We continue to hold meetings with various stakeholders on behalf of EV drivers in Northern Ireland, this time with the Managing Director of NIE Networks, Paul Stapleton.
NI is Special
With each new stakeholder meeting we hold, it becomes more and more clear just how ‘special’ Northern Ireland is.
It was interesting to learn from Paul that, unlike DNOs in GB or the RoI, NIE Networks has to pass on the entire cost of bringing an electricity supply to a new home for example. Those charges also include the costs of any strengthening of the network that’s required too. That can sometimes mean bills well into 5 figures to bring power to a new home.
And that same principle has a negative affect on our charging infrastructure, as a company wanting to setup a Rapid Charger here would have to pay the entire costs of bringing the power to the site as well as strengthening the network to cope with demand. This undoubtedly means that many private operators do not see NI sites as commercially viable.
There are still only c. 3,300 electric vehicles in Northern Ireland and more than half of these are plug in hybrid electric vehiclesNIE Networks
EV numbers are still relatively small in NI, but we all know there’s a chicken and egg situation here which is why funding like the recently announced INTERREG Project is so important to help kick start things.
The good news is that NIE Networks are in favour of moving to be more in line with the rest of these islands. But that will require a change for our Utility Regulator.
Broader Scope for the Utility Regulator
Our Utility Regulator’s scope currently does not include anything in regards to decarbonisation.
It’s clear that NIE Networks would welcome a broader remit for the Utility Regulator, similar to OFGEM in GB, one that would allow them to make the changes required to reduce the costs above for operators rolling out new chargers around NI, which will promote the transition to sustainable transport and support decarbonisation.
While the Department for Infrastructure is in charge of transport, it’s the Department for the Economy that has responsiblity for energy here. It’s likely both departments would be required to bring about the required changes to our Utility Regulator.
We also briefly discussed monitoring of electricity usage as we transition away from ICE cars and Oil heating etc, Smart Meters and monitoring of the network from the substation are a key element in gaining this insight to allow the investment in the right areas and the demand on the network changes. Things like smart charging to avoid peak times to smooth out this demand is on Paul’s agenda. NIE is also considering upgrading the standard connection capacity for new homes so they can cope with EV chargers and heat pumps.
The INTERREG VA ‘Faster’ investment was discussed and was welcomed by Paul, although more detail is required on the energy network requirements of providing these additional Rapids.
However the key element that we returned to was one of policy and regulation. Changes are clearly needed in this area for Northern Ireland to support the wider sustainable energy future and in particular take the EV charging network forward to one that is fit for purpose.
Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to meet with us and for his insight. We welcome his offer of involvement in upcoming stakeholder meetings.
You can read more on NIE Networks views on a green recovery here.