England & Wales, Global Climate action and sustainable development, Transport and infrastructure

A license to charge? Exploring a better way to commission EV charging infrastructure

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Photo by Fas Khan on Unsplash

The Royal Borough of Greenwich is one of the thirty-two London borough councils and is home to over a quarter of a million people. It’s also the home to Greenwich Meridian and observatory and a range of other historic attractions such as the Royal Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark. So with a history of making new strides in navigation it makes sense that they are forging new paths on digital delivery and urban mobility. DG Cities is an urban innovation agency established by Greenwich, and their Head of Delivery, Balaz Csuvar describes some of the challenges around developing and delivering electric vehicle charging networks. 

 

Establishing a robust on-street electric vehicle (EV) charging network is essential for councils to meet zero-carbon goals and transition residents, visitors, and businesses away from petrol and diesel vehicles. In dense urban areas, off-street charging is often inaccessible, so on-street charging is an important part of any strategy to ensure the equitable and sufficient availability of EV charging infrastructure.

When working on implementing the EV Action Plan for Greenwich Council, DG Cities identified that the current charge point procurement methods are not aligned with the market’s maturity and the long-term objectives of the procuring authority.

Today, most charge points commissioned by local governments as part of the urban mobility infrastructure are procured from a single provider, who establish geographic monopolies for 10-15 years within an area. We believe this is not in the best interest of customers, nor of local authorities, for a number of reasons. The first is the potential for price increases, as with a lack of competition in one area, single providers have no incentive to keep costs as low as possible for users, potentially causing continuous price increases. There are also potential issues with reliability, as it can be extremely risky when there is no charging alternative available. If the network goes down, residents are left in a difficult situation, so it is important to build resilience into any system.

When it comes to maintenance, common contractual approaches mean that ageing and outdated infrastructure might only get replaced once during a contract period. This could increase the likelihood of more downtime for charge points and creates little incentive for ongoing investment. There are also issues beyond the control of the contracting authority that could have a major impact on the availability of EV charging in their area. The provider might get sold or go out of business, disrupting services. There is also a practical need for diversity in solutions. Some providers focus on a single technology that doesn’t necessarily fit a whole area (eg. only bollards or lamp columns). This can often lead to a gap in infrastructure in some areas or to inappropriate infrastructure for a specific area (cluttered narrow footways or trailing cables).

We propose establishing a licencing scheme within a local authority that would allow a set of pre-qualified EVCP operators to apply for charge point licences. Local authorities would have control over the number of licences that would be released for specific areas. This would allow multiple providers to be present within an area, creating natural competition. As the release of licences could be gradual over time, it would ensure that underperforming providers can fall off the pre-qualified list and new ones can be added. Also, this helps to ensure that the right number of charge points are available to residents, rather than an excessive amount at once. This slower rollout will make sure charge points, on average, will be newer.

We came to this position as we reviewed other standard procurement practices used by local governments to manage roadside assets. Licences or permits are commonly used to establish car sharing bays or to install mobile network assets on council lamp columns. It is a relatively straightforward approach that minimises the need for lengthy repeated procurement rounds. LGIU’s recent report Parking strategies and innovation explored the use of the National Parking Platform which is a similar approach. Parking payment providers that meet established criteria can ‘plug in’ to the system. This approach creates competition, while allowing the potential for a provider to have more seamless national coverage.

The need for multiple EV charging providers to be operating in an area was established through our research. In a market that is not fully mature, occasional outages, provider failures or for some market players to exit are all possibilities. Any of these events could significantly impact residents in an area that relies on that single provider. Having a set of companies operating close to one another spreads that risk and incentivises providers to improve their services, both in terms of reliability and costs.

We have engaged EV charge point operators when designing this approach, to ensure we address their typical requirements and to ensure there would be active competition to enter the scheme. Importantly, this approach does not require any policy change. However, one element that would support wider rollout is integration with the LEVI scheme, to allow councils to part-finance chargers if market interest is lower in some areas. The Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure fund provides funding to local authorities to commission on-street chargepoint deployment, exactly the area where licencing would be most appropriate however is not promoted as an approach to participating authorities.

About DG Cities:

DG Cities is an urban innovation consultancy that looks to apply new technologies in a simple, user-centric way where they can benefit people’s lives and deliver value. We have worked on vehicle electrification projects for a number of years, drafting council electrification strategies and outlining transition paths for local authority fleets.

Discover more:

Explore our collection on the council and the car featuring a Global Local edition on electric vehicles and local government.



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