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Low-cost electricity network connections needed to support electric vehicles charging

Out-Law News | 03 Mar 2021 | 4:46 pm | 2 min. read

Electricity networks in the UK will need to be bolstered, and the connections made to them made cheaper, to support growth in the electric vehicles charging market, organisations have told the UK's predominant competition authority.

Details of the issues raised about electricity network connections were outlined in a progress update provided by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on its electric vehicle (EV) charging market study. The CMA's study, opened late last year, is twin-focused. It is considering how to develop a competitive electric vehicle charging sector whilst incentivising investment, and how consumers will interact with the sector.

The CMA's report summarised a number of "key challenges" that had been raised by stakeholders it had engaged with as part of its study to-date, which include vehicle manufacturers, chargepoint operators, distribution network operators and a range of government agencies and regulators. One of those challenges, characterised as implications for the development of the EV charging sector, is "electricity network connections, expansion and reinforcement", including the issue of cost.

"We were told that increasing take-up of EVs is likely to create additional load on local energy networks," the CMA update said. "Therefore respondents told us that it is important to enable charging infrastructure (such as smart charging and vehicle to grid) which provides flexibility and enables cost-effective management of these networks."

According to the CMA, stakeholders have expressed a desire to see the speed and scale of public charging infrastructure keep pace with demand as electric vehicles increase in prevalence in the UK, and for public funding to support development of the sector, "particularly where the commercial case is more limited" such as in rural or remote areas.

Some concern has also been raised in relation to barriers to entry to the 'en-route' charging market, which includes motorway service station chargepoints, with issues around high connection costs, exclusive contracts and lack of choice highlighted. In the on-street kerbside charging market, concerns relate to the reliance on local authorities to provide adequate funding for investment.

Other issues highlighted by stakeholders which the CMA has summarised in its report concern consumer interaction with the EV charging sector. These include "ongoing challenges accessing working chargepoints", a lack of sufficient data on chargepoint availability and pricing, a lack of interoperability between charging networks for different models of vehicle, variations in the speed of charging and prices, and "significant variation" in the methods of payment available at chargepoints.

The CMA said it is planning further engagement with stakeholders as part of its study this spring, and that it intends to publish its final report in the autumn, ahead of its statutory deadline of 1 December 2021 to do so.

Peter Feehan of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Clearly, we need to wait until later this year for the CMA’s final observations, but the CMA’s timing for this study, given the government’s commitment to the ending sales for petrol and diesel cars by 2030, is really interesting. It is important that the CMA give clear direction as to the future of the electric vehicle infrastructure quickly if investors are to be confident as to the long term viability of this market. Therefore it is critical that the CMA understands the nature of the e-mobility charging market, customer charging behaviours and the 'how and why' customers will seek to charge their electric vehicles as the backdrop to any recommendations."