Miriam Prothero

How will the UK meet its EV ambitions?

The future of transport looks set to rely largely on electric vehicles, with hybrid plug-in vehicles likely to play a useful role in this transition, writes Miriam Prothero.

The UK’s Decarbonising Transport plan is ambitious, requiring all vehicles sold from 2035 to be 100% zero emission at the tailpipe (HGVs from 2040) – along with the already widely publicised prohibition of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Where are we now?

A 2020 survey carried out by the Department of Transport found that the largest perceived barrier to public ownership of EVs was infrastructure, overtaking the issue of cost raised by a majority of respondents to a survey in the year prior.

According to energy provider EDF, there are now 42,000 charging point connectors at 15,500 locations in the UK. But only a small proportion of the UK’s charging point connectors offer rapid charging (30-60 minutes to charge). Even if every charging point connector in the UK had rapid charging capability, not every EV is capable of charging at a rapid rate.

Developing infrastructure

Significant investment in research and development of battery technology is required to drive costs down and battery performance up. The UK government has sought to accelerate the shift to EVs by committing £2.8bn to EV expansion, £1.3bn of which is earmarked for the development of robust charging infrastructure with significantly better coverage.

Private sector investment has also responded well to the challenges and opportunities. Nissan recently announced – with partners Envision – the construction and operation of a £1bn gigafactory in Sunderland to manufacture batteries for EVs, potentially creating 4,500 jobs.

But both private and public investment must go further. Investment can be inconsistent due to the up and coming nature of the EV market and the barriers to ownership that still remain. Incentives, such as tax breaks and subsidies, may be important tools in the future of private sector investment into the EV market.

Upgrading the grid

Creating the requisite infrastructure cannot only be achieved by building more charging points. The grid will need to be upgraded both to deal with increased demand and to be more environmentally friendly, fitting with the UK’s wider decarbonisation strategy. Research and development also forms an important avenue in the UK’s decarbonisation strategy to make charging EVs cheaper and more efficient.

One area that touches on both of these issues is vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging, where an EV battery sends power back to the grid during peak periods. One pilot study suggested that this could save the UK £180m net (increasing to £220-270m by 2030) from the cost of running the UK energy system each year by feeding power back into the grid at peak times.

This is a good example of a potential growth area because the bi-directional charging that is required for this technology is currently not available in the vast majority of EVs.

Legal considerations for property

Before installing an EV charging point there are important planning and property issues that must be considered.

Planning permission is required for some charging points so, where required, time and cost of making these applications should be built into any development schemes. Many local councils provide guidance on planning for EV charging points and in England, the National Planning Policy Framework provides guidance on the government’s planning policy.

Policies include ensuring that the charging points are safely, accessibly and conveniently located and ensuring that there are enough spaces for charging EVs in new residential and non-residential developments.

Property considerations are dependent on who owns the land. When the owner/operator of the charging point is not the owner of the land, a lease will often be required, and if the land is subject to a charge, a mortgagee consent is usually required. Further to this, the operator of the charging point must have access rights to connect to the grid. For this, a DNO (District Network Operator) consent may be required.

What are the relevant regulations?

The regulatory framework for EVs in the UK stems from the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEV Act 2018) and the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2018. The AEV Act 2018 goes some way to setting the direction of travel for the UK’s regulatory framework but leaves much to future secondary legislation, which is dependent on consultations and the requests of local authorities. These requirements ensure that operators meet standards on socket outlets/vehicle connectors, intelligent metering and accessibility.

Beyond this, it may be relevant to consider some consumer and health and safety frameworks when installing an EV charging point. Note that the government’s EV taskforce is considering whether there should be specific EV user consumer regulations that go beyond those currently guaranteed in law, which means this area may be even more pertinent for charging point operators in the future.

Licencing may be required under the Electricity Act 1989 – a complex regime with somewhat limited exemptions, within which EVs do not neatly fall. Operating without an electricity supply licence is a criminal offence, enforceable by Ofgem and BEIS.

Further to this, the conditions imposed by this regime are onerous so an EV charging point operator should scrutinise their supply arrangement accordingly and perhaps even structure it in a way that will allow for an exemption. Ofgem has committed to making a more coherent and flexible regulatory framework fit for EVs that promotes competition and investment into the EV market. Again, expect changes to this area in coming years.

Find out more about the future of Mobility & Sustainability and the real estate sector with our interactive ‘Mapping the FutuRE’

Miriam Prothero is an associate at Mills & Reeve. Co-written by James Fawdon

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