None of the pontificating politicians in Westminster, who are currently debating forcing forecourts to install electric charging points, appear to have given any thought to the practical issues involved. Had they attended the launch of the fourth edition of the Blue Book they would now be having second thoughts.

John Dallimore, chair of the APEA’s electricl sub group and consultant Gareth Bourhill, who have been involved in drawing up guidelines for the APEA, warned that many forecourts may not be suitable for a charger, while the cost of obtaining the electrical infrastructure required may be prohibitive for others. Dallimore did not mince his words when he started his presentation by saying: "My personal opinion is the worst place on earth you can put an EV charger is on a filling station. I’m trying to have an open mind but it really is a nightmare." He criticised politicians for making decisions without appreciating the difficulties involved, but did concede later on that chargers on big sites, such as motorway services, would be "probably fine".

He emphasised that most chargers on forecourts were likely to be power-hungry fast chargers because no one wanted cars parked on forecourts for six-to eight hours while they charge. On motorways, he said, there were 920 volt dc chargers, using up to 300kW and with charging currents of up to 500 amps. Due to the huge current, some fast chargers have to have cooling systems to prevent the charging cables melting. He added: "I am not sufficiently familiar with the chargers to know what safety precautions are built into them, because if the charging carried on when the cooling failed, goodness knows what might happen."

Bourhill said that in many cases modifications to the filling station’s electrical installation would be necessary for a charger. Explaining that a filling station’s supplies will generally only support chargers up to 10-15kW, he added: "Fast chargers will probably require a substation and in most cases there will not be adequate space on a filling station for a substation. Plugging in a fast charger will be like plugging in another five filling stations. Most people do not understand the massive supply they need."

He warned that some network providers are quoting six-figure sums to get that size of supply to a filling station.

If filling stations could secure sufficient power supplies, however, he conceded that chargers could be installed and operated safely.

He said: "I do have my concerns about EV chargers going on filling stations, but if everybody identifies the particular risks with them, and they can accommodate those risks and follow the regulations and the safety advice that has been given, then it’s not a problem.

"The physical size of a UK forecourt doesn’t lend itself to this, but at the end of the day it’s a risk assessment and as long as we get everything right we should be okay." But he also warned: "The incorrect installation of an EV charger on a filling station may lead to dangerous, life-threatening situations, both with the hazardous areas and within the remainder of the filling station. But who is going to enforce this? From discussions with the authorities it is very apparent that a planning officer will not understand the special electrics on a filling station."

He said that the APEA Blue Book, and the IET Code of Practice third edition, which is due out next month, contained checklists covering all the areas installers and owners needed to consider. One of the critical areas is the earthing for the charger. If a charger has a separate earthing system to the rest of the site, any conductive material (generally metal) on the charger must be at least 2.5m away from conductive material connected to the site’s earthing. He said that this could be safely accomplished at installation, but if an illuminated sign or floodlight column was later erected too near the charger, safety would be compromised.

He also warned that some forecourt owners and politicians don’t understand the complexities involved in installing a charger.

He said: "Duty holders must be aware that adding an EV charger to a filling station is certainly not simple. I think at the moment that is the way the government look at it. It is not a case of simply asking a contractor to install an EV charger."

He also cautioned that filling station owners wanting to install an EV charger should choose their supplier carefully, and ensure that they understand the special safety requirements involved in working on forecourts, and what is required of the equipment. He said: "It’s a bit like the Wild West out there. Somebody has discovered snake oil that cures everything. It’s brand new and everybody wants it. There are some very competent companies, but the majority don’t understand the full risks."

Charge checklist

The APEA Electrical Sub Group has identified the risks associated with having an EV charger on a forecourt, and clause 9.5.11 of the Blue Book addresses these:
The charger and vehicle must be outside the hazardous area
The full load of charger(s) must be included in any load calculations.
If a new supply is required for the EV charger, the supply cable must be routed around the hazardous areas and not run underneath.
Where the filling station has a TT earthing system it must be used for the EV charger earthing system. Two separate TT earthing systems are acceptable.
If a separate utility company supply is installed to an EV charger, a warning label must be fitted to indicate that the charger supply is not controlled by the main switch for the filling station.
The supply to the charger must be interlocked with the filling station electrical controls so that the supply to the charger is switched off when the forecourt is closed.
NOTE: some EV chargers include anti- condensation heaters and transfer data at night. These functions require the supply to the EV charger to remain energised. In such cases, it is acceptable for the interlock to prevent the EV charger from being used when the forecourt is closed.