Many forecourts owners have been looking at the various options for installing electric charging facilities, with many deciding it is too early to commit, but a Bill currently going through Parliament may force their hand.

As it currently stands, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will give the Transport Secretary powers to force "large fuel retailers" and motorway service areas to provide electric charging facilities. The Bill has finished its passage through the House of Commons, and has now been passed to the House of Lords.

During its final debate in the House of Commons, Transport Minister Jesse Norman rejected calls to give the Secretary of State powers to require other public facilities such as supermarkets and car parks to provide electric charging. He said: "Further to our consultation, we have suggested that it would be more appropriate to mandate provision at sites, such as fuel retailers and service areas, that are already invested in providing services related to vehicle refuelling. By that means, we can address concerns about range anxiety without placing regulation on others that might be unnecessarily burdensome and expensive to comply with."

Concerned about the ’burdensome’ and ’expensive’ regulations being foisted on forecourt owners, the PRA is calling for government to offer grants to retailers for investment into charging infrastructure.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson commented: "Last October PRA was invited to give oral evidence to the A&EV Bill Committee. Since then, we have met with senior officials at the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), encouraging them to allow the market to dictate the uptake of EV charging infrastructure as it is in our members’ interests.

"The best course of action the government could take to ensure the UK has a well-developed EV charge point infrastructure, would be to create a grant scheme for forecourt retailers similar to the Homecharge and Workplace schemes already in place."

The Bill is intended to support the government’s commitment to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 (hybrids would still be allowed), but this has been called into question by a watchdog set up by Parliament.

The Committee on Climate Change has reviewed the government’s Clean Growth Strategy and reported that in order to meet its emissions targets, it should aim to phase out conventionally powered cars and vans by 2035. It also said targets for take-up of ULEVs (ultra low emission vehicles) needed to be increased. The government has set out an ambition for 30-70% of car sales and up to 40% of van sales in 2030 to be ULEVs. In its report, the Committee said the target would need to be 60% of new car and van sales to be ULEVs by 2030, and there would need to be a 32% increase in the efficiency of conventional cars.

The government has yet to respond to the report but Jesse Norman told the Commons the government intends to publish an updated strategy for promoting the uptake of all electric vehicles by the end of March.

But major retailers and oil companies have decided not to wait and have already started introducing charging initiatives. Late last year MFG signed a deal with ChargePoint Services to install chargers across its network, with 60 scheduled to be in place by the end of March.

Jeremy Clarke, MFG’s chief operating officer, commented: "Our forecourt development programme includes the installation of some 200 EV charging points by the end of 2018. The programme is building up momentum and we look forward to giving our customers increased access to this new fuel."

Meanwhile, MRH announced a partnership with Ionity a joint venture formed by leading car manufacturers which aims to develop 400 rapid charging stations across Europe. Karen Dickens, chief executive of MRH, explained: "This joint venture will allow us to meet the needs of our customers who drive electric vehicles. MRH, with its high-quality estate across the UK, is particularly well positioned to cater for drivers when stopping to charge their electric vehicles. While the technology is still being developed it is important that MRH partners with those leading this thinking and development."

Shell is leading the way for oil companies. It too has a deal with Ionity, but it has also bought NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest EV charging providers and launched a rapid charging service called Shell Recharge, which is available on 10 of its UK sites. Jane Lindsay-Green, Shell UK future fuels manager, said: "Shell Recharge provides EV drivers with a convenient way to charge their cars on-the-go. We’re pleased to offer rapid electric charging on the forecourt, allowing us to broaden the range of fuel choices we deliver."

And last month BP announced plans to roll out mobile charger units for electric vehicles at sites in the UK, following an investment of $5m in FreeWire Technologies. BP plans to roll out the US-based company’s FreeWire’s Mobi Charger units at BP retail sites in the UK and Europe during 2018. Tufan Erginbilgic, chief executive, BP Downstream, said: "Mobility is changing and BP is committed to remaining the fuel retailer of choice into the future. EV charging will undoubtedly become an important part of our business, but customer demand and the technologies available are still evolving.

"Using FreeWire’s mobile system we can respond very quickly and provide charging facilities at forecourts where we see the greatest demand without needing to make significant investments in today’s fixed technologies and infrastructure. The opportunity also to explore options for providing charging services away from our existing retail sites makes FreeWire an ideal partner for BP."

So like many dealers BP is unwilling to commit to major investment on its forecourts until there is more certainty about when it will be needed, and which equipment will become the industry standard.

Is there much plug-in demand?

Claims last year that adoption of electric vehicles had reached a tipping point appear to have been premature, as they still only make up a tiny proportion of the overall market.
In January 2018, 9,020 new alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) were sold compared with 95,892 petrol cars and 58,703 diesel cars, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This means AFVs accounted for 5.5% of the overall 163,615 sold, up from 4.2% for the same month the previous year.
Out of the 9,020, only 635 were pure electric, with 2,931 plug-in hybrids and 5,754 hybrids where the engine charges the battery, so only 3,566, or less than 40%, would be potential customers for plug-in facilities.
Sales of pure electric vehicles were 37.1% down on January 2017, but sales of both types of hybrid were up over the same period. The latest Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that by the end of September 2017 there were just under 114,000 plug-ins licensed in the UK out of a total of 32.3 million cars.
Dealers considering whether to install charging facilities should also consider regional variations. While London was home to more than 11,000 plug-in cars and the rest of the South East had 22,000, the East Midlands had fewer than 6,000 and the North East just over 2,500.