As a firm that works with both the tech and property sectors, it is always fascinating to see how new technologies work when they are applied to “bricks and mortar” and land.
As part of the UK’s zero carbon initiatives, our society is being pushed/encouraged to move to only buying electric domestic vehicles by 2030. Concerns about the range of these vehicles will surely be addressed by improvements in the technology including battery storage, but also by driving a huge increase in the number of electric vehicle (“EV”) charging points available privately and publicly.
New buildings will need EV charging points
One “nudge” towards encouraging wider provision of EV is the government requiring new buildings to have EV charging points. This will primarily be introduced through a change to building regulations, expected this year.
New residential buildings will require a new electric vehicle charging point for every new home that has an associated parking space. If an existing residential building is undergoing major renovation and has more than 10 parking spaces then those renovations will need to include at least one EV charge point in each parking space.
New non-residential buildings, and existing non-residential buildings again with more than 10 parking spaces will need to have at least one EV charging point and ‘enabling infrastructure’ for at least one in five of the spaces.
Networking is key
The capacity of utilities networks has always constrained development in particular areas and this will become more acute as we are all effectively required to move from fossil fuels to electric vehicles.
All EV charge point installations have to be notified to the local DNO (district network operator), so these third parties play a critical role. They are the companies that operate the low-voltage networks that houses and businesses typically connect into. They have to be sure that their network can cope with the additional demand for power.
A large scheme or a large number of separate housing schemes could mean that networks have to be reinforced, through installing new cables or new substations. Developers already have to get their schemes connected to the utilities networks, but this could be a more acute issue if they need more power because of EV charging.
Importance of on-site solutions
The draw on the network could be mitigated by having “on-site generation” or on-site storage. Solutions could include solar panels, batteries, and the use of heat source pumps all designed to decrease the amount of the power that has to be generated off-site to be used by the home (and now by the car). Other solutions include enabling electricity to be exported from EV car batteries back to the grid when needed.
If this is part of the solution then planning policy will need to evolve to encourage this activity even if it is less pleasing to the eye than plain tiled roofs and uncluttered brick walls.
The cost of any network reinforcements or additions currently have to be borne by the developer who would pass it on to homebuyers. There isn’t currently a mechanism for requiring everyone in an area to contribute when the local network is reinforced or improved.
Increasing the cost of any part of a development means that, for a scheme to be viable, other requirements that the development needs to include may in turn need to be lessened. This could impact on the provision of affordable housing, or contributions to local infrastructure.
EV charging hubs
Another important trend is the emergence of specialist EV charging hubs. Essentially, these are ‘petrol stations’ that only cater for electric vehicles. They are located strategically, near major road junctions, and use fast charging technology to allow EV drivers to use their vehicles for longer journeys.
It is a nascent industry but we are noticing the following factors influencing the trend:
a. Benign planning environment - these schemes are environmentally conscious, use roadside sites in brownfield areas, and simply aren’t proving as controversial as new housing;
b. Welcome amenities – schemes appear to fit in to retail warehousing and leisure parks very well, as they provide an added draw and use parts of the car park that weren’t previously easy to monetise;
c. Again, networking is key – these schemes require a lot of power so early engagement with the DNO, and getting DNO support, is crucial;
d. On-site generation – because of the draw on over-used networks, many operators are looking to use on-site generation and storage of power. A change is coming to business rates in 2023. Previously, business rates were imposed upon the use of power generated on-site, which made it economically unfeasible. Changing business rates in this way is entirely welcome but, as it becomes harder for councils to fund services through rates, because of challenges to commercial property, we will need to see what reforms are needed to increase council funding.
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