The uptake of electric vehicles in the UK continues to gather pace and the steps needed to ensure that there is sufficient charging infrastructure in place to support a wider uptake of electric vehicles are already well underway.
The uptake of electric vehicles in the UK continues to gather pace and the steps needed to ensure that there is sufficient charging infrastructure in place to support a wider uptake of electric vehicles is already well underway.
This future charging infrastructure is likely to look very different to the current set up we have for petrol vehicles, and there will be huge scope for flexibility and decentralisation given that most homes and businesses are connected to the electricity grid.
It is expected that the majority of electric vehicle drivers will be "grazers" rather than "gorgers" i.e. they will look to constantly top-up their charge at home, at work or on the go. Electric vehicle owners living in the estimated 43% of households that do not have access to off-street parking may well look to retail businesses and employers to provide a solution to their charging needs.
It is therefore expected that the patchwork of charging infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of electric vehicle drivers will be developed by a mix of housing developers, landlords, employers and retail businesses.
In this article we look at some of the legal considerations that those developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure may need to consider.
National Grid has forecasted that electric vehicles could create an extra 18GW of demand by 2050. This will place additional strain on the grid that will require reinforcement at national (transmission) and local (distribution) level.
While the additional costs at transmission level are generally absorbed by levies charged on electricity supply, any additional grid works required at local distribution level may be passed on to the organisation installing the electric vehicle charging infrastructure by the District Network Operators (DNOs).
DNO costs can be high, particularly for large installations involving lots of charge points at a shopping centre or new housing development, for example. As an indication, Western Power Distribution estimates the cost for installing a cluster of rapid charge units could range from £60,000 to £2,000,000. This can include the cost of street works, legal costs for easements and wayleaves, planning permission and space for a substation.
In some cases prior consent of the DNO may be required before a charge point or cluster of charge points can be connected to the existing electrical wiring at the site. Whether or not prior approval is required will depend on a number of factors including the type of charge point being installed (slow or rapid charge) and the existing connection capacity of the site in question.
There are also EU laws specifically targeted at electric vehicle charging infrastructure (The EU Alternative Fuels Directive 2014/94/EU). These rules were implemented in the UK at the end of 2017 in the form of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2017 (the Infrastructure Regulations).
The Infrastructure Regulations broadly standardise various technical specifications for charge points (including the plug sockets) by reference to BSI standards and also require the charge point to have an intelligent metering system.
All charge points deployed or renewed after the 17 November 2017 must comply with the Infrastructure Regulations – with the obligation for failure to comply falling on the "infrastructure operator", which means the person responsible for operating the charge point whether as owner or on behalf of a third party.
It is also important to be aware that all charge points which are accessible to the public must be usable by anyone without the need to enter into a pre-existing contract with the charge point operator or electricity supplier. Essentially this means that public charge point operators must provide a "pay-as-you- go" option. Those which are not currently set-up to comply (e.g. because they can only be used by drivers with an annual subscription) have until 18 November 2018 to bring the charge point into compliance.
The Department for Transport has helpfully issued some guidance as to what constitutes a "public" charge point. It says that collective residential car parks and workplace carparks will not be caught by the requirement to provide ad hoc access.
However car parks for the use of consumers of good and services such as retail car parks are included and so must be set up to enable ad hoc access by 18 November 2018. Failure to comply with the Infrastructure Regulations is punishable by civil penalties, enforced by the Office for Product Safety and Standards.
Once an operator has determined whether or not they need to provide ad hoc access under the Infrastructure Regulations, the operator will wish to consider how it goes about charging users to access the electric vehicle charge point.
While this is primarily a commercial decision, organisations that are not familiar with re-selling electricity will also need to ensure that their payment scheme complies with consumer laws.
The relevant provisions of the EU Alternative Fuels Directive state that the prices charged by charge point operators must be "…reasonable, easily and clearly comparable, transparent and non-discriminatory." This is in keeping with the general requirements under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Purchasers of electric vehicle charging infrastructure should ensure that they receive the relevant manufacturer warranties to evidence that the equipment has been manufactured to the latest technical standards – which will to a certain extent deal with the electrical safety risks.
However, from a legal perspective it is important to note that the health and safety risks do not sit exclusively with the charge point manufacturer/ installer. Site owners and operators may also be liable for assessing and managing the health and safety risks arising out of the installation and use of the charge points.
Therefore organisations installing charge points should consider the extent of their own responsibility for the safe use of the charge points including whether the site location chosen is safe, and what operational controls need to be put in place to ensure the charge points are used safely; and ensure that the health and safety risks are effectively managed.
It is also important to note that the complex electricity supply licence regime (enforced by Ofgem) may be engaged by some electric vehicle charging schemes.
Technically, the sale of electricity from an electric vehicle charge point is likely to be classified as electricity "supply" for the purposes of the Electricity Act 1989. This would normally trigger the requirement to have an electricity supply licence, which brings in a number of onerous licence conditions that the typical charge point operator would not wish to comply with.
Certain types of electricity "re-sale" may benefit from an exemption from the requirement to hold a licence – however the supply arrangement would need to be carefully scrutinised (and in certain cases specifically structured) to ensure that this exemption is available.
Organisations considering installing charge points will therefore need to consider the contractual arrangements for how electricity will be sold to the end user.
At certain locations, there may be value in seeking to integrate electric vehicle charging infrastructure with an on-site source of generation, such as solar PV, possibly combined with battery storage in order to maximise the amount of on-site generation which can be used to supply the charging infrastructure. In particular, for a number of car park locations a solar car port solution may be an attractive option.
As with the charging infrastructure itself, planning and grid (DNO) consent issues will need to be considered in relation to any generation or storage infrastructure. For a large structure such as solar car port, planning in particular will be a key consideration.
The contractual arrangements underpinning a combined installation of this kind may also be more complex. For example, individual elements may have to be sourced from different suppliers, rather than being delivered by a single turnkey contractor. There may also be a requirement for a power purchase agreement, covering surplus generation which is exported to the grid, and/or an agreement with an aggregator to allow a battery storage system to participate in other revenue generating schemes.
In 2011, permitted development rights were introduced for electric vehicle charging points in public and private car parks otherwise, they will require planning permission in most instances. Since then, many local planning authorities have introduced policies in their development plans that require new developments to incorporate a level of electric vehicle charging points in their proposals. For example, Transport for London requires all new parking spaces to include the wiring for charge points with the point to be fitted at a later date.
The property arrangements for the installation and operation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure will depend on who will own and operate the equipment (e.g. the site owner or someone else) and the ownership structure for the relevant land. Where someone other than the site owner will own and operate the charging infrastructure, the arrangement is likely to necessitate a lease and, where the land is subject to a charge, this may require the consent of the landlord's chargee as well as the consent of any chargee over any superior interest in the land. As well as the electric vehicle charge points themselves, the owner and operator of the charging infrastructure will need suitable rights for grid connection and access purposes.
The roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure will continue to gather speed over the coming months, and we are well placed to support you with your scheme. If you have specific questions about your proposed projects please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Contributors – Katherine Evans, Partner, Stuart Urquhart, Legal Director, Kerri Ashworth, Legal Director, Richard Collie, Solicitor,