The first in a series of articles on electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, this article takes a look at proposed new EV legislation and its possible impact on the sector.

Judging by the number of EV vehicles on display at the London Motor Show last weekend, the widespread roll out of EVs is coming to the UK. However, is regulation keeping pace? The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (the “Bill”) reached the House of Lords Committee stage on 17 May 2018 and so it feels like now might be a good time to assess the possible impact of the Bill on the EV industry if it becomes law.

The Bill itself does not introduce binding legal obligations which will impact on the EV sector; rather it provides a framework under which secondary legislation may be passed to effect the obligations envisaged within it. Any secondary legislation will also be subject to public consultation and so it may well be some time before we have any certainty over the precise form and extent of any new laws.

Despite this lack of certainty, the Bill does serve as a helpful glimpse into the future regulation of the sector. This article focuses on three issues central to EVs which are covered by the Bill: interoperability obligations on charge point operators, expanding the charging network and rolling out the use of smart charge points.

Interoperability

A common gripe among EV drivers is the need to hold accounts with multiple EV charging operators. Existing legislation (the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2017 (the “Alternative Fuel Regulations1 ”)) already requires charge point operators to ensure access to all EV users without the need for prior registration or a pre-existing contract. This applies to all new charge points installed after 17 November 2017 and all charge points from 18 November 2018. The Bill supplements this obligation by introducing the possibility of prescribed payment methods for EV users, as well as prescribed methods of connection.

Payment Methods

There are currently various methods of accessing charge points (e.g. SMS, smart phone application, swipe card), each with their own payment requirements. The introduction of regulation requiring more uniformity in the manner of access and payment may come as some relief to many EV users forced to carry multiple access cards and grapple with an array of payment requirements, creating much needed simplicity for EV users.

Methods of Connection

The Bill covers a requirement on charge point operators to ensure all EV charge points include specific connection components. However, when a charge point operator installs new or replaces existing charge points, the Alternative Fuel Regulations already require such charge points to meet prescribed technical requirements depending on their rate of charge. For example, an alternating current charge point with a power rating above 22kW must have a Type 2 connector as described in standard EN 62196-2.

It is not clear, therefore, whether the Government wishes to use the Bill to impose additional regulation on the type of connections required to be provided. Given the Alternative Fuel Regulations are the result of implementing an EU Directive (and therefore cannot be overridden – at least until Brexit), any additional obligations introduced are likely to be aimed at ensuring greater interoperability between the connections on EVs and those on the charge points.

The Charging Network

The Bill envisages obligations on large petrol and service station operators to provide public charge points. Although it is not yet clear which operators will be caught by this obligation, it seems likely to affect most motorway service stations.

Those operators caught by this obligation will also be required to ensure availability at certain times of day and provide certain services in connection with such charge points. This may include a requirement to ensure they are made available 24 hours a day and that they are suitably maintained at all times. Depending on final implementation, this may provide EV users with the comfort of a more accessible and reliable charging network.

Smart Charge Points

The Bill envisages all new charge points being ‘smart’, with the need to comply with certain technical requirements. These are likely to include the ability to monitor and record energy consumption, provide remote access, incorporate energy efficiency requirements, provide protection from cyber-attack and the ability to adjust its rate of charge to reflect information from third parties (among other things).

The latter requirement may be key to the future viability of large-scale uptake of EV charging. It could allow National Grid or the local distribution network operator to access data from a charge point and remotely control times of charge to avoid exceeding any peak tolerance levels on the electricity network, as well as allowing EV users (when home charging) to ensure charging takes place at times of lowest cost, whilst still ensuring a full state of charge when needed.

Conclusion

It is worth bearing in mind that the Bill is intended to cover both battery powered EVs (“BEVs”) and hydrogen powered EVs (“HEVs”). However, it is clear that it has been drafted with BEVs as its focus, with only a single mention of hydrogen in the whole Bill. It is hard to see how the Bill, as currently drafted, is suitable for application to HEVs, where a more focused and tailored approach is needed given the different technology and refuelling requirements.

Despite this, the Bill has broadly been positively received by the EV sector. Given the need for public consultation and secondary legislation, much of the detail and the extent of obligations envisaged by the Bill remains to be seen. Nonetheless, exciting new plans issued by National Grid and Pivot Power for new nationwide rapid charge points show that many EV players are not letting the pace of regulatory change hold them back.