One of the most significant barriers to the rollout of Electric Vehicles (EV) chargers, and particularly rapid and ultra-rapid chargers (50 kW and above), has been the cost of connecting to the grid. Such costs vary from thousands to millions of pounds, based on the required network reinforcements that typically relate to the age of the network, the load it was designed for, and the existing demand profile.
Different levels of power network constraints across the country lead to network access challenges that create a ‘postcode lottery’ for public EV charger rollout. Constraints can be very localised and differ from street to street. While programs like the Green Recovery Fund, the Rapid Charge Fund, and the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure scheme seek to offset certain costs of transitioning to a zero-emission future on a project-by-project basis, a new Ofgem ruling offers a more holistic solution.
From 1st April, Distribution Network Operators (DNO) may no longer pass network reinforcement costs through to the connection customer, except for any proportion above the 'high-cost cap' threshold of £1,720 per kVA (very few connections exceed this threshold). Network reinforcement costs are those that relate to the upgrading of network assets, such as transformers and cables, upstream of the connection. Costs associated with the extension of the network to the point of connection will still be charged to the connection customer.
What will this change mean for the rollout of EV charging infrastructure? Developers will be able to apply to connect and rollout chargers at sites that were previously prohibitively expensive. There will no longer be such a disparity in the cost of connections to the electricity network at different locations.
In anticipation of this new ruling, developers have been holding off on their connection applications, and DNOs are bracing for a surge of new connection requests from April. This will inevitably push already lengthening lead times for quotations and indeed for the subsequent delivery of network infrastructure (for connections 1,000 kVA and above – equivalent to 20 rapid or 6 ultra-rapid charger – typical connection times are six months and above), in an environment where DNOs already face a deepening national skills shortage in engineering.
To alleviate the impact of their growing resource challenge for customers, DNOs like SP Energy Networks, Northern Powergrid and National Grid are starting to offer online, self-serve budgeting tools giving visibility into the network’s physical location and available capacity. These allow customers to quickly and directly consider both placement of prospective EV charging infrastructure and high-level cost estimates.
The UK’s electricity distribution networks will require time, additional skilled resources, and funding to accommodate our national shift to electrified transport. While this new Ofgem ruling will reinforce other government programs in mitigating the direct impact of infrastructure investments on EV charging providers and their customers, DNOs will need to continue to streamline their processes for accelerating infrastructure development.