On 13 February 2021, the UK Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (“OZEV”) published a consultation on the consumer experience at public chargepoints (“CPs”) (the “Consultation”). This follows increased political support of, and interest in, the growing UK electric vehicle (“EV”) sector (for an overview of key recent developments in the EV sector see our EV Round-up), particularly following the Government’s move to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030 (brought forward from 2035).
OZEV remarks that with the number of EV drivers set to increase rapidly, CP reliability and accessibility will be fundamental to ensuring the country’s transition to EVs will be a smooth and effective one.
The Consultation sets out OZEV’s policy ambitions across four key areas (the “Proposals”):
Making it easy to pay: ensuring consumers can pay at CPs with ease, without a smartphone or membership card and for CPs to have roaming functionality;
Opening up CP data: ensuring useful and up-to-date CP data is easily available for consumers and other industry players through an application programming interface (“API”);
Using a single payment metric: enabling a simpler pricing framework and price comparison for consumers; and
Ensuring a reliable charging network: requiring 99% average uptime across the CP network.
The Consultation also invites comment on three emerging policy areas:
Accessibility for disabled customers, recognising that the EV switch is an opportunity to build an accessible network from day one and improve on fuel infrastructure accessibility;
Weatherproofing and lighting of CP bays; and
Signage for CP access.
The Proposals in more detail
1. Making it easy to pay
OZEV recognises the importance of a simple and straightforward CP payment experience. At present, consumers in the UK need to have multiple membership cards or smartphone apps to access the public charging network.
The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2017 (“AFIRs”) introduced rules that require pay-as-you-go (“PAYG”) access to public CPs with no membership or subscription. However, most PAYG payment methods require access to the internet or a smartphone. OZEV notes that only 41% of rapid or ultra-rapid CPs (50 kW+) currently have contactless card payment as a payment option. Therefore, it is proposed that a requirement is introduced such that PAYG payment should not require a mobile or fixed internet connection (payment technology could include contactless card terminal or a text/phone solution).
Roaming would provide access to all public CPs through one app or membership card. The Consultation has posed questions in relation to whether the Government should intervene in implementing such CP network interoperability in the UK. OZEV in particular notes the benefits that roaming could deliver for both EV fleet operators and consumers.
The Consultation summarises different mechanisms for implementing roaming:
an industry-led approach with commercial agreements between CP operators and no regulation;
access via a standard payment platform;
the Government establishing a UK roaming platform for consumers; or
requiring CPOs to open their network to other CPOs or eMobility Service Providers (an aggregate service for accessing multiple modes of transport or CPOs) that meet minimum standards.
The Consultation asks respondents to rank the implementation options described above in order of preference.
2. Opening up CP data
OZEV recognises the challenges presented by the lack of mandated data provision in respect of the CP network, and that consumers should be able to locate and access the CP network with ease. The Consultation also notes that interested parties such as central and local government and distribution network operators may also want to rely on this data to support new services and optimisation.
As such, OZEV proposes that the Open Charge Point Interface standard (“OCPI”) is implemented through the CPO system, so that third parties can access CP data easily through an API and that consumers can access this information through different apps and websites. The OCPI is currently the most utilised standard in the UK and other international EV markets. OZEV also notes that flexibility to adapt new standards in the future may be needed as technologies and standards emerge and evolve. As such this will be an area that remains under review, with OZEV engaging with the industry before adopting new standards.
3. Using a common single payment metric
Under the current system, electricity used at CPs is priced using a number of different metrics (such as flat charges, time spend charges etc), causing confusion for EV drivers and a lack of price transparency.
OZEV proposes that all CPOs should provide their pricing in an easy and accessible format for subscription and PAYG customers as a charge for the electricity drawn (p/kWh). It notes that it would still permit subscription membership, but that a user must be shown how many kWh has been consumed in each session (as required under AFIRs).
4. Ensuring a reliable charging network
The Consultation notes that reliability across public CPs is improving, however, OZEV is concerned that reliability is too closely linked to the utilisation of the site in question. Therefore, remote and underused CPs often have poorer reliability and further improvements are required to address inconvenience for drivers. OZEV also notes that CPOs have made representations that CP availability is affected by older charging equipment that has not been adequately maintained by local authorities. Therefore, OZEV proposes a mandatory minimum 99% availability standard on average across the entire network of each CPO, with each CPO providing a 24/7 call helpline for consumers. It is intended that this network-wide standard balances the burden of maintenance with accessibility for CPO market entrants, than the higher considered standard of 99% availability for each CP on each CPO network.
The Consultation signals the Government’s ambition to take decisive action and get the UK charging network prepared for the expected uptake in EVs.
OZEV’s proposals in respect of improving the ease and transparency of CP payments is welcome news. The quality of the CP payment experience remains a significant challenge in consumer confidence in EV journeys and charging infrastructure. We have seen increased progress in CPO network interoperability, particularly over the last year, with peer-to-peer roaming agreements being entered into between some CPOs and aggregators. However, it is clear that OZEV is willing to step in if industry-led solutions do not result in a smooth consumer EV charging experience. Given that the Government hasn’t yet seen the results it was expecting in terms of roaming solutions and development of standards by the private sector, this raises the prospect that it may use its powers under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (which, so far, have been left largely unused in the EV sector) to put forward regulation to facilitate these developments.
OZEV is inviting responses to the Consultation by 10 April 2021 from interested individuals and organisations (see the consultation page here).