Electric Vehicle Charging – consultations on residential buildings and smart charging

With UK government proposals banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and the sale of electric vehicles (EVs) expected to increase exponentially in line with previous years, the movement towards a zero-emission transportation network in the UK is gathering momentum.  In support of this shift, last year HM Government published its 'Road to Zero' strategy, setting out its contribution to achievement of the zero-emissions goal by 2040.  Policy-makers and investors continue to refer to electrification of transport as a key growth area and an important tool in the fight against climate change.

However, despite the buzz, rollout of charging point infrastructure remains a key challenge in any plan for a shift to electric transportation in the UK. The diversity of operational models in the sector is symptomatic of an early stage in evolution, where no business model has emerged as the 'go-to' for fundable investment. And in a classic 'chicken or egg' situation, anecdotal evidence suggests that potential EV owners consider the availability of charging infrastructure as a key factor in the decision-making process for purchase of electric vehicles; the potential lack of infrastructure therefore potentially impacting demand and undercutting the financial assumptions on which any funded infrastructure is based. Moreover, rapid changes in technology may soon diminish the need for 'away from home' charge points, casting a shadow over the viability of long-term investment in such points.

Against this background, HM Government in July published two key consultations about electric vehicle charging. The proposals aim to encourage consumer uptake and innovation to support electric vehicle drivers, and improve the experience and availability of charging points.

Electric Vehicle Charging in Residential and Non-Residential Buildings

The first consultation explains that charging cars overnight using dedicated charging points is generally cheaper and more convenient for consumers.  Today, around 80% of electric vehicle charging takes place at home.  With that in mind, HM Government set out in the consultation paper its vision for all new build homes to be 'electric vehicle ready'.  

HM Government's proposal is as follows:

  • Every new home with an associated car parking space is to have a chargepoint;
  • Every residential building undergoing major renovation with more than 10 car parking spaces to have cable routes for electric vehicle chargepoints in every car parking space;
  • New non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces to have a chargepoint for every 1 in 5 spaces; and
  • Non-residential buildings undergoing major renovation with more than 10 parking spaces to have a chargepoint for every 1 in 5 spaces.

Whilst the consultation acknowledges that installing chargepoints in residential buildings will add additional costs, it claims the additional cost (roughly £976 per car), is cheaper than retrofitting chargepoints once a home has been built (circa. £2,040).  There are however certain possible exemptions proposed by HM Government which to assuage concerns around substantial increases in construction costs:

  • For residential buildings, where the cost would exceed £3,600 – to avoid placing a disproportionate cost on developers
  • For major renovations where the cost of installing the cable routes would exceed 7% of the total cost of the renovation (residential and non-residential)
  • For SME owner-occupiers of existing non-residential buildings – to avoid putting an unfair burden on small businesses who were unable to consider this requirement at the point of purchase of the building.

If the changes are introduced, they will largely be implemented by amending Building Regulations which are due to come into effect in 2020. The legislation would be a world-first and would complement the government's strategy to shift to an economy with net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Electric Vehicle Smart Charging

To supplement the government's plans for increased number of electric vehicle chargepoints, the government also launched a consultation on whether HM Government should mandate that all electric vehicle chargepoints should have smart-charging functionality included. Electric vehicle smart charging involves shifting the time of day when an electric vehicle charges or modulating the rate of charge.

The time at which electric vehicle charging occurs and the power required has significant impacts on the electricity grid.  On the assumption that demand continues to increase, most people will charge their electric vehicles at home and after work. To meet such a demand, significant additional investment is said to be needed in electrical generation capacity and in the networks that transport electricity around.  Such costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers.

The government therefore proposes to require that all chargepoints are smart-charging enabled, thereby better balancing electricity supply and demand, and thus reducing the overall costs to consumers. Smart charging during off-peak times when electricity demand is low, means consumers can benefit from cheaper electricity and avoid triggering network reinforcement. Thus, it is hoped that smart technologies can benefit both consumers and the electricity system.

However, such technologies are open to risks. For example, smart charging can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks and sudden spikes and drops in use can still cause balancing issues with the technology. Accordingly, without proper co-ordination and regulation, consumer protection and electricity grid protection could become major issues.

The future

The regulation resulting from these consultations may be integral in giving the market the impetus to rollout the depth and quantity of infrastructure required for the UK to meet its emissions-reductions goals.  Both consultations concluded on 7 October 2019 and feedback is now awaited. 

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