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Electric Vehicles (Smart Charge Points) Regulations 2021

Volume 816: debated on Monday 6 December 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 28 October be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 30 November.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Moved by

At end insert, “but that this House regrets that the draft Regulations fail to include a requirement for all charging points to be fully interoperable”.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly to my amendment to the Motion. I apologise that it was not put down when the regulations were debated in Grand Committee, so I will be as brief as I can. First, I welcome these regulations. My view is that they do not go far enough, but they are a very good start.

The key in my amendment to the Motion is that there needs to be more said and done to promote interoperability. Paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“This instrument makes clear that a charge point should not introduce a new barrier to switching by being designed to lose its smart functionality when its owner changes supplier.”

That is very good, but it does not go far enough. In the debate in Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Rosser made some excellent points about interoperability and the Minister gave some good answers, but my concern is that electric vehicle use will not take off until there is full interoperability of the system, which I shall come to, and full confidence among users that they will be able to use the electric power supply rather like people use petrol stations now—in other words, they can guarantee that when they go to a supply, they will be able to connect up and get some power.

I have a very small, but I think critical, example of my little village in Cornwall where the parish council has put in two charging points in the car park. This is very important when the nearest petrol station is about 15 miles away. A friend who has an electric car tried to use them but they have been out of order all summer, when everybody goes there. He wrote to the supplier to say that its machines did not work, and the answer was that there was a technical fault. He then discovered from the car park owner—the parish council—that the reason they did not work was that the supplier had not paid the parish council the very small amount of money that it was due to allow the charging points to be placed there. This could be all over the country.

It is a minor detail, but we need to have some comprehensive regulations which cover charging at home, and what is in these excellent regulations, rapid charging, minimum waiting times, sockets on lampposts, facilities for long and short journeys, from wherever you pick them up. The most important thing of all is that one plug and one socket fits all, not like mobile phones at the moment. Will the Minister be able to give some idea about when there will be a comprehensive plan to make electric power for vehicles fully interoperable and fully comprehensive? I am sure she will agree that when that happens it will all take off. I look forward to her comments.

My noble friend will be aware that there are very few charging points across the north of England. There is also still a catastrophic power outage in parts of the north-east of England. Will she reassure the House this afternoon that there are absolutely no plans in the foreseeable future that any public service vehicles, such as buses, ambulances or fire engines, will switch to electric engines any time soon in the north-east of England?

I add to the excellent comments already made that there is an overriding concern among EV owners about whether you are safely going to get to the end of your long journey. You have none of those concerns if you are in a petrol or diesel car; you know that you will be able to refill your car. If you are in an EV, not only do you have the uncertainty as to whether the charge point will fit or will work, you also have to stand out in the rain in the corner of a motorway services feeling insecure.

Until the Government take the leadership that we need on this issue, we will not solve these problems. The legislation before us today is fine as far as it goes, but it is about squeezing a little bit more out of the grid, which is already overstretched. We need greater leadership from the Government.

My Lords—My Lords, I agree with previous speakers. I took a short journey last week in my electric car to a hotel where there were six charging points. Three of them were for Tesla only—that is not me—and of the other three, one was occupied, one did not work and the other I could not make work. I will not detain your Lordships’ too long by saying that I nearly had a heart attack trying to get home worrying what was going to happen.

I should also add that in a new multi-storey car park in Botley, west Oxford, where I live, there are 14 charging points. Every single one is out of order—every single one. The building is operated by Savills, but I have had no response from it other than saying that it does not have a legal obligation to turn on these points. Not only that, but if you were able to make them work, you would have to be a member of a particular company that supplies the electricity and would need to have working wi-fi. This will not do. We do not want competition—we want uniformity and contactless payment.

We had a discussion on interoperability when we debated these regulations last Tuesday in Grand Committee. There were questions asked; the Government were asked to say in their response whether the wording in the Explanatory Memorandum—to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley has referred—in paragraph 7.6 constitutes in reality a requirement for all charging points to be interoperable. I expressed the personal view that it did not, but I asked for clarification on that point.

Later in the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government say that they have

“chosen not to mandate device-level requirements”

relating to demand-side response interoperability

“at this time … because the smart charging market remains nascent, and because delivering interoperability would require broader powers than those set out in”

the Automated and Electric Vehicle Act 2018. That comment was despite the fact that the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“The ability of consumers to freely switch energy supplier is a fundamental principle in the energy market”,

which makes it rather surprising that we seem to have this delay over interoperability.

The Government, in the Explanatory Memorandum, also went to say that they

“intend instead to consider how best to deliver interoperability as part of a second phase of legislation, by looking at placing wider requirements on the entities … which could deliver DSR through charge points. Government aims to consult on this second phase of policy measures in 2022.”

I suggested that that was a somewhat vague timescale that contained no target date for actually legislating. I asked the Government whether they could be more specific in their response. The noble Baroness the Minister was good enough to say—which I appreciated—that she could not give specific answers to these questions when we were debating this last Tuesday and that she would write to answer all questions that had been asked. Irrespective of what the Minister intends to say in response now, I hope that we shall still be getting that written reply to questions that were not responded to last Tuesday.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for the opportunity to outline the Government’s position on interoperability. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the letter is coming his way; it will pick up all the points raised in in that debate and any raised from today’s debate—of course, today, I am focusing on interoperability, but I note comments made by other noble Lords on wider EV infrastructure. They will be aware that the EV infrastructure strategy will be published soon, which will set out the vision and action plan for charging infrastructure rollout, but I am aware that some more specific comments have been made.

There are many different types and forms of EV charge point interoperability, relating to both public and private charge points. Some forms of interoperability are already delivered by the market. For example, most private charge points sold in Great Britain are compatible with all EVs. Work is also under way within government to consider whether further action on interoperability is needed to deliver the best outcomes for consumers.

I turn first to private charge points. These regulations will embed further interoperability by mandating electricity supplier interoperability in law for the first time. This new requirement will ensure that consumers will retain the smart functionality of their charge point. The Government also considered including requirements for charge point operator interoperability in the regulations. This would have required all charge points to be compatible with any operator, but the Government’s view is that this type of interoperability would not be appropriate for such a nascent market. It would not materially affect the consumer experience and would be an unnecessary burden on the industry. Therefore, we are not bringing forward such requirements.

Further work is under way to consider other types of interoperability in the smart energy system, including for private EV charge points. This could include requirements to allow consumers to switch the provider of specific smart charging services. That is another type of interoperability, very similar to that enjoyed, for example, by smartphone users, who can change their mobile network provider without needing to purchase a new device. Crucially, consumers would be able to seek out new deals or better services, but that would not detriment the industry’s ability to innovate and develop new products and services. These are the sorts of things that the Secretary of State for Business aims to consult on in 2022. I have no more specific date today, but, as I said, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Turning to public charge points, in 2017 we mandated that rapid charge points must have CCS connectors to ensure interoperable charging. There are now only two EV models available to buy in the UK with CHAdeMO sockets, and one of those providers has indicated that future models will provide CCS—96% of rapid chargers come with both connectors.

In addition, in February 2021 we consulted on proposals to ensure that UK charging networks offer seamless consumer experience, and considered a range of different types of interoperability. This includes proposals on payment interoperability, which would mandate a minimum payment method, such as contactless, and explores whether we should intervene to ensure interoperable payment apps. The government response to that consultation on public charge points will be published shortly, with regulations being laid next year.

EV charge point interoperability is a critical policy area for this Government. As I hope to have portrayed today, there is not just one type of interoperability; there are several, some of which the Government are very willing to get involved in; others we will leave to the market. We are committed in our smart charging government response to explore those forms of interoperability, and then we will lay regulations.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer and for the comments of other noble Lords: the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Rosser. Of course, I am aware that there are many different types of interoperability, but I recall, about 20 years ago, when I—probably like other noble Lords—was travelling around Europe on business, you had to have a bag of about 20 different plugs to plug in your phone, charge it and make the phone work. This will not work unless there is some reaction and force from consumers to have something that is simple and easy-to-use. I wish it well, and I look forward to what the Minister will send to us in the next few months but, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.