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Charging ahead with electric vehicles

As pressure mounts to respond to the climate emergency, the inexorable rise of the machine leaves the government with a very real problem. Chugging petrol engines undermine the ambitious net zero emissions target of the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019.

February 2020

Look around. It’s taken the best part of a century to refine the highways infrastructure of our towns and cities. Streets have been widened, driveways concreted and petrol piped underground to some 8,400 service stations across the country. So far, so car.

Since car ownership took off in the 1950s, we have seen such a major shift from public to private transport that it seems inconceivable we might ever return to a pre-car age.

Electric dreams

For many, there is salvation in the electric car. Consumer demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is certainly gathering pace, fuelled by environmental concern and the plug-in car grant. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show UK sales rising dramatically in the past few years – up to 4,800 a month for the first half of 2018. Last year, Chargemaster predicted UK roads would host 1m EVs by 2022.

Still, key questions remain. Is the government willing and able to overhaul the highways infrastructure? Various announcements over the past couple of years have suggested broad commitments to wireless charging technology, banning petrol and diesel sales, installing pay-as-you-go rapid charge points, and even kitting out streetlights to enable roadside charging. We’re still not there, however – and time is ticking. So landowners and developers need to future-proof their projects now.

Nil points?

There are currently an estimated 16,500 EV changing points in the country, according to data company Emu Analytics. This is a paltry figure; research by Capital Economics recently suggested an additional 22.2m are needed by 2050 to meet demand. Of these, it said, 2.6m should be situated in public spaces – the rest need to be installed on private land.

Of course, the majority will appear incrementally on the initiative of private individuals keen to plug in their cars on their own driveways, likely accessing the grants on offer from the government’s industry-endorsed Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). Landlords and tenants will also be checking their leases to establish whether either is able to demand or retrofit the charging kit (and to establish where the capital costs will lay, the impact on rent review, third party consent issues, and maintenance or reinstatement obligations).

Examples:

  • An existing supermarket with 300 spaces will need at least one charging point by 2025.
  • An industrial unit undergoing major renovation with 25 car parking spaces will need at least five charging points.
  • A new block of 50 flats with 20 parking spaces will need at least 20 charging points.

Clearly, the cost of installing a charge point and cabling is cheaper at the outset; retrofitting brings additional practical problems, such as planning or consent from the distribution system operator. The government estimates needing just over £2,000 to retrofit charging infrastructure at the average home, compared with less than half that for an upfront installation. This is potentially even higher for properties undergoing a material change of use.

As far as developers and housebuilders are concerned, the government is rolling up its sleeves to mandate minimum quotas of charging points during the construction or renovation of commercial and residential space.

The new rules

The move is a welcome one for the EV industry, and it’s necessary if we are to maintain competitiveness and keep up with Europe, which drove ahead with Directive (EU) 2018/844 last summer (which was to be transposed into national law of each EU member state by 10 March 2020).

Anxious perhaps to avoid stalling as Brexit looms, our own government’s electric vehicle chargepoints in residential and non-residential buildings consultation closed on 7 October 2019. Broadly, this document (which only applies to England) echoed the EU Directive:

  • all new non-residential buildings (or renovated non-residential buildings with more than 10 car parking spaces) must have at least one recharging point for every five spaces, and
  • all new residential buildings (or renovated multi-tenanted residential blocks with more than 10 car parking spaces) must have a charging point (or cabling) in every associated space.

Importantly, it also suggests all existing non-residential buildings (with more than 20 car parking spaces) must have at least one charging point retrofitted by 2025. There may be some practical difficulties regarding enforcement (given the absence of any central car park registry) – however, this new requirement would capture hospitals and schools as well as office blocks (albeit with a possible SME exemption).

The consultation considered other exemptions more broadly. Installations hampered by technical infeasibility or listed or conservation status could be excused, along with situations where installation costs exceed defined caps or percentages of the total build or renovation project costs. Overarching exclusions include those whose initial building notice or full plans application have been submitted by a certain date. “Renovation” meanwhile only means major works, involving more than 25% of the surface areas of the building.

The government’s preferred technical requirements include charge points which ought (barring excessive connection costs) to provide a minimum power output of 7kw and a universal socket. To complicate the detail however, a separate consultation dealt with smart charging – where points modulate their charge throughout the day, depending on peak and off-peak demand for electricity. Charging infrastructure must be smart now to benefit from subsidy under the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. A general requirement for home and workplace smart charge points will be introduced via regulations under section 15 of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018.

The government plans to publish its full consultation responses shortly, further to which we should see more on implementing change. The bulk of this will likely form new building regulations, although additional legislation must drive the retrofitting of existing buildings. In the meantime, the pressure is on for developers, property owners and building control to factor in sustainable future-proofing to projects – because inevitably, EVs will be a key part of all our journeys.

If you have any questions on this article please contact us.

This article first appeared in EGi on 19 November 2019.

Electric car
Clare Harman Clark


Clare looks at infrastructure changes needed to support future mobility and reduce carbon emissions.

"The pressure is on for developers, property owners and building control to factor in sustainable future-proofing to projects."