The government is consulting on plans to force larger service stations, supermarket forecourts and motorway service areas (MSAs) to provide hydrogen refuelling facilities and charging points for electric vehicles.

The measures are included in a consultation document for the Modern Transport Bill, which is due to be laid in Parliament next year.

One of the aims of the Bill will be to boost the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs), and the consultation document, which was published on October 24, states: "It is proposed that the following powers are included in the Bill:

power to require that operators of motorway service areas (MSAs) ensure a minimum provision of electric and hydrogen fuels for ULEVs at MSAs;

power to require a minimum provision of electric and hydrogen fuels for ULEVs at large fuel retailers;

power to franchise hydrogen refuelling."

Going into more details on the powers regarding charging points it states: "Given the variety of businesses currently retailing vehicle fuel, we propose that the measure be restricted to those above a certain size. This could be defined in a number of ways, including turnover, vehicle throughput, and/or volume of fuel sold.

"Supermarkets and oil companies currently own 30% of UK petrol stations with 60% of market share by volume, and it may be appropriate to focus the requirements on those rather than independent or dealer-owned forecourts."

The document accepts that hydrogen refuelling will not be viable before 2025 without public funding. But it adds: "Public funding of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure beyond 2020 is unlikely to be viable. Government is therefore considering options to provide confidence to secure private investment during the Investing in Growth phase.

"These options include mandating provision of hydrogen refuelling at fuel retail forecourts where appropriate, MSAs or other strategic locations, and conferring first mover advantage to early investors by granting time-limited regional franchises for hydrogen refuelling."

Unveiling the proposals, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "We are committed to making transport cleaner and giving even more drivers the option of using a low- emission vehicle as we strive to improve air quality.

"Our ambition is for nearly all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040, and we are taking real steps to achieve this in the Modern Transport Bill. We now want to hear the views of businesses and the wider public."

Forecourt industry leaders Forecourt Trader spoke to were clearly taken by surprise by the proposed measures, and wanted more time to study them before responding on the record. However, one commented: "They [the proposed measures] are Draconian. They have the fingerprints of the ULEV lobby all over them."

PRA chairman Brian Madderson said it would be consulting with members to get their views, and its technical committee would consider the proposals, before it made its submission to the consultation.

Although many motorway service areas, and a handful of dealer sites have charging points, Shell is the only oil major to have confirmed it is considering charging points on its forecourts in the UK. A spokesperson said it was too early to comment on the consultation but added: "We are examining the potential to introduce electric vehicle charging points across some parts of our UK retail network from 2017 onwards."

Shell is also the only oil major to have committed to introducing hydrogen refuelling at any of its sites in the UK. The spokesperson said: "Shell is developing alternative transport fuels, including biofuels, hydrogen, and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have the potential to be an important part of a low-carbon transport system. They produce no emissions at the exhaust pipe, only water, and refuelling only takes a couple of minutes. In the longer term, hydrogen can help reduce CO2 emissions from transport, if the electricity used to produce hydrogen is made from renewable sources. This year, together with our partner ITM, we will make hydrogen fuel available to customers in the South East, with refuelling stations on three forecourts. The first of these will open shortly."

In the supermarket sector Sainsbury’s is the only one to have dipped a toe in the hydrogen market with a single dispenser at its Hendon store. A spokesman for Asda said it was comfortable with providing charging points as it already had one or more at over 90 sites, although these were in parking spaces outside the stores rather than on forecourts. However, he said demand for hydrogen was currently very low and it had no plans to introduce it.

Motorway service stations are also already providing charging points Welcome Break has them at all its sites and some Tesla super chargers too but again none have hydrogen refuelling facilities.

While the consultation looks at how to develop infrastructure for electric and hydrogen vehicles, Rob Shuttleworth, chief executive of UKLPG, pointed out that one low emission fuel is already widely available. He said: "The consultation on proposed ULEV measures for inclusion in the Modern Transport Bill poses questions about the future supply infrastructure for alternative fuels and technologies that are currently seen as underdeveloped.

"LPG enjoys a healthy supply infrastructure across the UK through 1,400 refuelling stations and already has a considerable supply infrastructure in these urban areas as is illustrated by LoCITY’s Refuelling and Recharging Map which was updated this week.

"This established infrastructure means that fleets, taxis and passenger vehicles already have access to a readily available supply of LPG low carbon, low-emission fuel that is already playing an important and potentially transformational role in improving air quality in the capital and other urban areas. For example, Birmingham NOx Reduction Champions initiative will see more than 50 black cabs converted to run on cheaper, greener LPG by the end of the year."

To see the consultation document go to

The consultation on measures for low emission vehicle infrastructure will last for four weeks, closing on 23 November.

Aiming for zero emissions

In its foreword to the consultation document the Government reiterates its aim for all cars and vans to be zero emission vehicles by 2050. It says the potential measures it outlines are intended to drive expansion of the fledgling ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) market.
It also emphasises that it is intended to be a UK-wide policy and the Department for Transport will engage with devolved administrations to try and ensure this is possible.
While charging points are proliferating rapidly the Department for Transport says there are now more than 11,000 in the UK and sales of electric vehicles are growing strongly, albeit from a low base, the hydrogen sector is a long way behind. There is just a handful of hydrogen refuelling sites and a tiny number of hydrogen-powered vehicles on UK roads. To bring hydrogen into the mainstream the consultation envisages a three-stage development:
a market-seeding phase to 2020 where high cost and low usage will mean facilities are not commercially viable and public funding will be required;
an investing in growth phase to 2025 during which the number of vehicles grows, but not sufficiently to make stations profitable; and
the emergence of a developed market during 2025 2030 where demand will be strong enough to make investment in hydrogen refuelling infrastructure a commercial proposition.
In addition to the infrastructure it wants to put in place for ULEVs, the government also proposes that it should have powers to require operators of charge points and hydrogen refuelling stations to provide live data on availability of the facilities and also publish prices so consumers can compare them. It also wants uniformity so vehicles can use all facilities.