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Mer recently announced plans install and operate four new EV charging sites across Eastleigh in partnership with the local authority. Image: Mer
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How local authorities can provide a ‘backbone’ to EV charging networks

Mer recently announced plans install and operate four new EV charging sites across Eastleigh in partnership with the local authority. Image: Mer

As the electric vehicle (EV) transition continues to ramp up, charging infrastructure is being deployed at an accelerated pace. The players involved in that are also increasing in number, while the role of government – at both a national and local level – is clarifying.

“We see some local authorities helping to provide a backbone to our network,” Sam Illsley, head of customer project management, Mer told Current±.

Meanwhile, for Liberty Charge – the EV arm of Virgin Media parent company Liberty Global – the focus today is almost exclusively on local authorities due to the company’s goal of deploying charging infrastructure for those who can’t or won’t charge at home.

Indeed, the role of local authorities in the EV charging rollout is largely centered on on-street charging, with the On Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) being one way of helping to fund the rollout for local authorities.

The government’s £450 million Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund, which comes as part of a £500 million commitment to bring high quality, competitively priced public chargepoints to UK communities, was also announced earlier this year, which Illsley said he is “quite optimistic on”.

He said the funding leaves room for supporting local authorities with resource for an EV officer, which would help drive strategy and plans going forward.

Illsley said that as it stands, where the responsibilities for EVs sits in local authorities varies from council to council. It could be the environmental team at one, the energy team at another, it may be the parking or highways team somewhere else.

“Local authorities have maybe struggled to resource the area effectively,” he said, adding that EVs touch on so many different areas of local authorities.

“If you've got an EV officer at the center of all that, driving that and pulling the strings between those different departments, it helps move it along.”

The need for resource was echoed by Neil Isaacson, CEO of Liberty Charge, who suggested more of the LEVI fund should be dedicated to local authority resource.

He said that without dedicated, knowledgeable resource, a chargepoint operator can discuss ideas with them or offer to privately fund a rollout, but it won’t go ahead as there isn’t anyone at the local authority responsible for EVs.

Equally, some local authorities don’t have a consensus between councillors on what should be done regarding the EV rollout, while some aren’t willing to take up the fight for chargepoints when a resident pushes back against them.

“This is a burgeoning market, every day there seems to be a new technology, some new pilot that's come up, a new company. This is a hard market to keep up with.

“So if you take somebody who's potentially not knowledgeable, and certainly not 100% focused on it, and they're also dealing with Ukraine and the refugee crisis, potholes in the roads and then five other things on their dashboard, then suddenly this turns out to feel unimportant,” Isaacson said.

Financing the rollout

When it comes to that financing side, Illsley said Mer will – depending on the use case a local authority is looking at - often strongly advise that grants are available.

Additionally, if local authorities are leveraging private sector investment, then taking a holistic approach to balance is something Mer would advise – so installing sites that may have high utilisation alongside sites they would still like to service but may have lower utilisation.

Meanwhile, Isaacson suggested that the industry has moved away from absolutely needing government funding to provide the concept, and now must make a bridge from largely government funded to a hybrid model, “and then rapidly to a scenario where it’s private companies investing all of the money, because it’s proven”.

“There are boroughs up and down England, Scotland and Wales where there is enough utilisation for a private company to make a return on investment,” Isaacson said.

Advice for local authorities

A key piece of advice Illsley was keen to stress for local authorities is that there are a number of pre-existing frameworks out there which have been pre-procured, for instance the Kent framework, which is a list of around 12 suppliers that have been pre-vetted. Local authorities can then do a mini competition through that, with a lot of the legwork already done.

Likewise, Isaacson suggested that making sure market research and due diligence has been done was key. Another piece of advice was to avoid exclusivity – which Liberty said might be “an interesting one” for a chargepoint operator to say.

He said that if Liberty Charge isn’t able to expand the network as quickly as the local authority wants to, for instance, then it should be able to use other networks.

Additionally, a lack of exclusivity allows for competition, which he said is the most effective way of ensuring the best consumers tariff out there.

“Our view is where local authorities are entering exclusive agreements with one chargepoint operator for their entire county council, where's consumer choice in that equation? Consumer choice has been proven time and again to make sure that the tariffs are competitive,” he said.

Editorial

Alice Grundy Reporter, Current±

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