrastructure. This is reflected in the Development Guide on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure, which states that:

"In recent years, the problem of non-coordinated development between electric vehicle and charging infrastructure still exists. During the development of [the] electric vehicle industry, it is a ubiquitous problem that great attention is paid to vehicles and little attention to charging infrastructure."

Faced with this problem, on September 29 2015 the State Council promulgated the Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure(5) and proposed an overall development plan on the construction and operation of e-vehicle charging infrastructure, including fostering crucial technological breakthroughs and granting necessary subsidies. This document has set the overall tone for the development of e-vehicle charging infrastructure, and it is in this context that local governments have begun issuing legislation that regulates such infrastructure at a local level.

Following the expansion of the e-vehicle charging infrastructure market, the various types of enterprise operating in the market increased rapidly. However, as local legislation regarding e-vehicle charging infrastructure is in its early stages and there is a lack of consistent standards for such infrastructure nationwide, development of the industry has been disorganised and competition among enterprises in local markets has been intense.

Challenges

At present, with the fast-tracked development of the e-vehicle industry, the construction and operation of e-vehicle charging infrastructure face various challenges.

Market access

A growing number of provinces and cities (eg, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Hunan Province) have stipulated e-vehicle charging facility market access requirements, including:

  • the requirement to register with the relevant local authority; and
  • the minimum amount of registered capital that an investor must have (eg, according to the relevant regulations, the registered capital in Shanghai and Jiangsu Province is Rmb20 million).

Almost every local government has encouraged private investors to participate in the e-vehicle charging infrastructure industry. Likewise, almost all local legislation contains a market access threshold provision. To a certain extent, the local legislation aims to protect the relevant local market and increase the amount of tax revenue that can be collected from entities registered with the applicable local authority.

Charging facility standards

China promulgated new national e-vehicle charging infrastructure standards on January 1 2016, which aim to:

  • ensure the compatibility of upgraded infrastructure;
  • enhance compatibility between new and old plugs;
  • increase interconnection and intercommunication between e-vehicles and charging infrastructure; and
  • overcome the traditional problems regarding outdated charging infrastructure, including:
    • inadequate charging infrastructure standards;
    • low levels of interconnection and intercommunication; and
    • the underuse of charging infrastructure.

With the new national charging infrastructure standards, the issue of safety and compatibility regarding outdated charging infrastructure can be addressed effectively – in particular, incompatible communication protocols can be resolved through software upgrades. However, due to the lack of an explicit road map for the transition period from the old national standards to the new ones, a few issues remain, including with regard to:

  • the lack of an effective testing and verification mechanism to enforce and supervise the new national standards; and
  • a lack of clarity regarding:
    • which party will bear the upgrading and rebuilding costs;
    • how customers can ascertain whether charging equipment has been upgraded; and
    • whether upgrading will have a significant impact on charging safety and the battery life of old e-vehicles.

The most significant impact of the new national standards is that, in the new charging infrastructure tendering process, incompetent and outdated corporations will be phased out and high-quality corporations with innovative and advanced technologies or abundant capital will take their place.

Business model profitability

National and local governments are keen to promote the public-private partnership (PPP) model to encourage cooperation between governments and social capital. The abovementioned Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure aim to accelerate the construction of such infrastructure by:

"Making full use of the dominant function of [the] market, promoting [the] PPP model, devoting more efforts to financial support, and establishing reasonable price mechanisms and other measures to guide social investment to take part in the construction and operation of [the] charging infrastructure system."

Further, local authorities have developed documents to support the provision of social capital in return for participation in the construction and operation of charging infrastructure by means of the PPP model, in order to foster market entry. However, as the PPP model is an innovative financing model which is being developed alongside the Chinese charging infrastructure sector, the following issues have arisen:

  • Because the PPP model lacks corresponding rules and regulations, governments retain a dominant position. This violates the PPP model's principle of equality, as – during the actual operation of an e-vehicle charging business – governments are prone to misconduct, which infringes on the benefits and interests of social capital.
  • The PPP model requires that social capital assumes the burden of a significant one-off investment cost. However, it usually takes a long time to recover a charging infrastructure project's investment cost, during which time any change in government policy will likely result in the PPP model's termination. With these concerns, unless relevant legislation is formulated and promulgated at a national level to protect the legitimate rights and interests of private investors in all localities, such private investors will be unwilling to cooperate with local governments.

At present, the construction and operation of Chinese e-vehicle charging infrastructure is funded by subsidies and a mature profit model has not yet been developed. It is well known that the construction and operation of e-vehicle charging infrastructure requires:

  • large-scale construction;
  • significant capital investment;
  • a long-term cost-recovery cycle; and
  • an economically viable business model.

E-vehicle charging entities such as State Grid, Tesla and TGOOD, all of which are market leaders, seek a profit model that is unsupported by subsidies, and it seems that the industry will thrive when it enters the post-subsidies era. In future, it is likely that a sector chain will develop, comprising – among other things:

  • charging services;
  • e-vehicle sales and maintenance;
  • advertising;
  • automobile insurance; and
  • convenience store services.

Comment

An e-vehicle charging infrastructure industry that is supported by national policies has immense market potential. Further, with an increasing number of industrial regulations, the construction and operation of the e-vehicle charging infrastructure will continue to become more standardised and organised. The Development Guides on the Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure proposed that "China is going to add more than 12 thousand centralized charging and battery replacement stations and more than 4.8 million decentralized charging stations in China so as to meet the charging demand of 5 million electric vehicles in China". However, at present, national legislative guidance is insufficient and the construction and operation of e-vehicle charging infrastructure still face many challenges. Further, as regards research and development and innovation, a technological breakthrough is needed to boost this sector. Ultimately, China still has work to do to develop its e-vehicle charging infrastructure industry.

For further information on this topic please contact Libin Zhang, Jinfan Zhuang or Yanbin Zhao at Broad & Bright by telephone (+86 10 8513 1818) or email (libin_zhang@broadbright.com, jinfan_zhuang@broadbright.com or yanbin_zhao@broadbright.com). The Broad & Bright website can be accessed at www.broadbright.com.

Endnotes

(1) Interim Measures for the Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Hunan), 59, August 2016.

(2) Development Guides on the Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (2015-2020), 1454, October 2015.

(3) For example:

  • the Measures for Administration of the Investment and Construction of Public Charging Infrastructure for New Energy Vehicles (Beijing);
  • the Special Plan of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Beijing) (2016-2020);
  • the Interim Measures for the Construction Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Shanghai);
  • the Notice on Further Strengthening the Planning for Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Shanghai);
  • the Interim Measures for the Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Hunan);
  • the Interim Measures for the Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Sichuan);
  • the 13th Five-Year Development Plan of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Zhejiang);
  • the 13th Five-Year Special Plan of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Fujian); and
  • the Interim Measures for the Construction and Operation Management of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (Fujian).

These local and regional documents, which are based on the respective local industry conditions, further standardise the construction and operation of e-vehicle charging infrastructure.

(4) http://news.xinhuanet.com/2014-05/24/c_1110843312.htm.

(5) Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure, 73, September 2015.

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