How Europe can give a jolt to electric car infrastructure

Teodora Serafimova Teodora Serafimova Photo:

The headlines screaming that carmakers were finally embracing the electric car era came thick and fast last month. ‘Toyota is finally getting serious about electric cars,’ Fortune told us. ‘VW wants to conquer America with SUVs and electric cars,’ proclaimed Business Insider.

But with much less bombast, the EU has been tinkering away on fulfilling its side of the electro-mobility bargain: the infrastructure to power it. And with consumer anxieties about electric vehicle range and charging compatibility, Europe has much to do.

A lot is at stake. Electro-mobility offers an unequalled solution to make Europe’s transport more efficient, less dependent on imported energy, low-carbon, clean and quiet. By electrifying land transport in parallel with decarbonising electricity generation, EU member states come a lot closer to meeting their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 and beyond, and to addressing the public health crisis posed by urban air pollution.

But old concerns about the range of electric vehicles die hard and these, along with ‘interoperability’ issues (‘Will my car’s plug fit this charging socket?’), pose a barrier to the wider uptake of electric transport in a majority of EU countries. Yet the coming year looks promising for eliminating these barriers and accelerating the roll-out of electric recharging infrastructure. Right now member states are submitting their national plans for the implementation of the crucial Alternative Fuels Infrastructure (AFI) Directive.

The AFI has a three-pronged approach to nailing consumers’ concerns:

  • clear the way for more private recharging points;
  • mandate a build up of more publicly accessible charging stations (there are not nearly enough); and
  • set EU-wide standards for both charging connectors and the information that public authorities should make available to EV drivers.

Clearly, harmonising technologies and setting common standards are key if all of Europe is to go electric fast. But the EV market is a fast moving environment in which technological and business innovations are crucial and should be promoted. This calls for a fine balance to be struck between standardisation and leaving room for innovation.

That is why the Platform for Electro-Mobility, an alliance of 24 organisations, each with a stake in a successful transition, calls on EU governments to ensure a flexible implementation of the AFI Directive so that the connector requirements for normal and high-power charging stations are seen as minimal, and only applied to publicly accessible charging points. Read more about this in our recent paper.

The distinction between public and private infrastructure is crucial for enabling the more advanced charging solutions of the future, in particular “very high power charging” solutions. In fact, the industry now expects that by 2020 a majority of new electric cars will be capable of accepting 150 kW or even possibly 350 kW charging. Evidently that’s much more than the 50 kW provided for in the current standards on both passenger vehicles and charging equipment.

Of course, it’s not all about the technology of tomorrow – we need a fast roll-out of what’s already available. That means simplified regulations and approval procedures for normal power charging points and increased Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funds for the construction of multi-standard, downward compatible high-power charging infrastructure (150 kW and higher). And let’s speed up the standardisation of the charging interface for electric buses and make sure that recharging stations can handle these vehicles as well as cars and vans.

Railway stations and other public transport hubs are prime locations for public charging points: linking up with existing electric infrastructure would reduce the investment cost of the roll out while improving the connectivity between private and public transport.

Then there’s the seemingly obvious stuff we still mustn’t forget: parking schemes to ensure recharging points are optimally used and not misused; and customer-friendly ways to find, access and pay for charging services across the whole continent. And let’s be transparent: give consumers all the information on pricing, level of service, and the origin of electricity; but also let drivers switch easily between different service providers.

Finally, let’s make the transition to electric mobility cheaper for all, by rewarding people who charge their cars at times when the electricity grid is not overloaded.

This article originally appeared in EurActiv 16 December 2016.

Bellona Europa

europe@bellona.org