Motorway services and large petrol retailers will be forced to install charge points and hydrogen refuelling points for electric cars, under plans confirmed in the House of Commons by transport minister John Hayes.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will give the government powers to make it compulsory for "public charging points" (charging for battery-driven electric cars or hydrogen refuelling points for fuel cell electric vehicles) to be installed at "large fuel retailers" and service stations. However, the Department of Transport says it does not know yet what the definition of "large" is and will consult on it.

Hayes said: "We want the UK to be the best place in the world to do business and a leading hub for modern transport technology, which is why we are introducing the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill in Parliament and investing more than £1.2bn in the industry.

"This bill will aid the construction of greater infrastructure to support the growing demand for automated and electric vehicles as we embrace this technology and move into the future."

The Bill will also require that drivers of electric vehicles will be able to easily locate and charge at any chargepoint, using information from sat navs or mobile apps, regardless of the vehicle make or model.

All chargepoints will have to be ’smart’, so they can interact with the grid in order to manage demand for electricity across the country.

Roads minister Jesse Norman said: "Automated and electric vehicles will help improve air quality, cut congestion, boost safety and create thousands of skilled jobs in the UK. We have already supported the purchase of 115,000 ultra-low emission cars and there are already more than 11,500 publicly available chargepoints, but the demand continues to grow as more people purchase electric vehicles to cut fuel costs and boost the environment."

progress resumed

The new Bill is a near copy of one unveiled in the previous Parliament, but its progress was terminated when Prime Minister Theresa May called the General Election in June this year.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "We are pleased to see the provisions of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill re-starting their passage through the Parliamentary process. It is clear that government needs to do more to accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles, tackling the issues that are currently persuading motorists to stick with conventional fuels."

The Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday October 18, and then moved to the Committee stage where PRA chairman Brian Madderson gave evidence.

Appearing as a witness before a committee of MPs, he urged them to drop the proposal to force forecourts to install the equipment, saying: "The mandating of motorway service areas and large fuel retailers should be taken out at this stage because the market is just developing far too rapidly.

"We have even asked the Department for Transport what the definition of a ’large fuel retailer’ is, and it has said that it does not know yet and it will consult on that.

"Is it the size of the plot of a single one? Is it a multi-site organisation that might have filling stations all over the UK? Is it the amount of existing fossil fuel that a retailer is supplying? There is no definition, so I do not think it is reasonable or fair to mandate a large fuel retailer when you do not know what that is."

Madderson said PRA members were interested in electric charging, and the PRA was providing a route to market for many of the charging point suppliers, but added: "There is funding for charging points at home, on the street, in the workplace and in other public areas, but there is no funding available for the fuel retailers who would like to embrace this technology in order to provide a diverse range of refuelling options for their customers.

"It is the big rump of the medium- to small-sized filling stations right across the country that will find this more difficult, because the investment decision at the present time is not something that banks would support.

"There is almost no money to come back on a perceived return-on-investment basis. So they are the ones who will be holding back the growth of charging points right across the country it is not just city-centric."

need for funding

Asked what would be needed to encourage wider take-up of electric chargers by forecourt owners, Madderson explained: "It does have to be some form of funding, because if you go to your bank and say that you want to put in a charging point that might cost you a lot of money, you will immediately be asked, ’What do you see as the return on investment? I’ve got to get my interest back.’ They have no idea at the moment, because the market is in such a state of flux. This is relatively new. There are all kinds of developments in the marketplace, and I think it would be precipitous to ask them to invest 100% of the money now they could not do it."

Karl Turner MP asked Madderson about the average cost of installing a charger.

The PRA chief said offers are changing and developing all the time, and responded: "It can be up to £50,000 per instalment. What has been happening is that certain companies have gone along and said, ’Look, we will take over that cost but we want from you two parking bays for 30 years on a lease basis.’ If you are thinking about 30 years, that is a very long time.

"It precludes you, as the owner of that freehold property, from perhaps expanding your shop or putting up a new car wash indeed, from perhaps even selling the property to someone else. So most of them have opted away from that style of investment."

Cost to industry could exceed £250m

Forcing motorway services and large petrol retailers to install electric charge and hydrogen refueling could cost the industry millions, depending on the definition of "large", according to Mark Frostick, senior associate in the Automotive and Roadside team at Rapleys. "While the definition of ’large’ has yet to be confirmed, if it is by the size of the operator, rather than the size of the group, the cost for the industry could be staggering," said Frostick.
"If we assume that ’large’ includes the oil companies, super-markets and the largest independent groups, the proposed new rules could include more than 4,000 sites."
Frostick said a report from UK Power Networks found that the price for installing a rapid charger, which takes 30 minutes to refuel an electric car, would cost a minimum of £60,000 and could, depending on the location, be up to £2m.
"Even if we assume the lowest installation cost, we are likely looking at a total north of £250m for the industry to upgrade all eligible sites," he said.
"Reports suggest that by 2050 90% of the new cars in the UK will be electric. Fuel and infrastructure providers are therefore faced with pressure from government and the need to ensure their facilities are fit for the future, while also ensuring their businesses are optimised for today."