This month the highways industry descended on the Birmingham NEC for the annual Highways UK conference and exhibition. I had the privilege of participating in a panel session in the main auditorium with the aim of tackling some of the myths associated with EV charging.  As well as being flavour of the month with campaigning politicians, EVs have obviously caught the attention of the Highways sector judging by the attendance at the session.  A large part of that may have had something to do with the quality of the panelists I was luckily enough to be sitting alongside ; Philip New the chair of the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce, Laura Rainey from National Grid and David Hytch from Franklin Energy.  

All of us agreed that the roll out of EVs and the necessary charging infrastructure has received a further boost from government with the announcement of the Net Zero target.  This builds on the clear policy statements in the Industrial and Clean Growth Strategies.  EVs are of course, key to the UK’s decarbonisation plans but transport generally has lagged behind other sectors particularly electricity.  The point that all of us agreed, was that EVs are only one part of the solution for decarbonised transport and decarbonised transport itself is only one part of the solution to our Net Zero ambitions. Why is that important to recognise?  Well ideally, any policies and laws put in place to promote EVs have to be considered for unwanted side effects on other decarbonising sectors.  The Electrical Vehicle Energy Taskforce’s report is due out in the new year and it was useful to hear from Philip that the Taskforce has spent some time looking at the need for infrastructure upgrades and how they might be financed.

As a lawyer operating in the sector, some of the points I and the audience made were;

There are clear policy and legal measures being put in place by the UK Government and  Scottish Government promoting the move to EVs.  Going back to the point above, EVs are just one part of the solution for Net Zero, policy and law makers need to look across sectors to see what the impact of these policies and measures are on other areas.  

We know grid infrastructure upgrades are needed and traditionally investment in the grid has been reactive with the concept of maximising and adapting/patching up the existing infrastructure rather than investing ahead of time. 

Everyone knows that with new charge points could potentially come innovation, particularly around the co-location of energy generation and/or storage projects. This innovation can also assist in grid and network resilience.  It will also be essential to mitigate some of the concerns around utilisation risk in the early days of charging.  Yet at the same time as we are looking to encourage that innovation we are, at a wider level, tweaking policy in the energy sector to unwittingly dis-incentivise storage – witness the Targeted Charging Review.  

Ofgem has recently published certain clarifications around electricity supply licensing regulation and how it applies to EV charging. While this is welcome, it still does not provide all the answers or those people looking to innovate in the EV charging space.  I have made the point before, that the electricity supply licence exemptions regulations may no longer be fit for purpose. It remains a major drag on our clients looking at innovative projects which would contribute to Net Zero.  

What was also interesting from the session was the concern in the audience around the negative environmental effects from the production and eventual disposal of the batteries that will be needed to power the electric vehicles.  This topic seems to be growing in public awareness and has been the subject of a number of comments and briefings from my colleagues in the environment team at Burges Salmon. 

There was however, a general acceptance by the whole of the panel and  the audience, that solutions would be and are being found to many of the issues highlighted above and the EV roll out is unstoppable.  I listened with interest at an earlier side event to Tom Hurst of Fastned, the fast charging infrastructure provider that has deployed numerous fast charging stations in the Netherlands and has now moved into the UK.  His experience is that once EV drivers experience fast charging and the first stations are established the growth and demand for more stations is extraordinary.  The UK needs to prepare itself for that.