The long awaited Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (the “Bill”), announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, had its first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday 18 October and passed its second on Monday 23 October. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also announced the four winning projects of a £51 million government competition to develop world-leading self-driving car testing infrastructure on Thursday 19 October. These are two small steps in support of the government’s frequently expressed desire to keep the UK at the cutting edge of road vehicle technology, most recently stated in its Clean Growth Strategy.

Part 2 of the Bill provides powers for government to regulate for the improvement of national electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and the subject of this commentary. Part 1 of the Bill covers liability and insurance arrangements for accidents caused by self-driving vehicles, and is the subject of separately published commentary by our colleagues.

While the Bill sets out powers for the government to make regulations in respect of charging infrastructure, charging point operators and petrol station owners, it will be vital for businesses across the sector to understand the requirements. In addition to those mentioned explicitly in the Bill, its provisions will have an impact on network operators, generators seeking to partner or contract with charging point owners, and suppliers who will need to understand the new patterns and volumes of demand. While the push for new infrastructure to support development and uptake of automated and electric vehicles presents challenges (for example increased pressure on electricity networks), it will also bring great opportunities as new business models emerge to develop and take ownership of charging infrastructure.

Improving electric vehicle charging infrastructure

The government has pledged to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. Consumer concerns about vehicle range and availability of charging stations are a significant barrier to the UK’s transition to electric vehicles. The Bill therefore introduces powers for the government to issue regulations for the improvement of the country’s charging infrastructure the following ways:

  1. Prescribing requirements as to the connection components which charging point operators must provide (to ensure compatibility between all vehicles and stations);
  2. Requiring large fuel retailers and service area operators to provide public charging points;
  3. Requiring charging point operators to make key information about their charging points available to the public; and
  4. Requiring charging point operators to install only smart charge points (i.e. charge points capable, amongst other things, of being controlled remotely by network operators to manage peak demand).

Regulations created under the Bill may also provide for the imposition of fines on operators/retailers who do not comply with these requirements.

Commentary

The Bill sketches a path for a smart, interoperable and comprehensive charging point network, but it leaves the detail to be set out in secondary legislation to follow. The Department for Transport must publish further public consultations where necessary. We expect to see future consultations on issues including:

  1. The precise meaning of “large fuel retailer” and “service area operator”;
  2. The number of public charging points that large fuel retailers and service area operators will be required to provide; and
  3. The detailed standards for interoperable charging apparatus.

While the Bill is a welcome step in the right direction, businesses in the industry have suggested that the government should go further by introducing standards for home charging and incentives for charging at work. Further, charging infrastructure is only one of the obstacles to a low-carbon road transport network. The government will need to carry out other enabling work in parallel to allow the development of a low carbon power grid with the flexibility to deal with the additional demand which electric vehicles will impose. This will include matters such as:

  • investing further in battery development, especially with a view to encouraging the difficult electrification of heavy goods vehicles;
  • clarifying licensing requirements for battery storage operators (a consultation is already under way, closing on 27 November 2017); and
  • clarifying licensing requirements (if any) for charging infrastructure owners.

Next steps

The Bill will next be considered by MPs in a Public Bill Committee, scheduled to finish by mid-November. Organisations such as the Renewable Energy Association are already contacting their members for feedback on amendments to the Bill.

It is likely that the government will issue at least some of the secondary legislation at the same time that the Bill obtains royal assent to ensure that necessary consequential changes are made to other related legislation.