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E-mobility challenges: part of the solution is in the coming together of the power and transport sectors

Road transportation accounts for almost one-quarter of Europe’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cut those by 10 per cent year on year and Europe stands a very good chance of meeting its 2030 GHG emissions target, paving the way to a 90 per cent reduction in transport-related GHG emissions by 2050. So shows the report Accelerating fleet electrification in Europe: when does reinventing the wheel make perfect sense? jointly published by consultancy firm EY and Euroelectric, the sector association which represents the common interests of the electricity industry.

There are signs that the tide is turning. In Europe, petrol and diesel sales declined in 2020, largely due to city bans. However, many challenges remain. First of all, more vehicles are needed. Automakers must scale up EV production, reduce upfront costs and improve vehicle availability, choice and range. The European Commission is calling for at least 30 million zero-emission cars and 80,000 zero-emission trucks in operation by 2030.

New CO2 regulations are becoming progressively more stringent. By 2030, cars must emit 37.5 per cent less CO2 compared with 2021 and vans 31 per cent less. By 2030, EVs must make up 35–40 per cent of total vehicle sales, up from just 3 per cent in 2019. So, automakers are obliged to switch diesel and petrol powertrains to electric or alternative fuels. That means significant investment and innovation, as well as disruption to long-standing supply chains, in order to deliver cleaner vehicles with lower lifetime emissions.

Major hurdles include also a lack of public sector funding and a failure to attract private investors due to infrastructure’s high-risk, low-return profile in emerging markets and, secondly, a lack of interoperability, meaning drivers, used to seamless experiences at the fuel pump, find the right to charge complicated by the range of EV platforms, technologies, provider contracts and payment protocols.

Part of the solution is in the progressive coming together of the European power and transport sectors. A joint approach will ensure there is adequate grid capacity and that charging infrastructure is sited wherever the need is greatest, tackling installation bottlenecks and improving the investment case.

“Charging needs to be smart so consumers can, for instance, optimise the cost of a charging session and provide flexibility to the grid while the battery is getting charged for the next journey,” wrote Josephine Delmote, strategy analyst at Belgian transmission system operator Elia Group. “This will be enabled by traditional and new service providers and by system operators sending signals that incentivise smart charging behaviour.”

The report finds that the role of system operators is critical in the rollout of charging infrastructure. They must ensure adequate grid capacity to accommodate the surge in drivers putting their EVs on charge at the end of the working day, without disrupting existing assets.

Distribution system operators (DSOs) will work alongside charge point operators to connect charging points to the grid. They will also work with e-mobility service providers, transmission system operators (TSOs), EV users, businesses and municipalities to make the grid smarter and able to utilise all the flexibility and storage options across the distribution network. Through partnerships and collaboration, stakeholders gain a better understanding of the perspectives of other players and can work towards common solutions.

Indeed, governments and cities are making pledges to improve air quality by ending sales of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030. Norway, one of the most progressive economies for EVs, is making a bold bid banning new fossil-fuel cars from 2025.

However, the estimated 40 million EVs on Europe’s roads by 2030 will be going nowhere without parallel investment in public and private infrastructure. Europe’s existing 213,000 public EV charging points are well below target. The European Commission is calling for three million public charge points by 2030, a 13-fold increase within the next 10 years.

“We need a corridor of decent charging infrastructure across Europe,” Stefan Meers, Global Industry Segment Director for Car Fleets at Amsterdam-based electric vehicle supply equipment company EVBox wrote in the report. “It is impossible to drive across the EU due to the lack of a sufficient DC-charger network.”

At the beginning of 2020, Romania gained approval from European competition regulators for a 53 million euros public support scheme for charging stations.

“Romania will contribute to the fight against global warming, in line with the European Green Deal’s objectives,” said Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy. “This scheme will reduce harmful car emissions and improve the health of citizens, without unduly distorting competition”.

The scheme is expected to stimulate investments into recharging stations for hybrid and battery electric motor vehicles in Romania by 2025. It will cover urban, suburban and rural areas and aims to develop a network of recharging stations that will cover the entire country.

Private sector investors also need to be convinced by the case for infrastructure. Profit margins are often deemed too small and the lack of unified charging standards adds uncertainty. Closing the private funding gap, gaining investor confidence and giving EVs the chance to become mainstream will hinge on new and innovative ways to raise private capital for infrastructure investment.

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