The Government has finally published the Modern Transport Bill, but it is now called the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.
The Bill had its first reading on 22 February 2017. This Insight concentrates on the measures to encourage the uptake of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, known as ultra-low emission vehicles or ULEVs.
The measures are set out in part 2 of the Bill and follow a consultation which ran from 24 October to 23 November 2016. They focus on addressing three challenges to the uptake of ULEVs:
- the consumer experience of using the infrastructure – consumers need to know where to find and use charge points.
- 'smart' charging (the way the charging infrastructure interacts with the electricity system) – to balance energy supply and demand
- the future provision of infrastructure – whether to require operators of motorway service areas and large fuel retailers to provide a minimum number of charge points.
Consumer experience of infrastructure
The Department for Transport (DfT) will be able to require operators of public charging points to use a certain method of payment or a certain type of plug, so that any consumer can use any charging point without having to be a member of a certain scheme. There was no clear consensus in the consultation on whether a roaming platform or a specific ad hoc access method would be the best approach, so the Bill is sufficiently vague as to allow the DfT to decide nearer the time.
At the moment there is a lack of consistency in what information charge point operators make publicly available and no standardised format. The industry agreed that this was a main cause of "range anxiety" for electric vehicle (EV) drivers, who need to know where their next available charge point is, so they don't get stranded. The Bill gives the DfT power to require public charge point operators to make available "such information as the Secretary of State considers likely to be useful to users or potential users of the point" and goes on to list examples such as the location of the point and its operating hours, available charging/refuelling options, method of payment, means of connection, and whether the point is in working order/in use.
The consultation had also proposed a power to set standardised pricing information at charge points, but the DfT has instead identified existing powers they could use, so will bring forward new regulation in 2017.
Smart charging – infrastructure and the electricity system
Nearly everyone who responded to the consultation agreed that the Government should take powers to require charging infrastructure to have 'smart' functionality to receive, understand and respond to signals sent by Distribution Network Operators, National Grid and energy suppliers to balance energy supply and demand. The energy industry (and also the transport industry) see the opportunities here to use the batteries in electric vehicles as a mobile energy storage solution. It seems that consumers will probably end up bearing most of the cost, but the obligation to make sure a charge point has the prescribed smart functionality will be on sellers and installers of charge points rather than manufacturers.
Future charging infrastructure
Finally, the Bill allows the DfT to require large fuel retailers or service area operators to provide public charging points. The definitions of "large fuel retailers" and "service area operators" are left to the regulations, but the consultation envisaged that all motorway service areas would be covered and that large retailers could be defined by space and/or turnover. The consultation recognised that there are four key factors which any new mandatory requirement would need to take account of:
- the commercial viability of fuel retailers and their forecourts, and motorway service areas, and the effect that mandatory EV infrastructure would have
- the space available given total land take and existing facilities
- the capacity of the local electricity grid
- the existing or future proximity of EV infrastructure near the fuel retailer or service area.
Locations where it would not be possible or sensible to have EV infrastructure would be exempt.
High level and flexible
The general theme of the measures is to give the Government broad powers in principle but to flesh out the detail in regulations at a later stage. This is an emerging industry and some respondents to the consultation were concerned that regulating it too much from the start would stifle development and innovation. There will be no legal requirements placed on the industry at the moment, even when the Bill is passed. It just gives the DfT the power to make regulations at a later stage which will contain the requirements, and even then the Bill allows for there to be exemptions.
Whilst these measures won't have any immediate effect, they are a sign that the Government remains committed to its stated aim that by 2050 nearly all cars and vans should be zero emission vehicles and the Bill sets out the framework of powers that will help make that happen, identifying electricity and hydrogen as the emerging road transport fuels.
It is part of a wider series of measures to support ULEVs including grants for installing charge points at home and work, enhanced capital allowances for charging infrastructure investments and an additional £80m of Government funding for charge points. Whilst the legislative framework is now beginning to evolve, the supply chain and delivery infrastructure for electricity and hydrogen refuelling are also evolving and this is an opportunity to get involved and shape the regulation of this emerging industry at an early stage.