The European Union continues to press for the increased use of alternative fuels for sustainable mobility in Europe. It states that transport in Europe is 94% dependent on oil, with 84% of it imported at a cost of up to EUR 1 billion per day. That’s without the considerable impact on the environment in terms of emissions. Those figures demonstrate the depth of the challenges facing the EU as a whole in respect of the target of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Electric mobility is one of the key strategy areas for growth, and governments all over Europe have supplemented that growth through a series of initiatives and incentives. While the EV and HEV market continues to develop, the uptake is still on a relatively small scale and hasn’t progressed as had been hoped over recent years.
On a global and European scale electric vehicles accounted for less than 1% of new car registrations in 2013 according to research by McKinsey & Company, but in certain markets such as Norway the share of EV’s in new vehicle sales peaked at 12% in November 2013, and in Holland accounted for 4% of sales for the year as a whole. Of course, from the consumer point of view one of the biggest disadvantages of electric
vehicles has been range, and while there are considerable advances in this area, the other key factor is the ability to charge a car quickly and in a variety of places. Therefore the charging infrastructure for EV’s has become a distinct priority in Europe’s aim to increase the use of alternative fuels in the transport sector.
As part of the Clean Power for Transport package, the EU has asked member states to develop plans for the introduction of 8 million charging station across the continent by 2020, with at least 10% of them being made available and accessible for public use. This should facilitate the benchmark target of 4 million electric vehicles on the road in the same timeframe –which is less than half of that already anticipated by member states. Germany is set to be the country with the largest number of chargers installed, with a target of 1,503,000 units, with Italy and England following closely behind with 1,225,000 and 1,221,000 units respectively. However the cost of implementing such a network of charging units is too much for the public sector to bear alone and there is a need for the continuation of cooperative collaboration with the private sector to realise these aims. Energy companies are already involved in the installation of such units having developed viable business plans for return on investment, while leading EV OEM’s such as Tesla and Nissanare keen to maximise sales opportunities by taking an active role in the development of such an infrastructure.
Strategies of Individual Member States
Tax subsidies for electric vehicles have been common across the various European member states, but as we have seen with recent announcements from Denmark, such subsidies are not set to last forever and at some point the cars must go head-to-head with their internal combustion rivals. The Danish government announced in October 2015 that exemption on registration tax for electric vehicles will be phased out over the next five years, a move that caused Tesla in particular to react with disappointment. The Tesla model S is Denmark’s bestselling electric car, but will effectively double in price when the full changes are eventually rolled out. Similar easing of subsidies can be expected across the board in Europe, with separate governments to take their own initiative, but incentives to create the charging infrastructure remain. In the UK for example, as of January 2015 the government committed £1 billion to support the growth of the Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles market, with £32 million of this set aside specifically for charging points. That breaks down as £8 million for destination charge points in towns and cities; £15 million for domestic charge points; and £9 million for ensuring public charge points remain accessible. In France EUR 50 million was invested to cover 50% of EV charging infrastructure – cost of equipment and installation – while local administrations are involved in EV infrastructure projects and stimulating sales by increasing the EV share of their fleets.
In July 2015 the government of the Netherlands won approval from the EU Commission to provide funding of EUR 33 million for the installation and operation of charging stations for electric vehicles. Under the Dutch Green Deal Scheme for publically accessible charging infrastructure, local authorities can decide whether to participate in the support scheme and choose the type of charging post infrastructure that best suits their local community. The policy requires local authorities to draw in private investment alongside to be eligible for the state support.
How Do OEMs See the Landscape Developing?
There is a big difference in the way that different OEM’s view the development of infrastructure, and one of the key questions is whether the best way forward is proprietary charging equipment or standardised infrastructure which uses the same plug. Tesla recently completed the installation of 500 of its superchargers in Europe in just three years, giving it a vital competitive advantage in the market. The supercharger stations are concentrated across Western Europe and Scandinavia, and the free high-speed charging network makes traveling long distances in an electric vehicle much more viable than ever before. One of the main aims of the Model S was to make long distance travel more accessible in an electric vehicle, and the easily mapped network that the company has built makes the prospect a more realistic one. Owners of other electric vehicles planning to travel the breadth of Europe may be faced with the inconvenient task of charging at a number of different networks, each with varying standards, availability and fees. The supercharger able to provide a near full charge within half an hour, and Tesla has stated that it is open to collaboration with other OEM’s allowing them to take advantage of the technology and the network that is already in place.
However, the company has drawn criticism from other manufacturers, some of whom are committed to the CHAdeMO system, while most are using the SAE Combo2 system. Audi is one company that has ruled out collaborating with Tesla precisely for that reason, stating that it would be expensive and inefficient from the consumer’s point of view for every company to use their own charging plug. Indeed, Audi has opened negotiations with other German and US carmakers to develop an infrastructure to rival Tesla’s, based on a universal system. Meanwhile it is part of a consortium with BMW, Renault, VW and Nissan which is developing a network of rapid charge points across the UK. The Rapid Charge Network will consist of 74 charging points when completed, with some 69 already installed. The network will provide EV-friendly links to major ports and cities in the UK, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds, as well as links to five major airports. Similar to the Tesla supercharger, rapid charge points will be able to provide 80% charge in just 30 minutes.
Further Challenges to Infrastructure
The nature of the EU market for EV charging can be characterized by its diversity, and standardisation may be a key factor in the future. Two projects in currently underway in Europe demonstrate this fragmentation. The EUR 8.4 million European Long-distance Electric Clean Transport Road Infrastructure Corridor (ELECTRIC) is funded by the Tran-European Transport Networks (TEN-T). It consists of five private and public consortium members including energy company ABB, and aims to create an open access fast-charging corridor situated along major motorways connecting Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.
The 155 charging points spread out across those countries will provide easy access and long distance travel and had been set to be completed by December 2015. Another network is that of German company, HubJect, who recently announced collaboration with a number of partners to extend its Interchange network with charging stations in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Switzerland now available for use. Charging stations are managed and operated by energy companies in each particular area, but the aim is to create a network which allows the driver to roam and charge where they please via the same EV connection, and often via the same payment method regardless of which country they are in.
Electric vehicles experienced a boom in popularity when they entered the market, but one of the biggest drawbacks remains the range of the car. While range is constantly improving, there is a long way to go with infrastructure. Drivers of typical ICE vehicles are accustomed to filling their tank with fuel in a few minutes at a petrol station, and a fully standardised charging network will allow drivers to travel much further distances, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a charger ready to re-juice the car in a similar manner.
Author: Colin Pawsey