Thursday, 24 January 2019

Questions (10, 18)

Brian Stanley

Question:

10. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the policy initiatives that have been developed in terms of expanding and the future ownership of the public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. [3353/19]

View answer

Martin Heydon

Question:

18. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to address range anxiety and to develop a network of EV chargers nationwide which would support 500,000 EVs. [3177/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

My question is on the roll-out of charging points for electric vehicles and the need to expand the network to deal with range anxiety. I also ask about the ownership of the network. The regulator's decision in 2017 has left the question of the ownership of charging infrastructure up in the air. I ask the Minister to address the policy initiatives his Department is developing to deal with these matters.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 18 together.

I thank the Deputy for the very relevant questions. Providing adequate charging infrastructure is critical to ensure the continued growth in the uptake of electric vehicles. There are currently 668 standard public charge points in the ESB's ecars network and a further limited number provided by local authorities and retail outlets. There are also 77 fast chargers, mainly on national routes. Most standard public chargers can provide approximately 100 km of range in one hour whereas fast chargers typically provide 100 km of range in 20 minutes. Since the start of last year, a €600 grant has been in place for home chargers and over 1,000 grants have been paid out to date. Under the first call for applications from the climate action fund, I approved funding of up to €10 million to support ESB ecars to develop a nationwide, state-of-the-art electric vehicle fast charging network. The key elements include six high speed charging hubs on motorways capable of charging eight vehicles simultaneously; 16 high speed charging hubs capable of charging four vehicles simultaneously; additional high power chargers at 34 current 50 kW locations; upgrading over 50 22 kW chargers to 50 kW, and replacing up to 264 locations with 528 charge points at the pre-existing pilot grade of 22 kW to next generation high reliability models. It is an ambitious programme. New EU regulations will require employers with over 20 parking spaces to provide charging points by 2020. This is in addition to the requirements in respect of new developments for both commercial and multiple dwelling developments. As part of the climate action plan I am developing, I intend to look at the adequacy of the infrastructure and its path of growth to ensure we can meet the ambitious target we have set for electric vehicles in the network.

I thank the Minister for the reply. The Minister has outlined some of the progress and indicated that there are 668 ESB charging points. He further stated that his Department had provided a €10 million grant to the ESB. The Minister said there will be private charging points such as those which employers with more than 20 car spaces will be required to provide by 2020. While that will cater for a lot of it, there is a need to create a network nationally which is more substantial and strategically located. For people travelling from the west, south or even midlands, the question of range is always at issue, in particular when one's lights and window wipers are going at the same time as everything else. I ask about the policy direction on the ownership of the network. From where is the policy that the ESB must divest itself of the network coming? Is it the Department? Charging is not like refuelling a diesel or petrol car, it is a major investment. There is also the matter of upgrading the grid as wider ownership of electric vehicles will place a strain on it.

Heretofore, charging points have been free and unlimited but the ESB has signalled that this position will not continue to obtain indefinitely. As such, it is entering into consultations with stakeholders on the introduction of fees for fast chargers later in the year and for standard chargers in 2020. The expectation is that many more entrants will come into the market when the service is no longer free. The other network is that of the local authorities which have been very conscious of trying to develop a network which deals with range anxiety. We are also considering whether the role of local authorities can be enhanced and whether they can be supported in this context. There will be a mixture of public and private provision. The key is that when charging is no longer entirely free, those who have obligations to meet will get some recompense and that will promote greater density in the network. I will be assessing this carefully in the context of the plan to ensure we have it right.

I refer to the chargers in the ESB's network currently. What will happen with them? There was a big push from the regulator to have the ESB divest itself of those chargers. Is that continuing and is the policy direction coming from the Department? It is a very clear question. I welcome the fact that local authorities have become involved. As the Minister has heard me say in the House before, local authorities have a major role to play as the form of government closest to the people in addressing climate change and in taking climate action.

If it does not happen at local level, it will not happen at national level. There will be charging at home and workplaces, but there will be a substantial loading on the grid. In Norway lights are reported to flicker in some parts of the country where there is a high number of EVs. In its low carbon future document the ESB stated that to connect 275,000 EVs and heat pumps, the grid would need an upgrade costing €300 million.

On the question of ownership, the Deputy is right that the regulator temporarily suspended ESB expansion of the network. That suspension has been lifted, however, and the ESB is undertaking a new expansion under a new dispensation from the CRU. The decision is one of an independent regulator and I am not aware of any requirement to divest.

The Deputy is undoubtedly right about the loading on the grid. As the uptake of electric vehicles increases, we will have to fortify the grid. Capacity is one of the important aspects EirGrid must examine, not only for taking on electric vehicles but also renewables. It is equally important that we move to smart metering and dynamic pricing opportunities in order that consumers can meet the pressures on the grid and that there can be dynamic demand to allow us to better manage the pressures.