cars21.com: EURELECTRIC released a position paper in March 2012 to call for a common solution on EV charging. Besides this position paper, how is EURELECTRIC trying to promote agreement?
Hans ten Berge: As representatives of the pan-European electricity industry, a common solution to EV charging is a subject that is very close to our heart. It is simply unacceptable that car manufacturers and governments across Europe have not yet been able to agree on such a common solution. How can we expect consumers to be interested in buying an electric vehicle if they need different chargers or adaptors whenever they cross the border? If we are really serious about getting e-mobility off the ground, we have to find agreement on this issue, and we need it sooner rather than later.
Our recent paper outlines this unsatisfactory situation, and we hope that it will cause the players involved to focus their attention on solving the problem and to redouble their efforts to find a joint solution. At the same time, we have raised the issue repeatedly with the European Commission, most notably in meetings with the Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry, organised within the Cars 21 process. We are also seeking to cooperate more closely with European regions and with MEPs on this topic. In short, we need to build up broad political support – this will hopefully increase the political pressure to reach an agreement.
cars21.com: Do you see unharmonised charging becoming a critical problem in EV adoption?
Hans ten Berge: It’s quite difficult to generalise across different European power grids, but an EV market share of 20-25% is usually seen as critical. Imagine a situation in which millions of Europeans come home from work in the early evening and plug in their electric cars during what is already a peak time of electricity consumption. Europe’s electricity grids simply are not designed to cope with such an increase in peak load. So if we want a significant share of Europeans to drive electric cars, we need to find a way to work around that.
Of course, we could simply expand the electricity grid in the traditional way by building new lines and power plants – but this would require investing billions of euros in capacity that will ultimately be needed for relatively short peak periods only. We think that coordinated – or ‘smart’ – charging is much more efficient. Based on automated systems that don’t just consume, but also store, produce and re-distribute electricity, smart charging would allow the grid to dynamically adjust the charging speed of individual EVs to overall grid utilisation. In effect this means that private households, via the significant load available through EV batteries, would become part of the overall power balancing procedure. Rather than becoming a problem for the grid, EVs could in this way actually help stabilise the system.
cars21.com was reporting about your two interactive maps on EV projects and smart grids projects back in November 2011, and we see that they have both been largely updated since then. Who is yet the main driver for such projects?
Hans ten Berge: Let me first provide a bit of context: we launched our interactive maps late last year because we felt that they could provide real added value to the discussion surrounding e-mobility and smart grids. There are so many different projects taking place all across Europe, many of them providing excellent insights into very specific questions. But if nobody pools this knowledge and makes it accessible to other stakeholders across Europe, we waste useful learning and cross-fertilisation opportunities. There is no need to re-invent the wheel ten separate times – it’s much more fruitful to share the knowledge so that other people can use it as a basis for their own projects.
That’s why we decided to produce interactive maps with information on EV and smart grids projects across Europe – and we’re overwhelmed by how successful they’ve been. We have received a lot of positive feedback, confirming our initial suspicion that there was a real need for this type of tool among the smart grid and e-mobility communities. We are doing our very best to update both maps regularly and to make sure that they faithfully reflect the growing number of projects across Europe. Especially e-mobility requires close cooperation between and understanding of several different industries: the automotive sector, the ICT sector, and of course the electricity industry. But of course knowledge and goodwill are not enough. Government support – be it financial, but also political – remains crucial in setting up such projects and making sure they get off the ground.
cars21.com: Where in Europe do you see electric mobility becoming a mass market first? Have utilities in EU Member States similar approach toward electric mobility or do you see big differences?
Hans ten Berge: Some countries already have clear political targets for e-mobility in place: Germany, France, Ireland, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands, among others. Of course such targets help to advance the e-mobility market. These countries are progressing quite rapidly with the roll-out of charging infrastructure. In fact, in most of those countries there is already more than enough EV charging infrastructure to support the actual number of EVs. Achieving a mass market there now depends less on the infrastructure and more on the availability of competitive EVs in the product portfolio of various car manufacturers. People won’t choose to buy an electric car unless it’s visually attractive and competitively priced – all the charging stations in the world won’t change that.
As for the electricity industry’s views on e-mobility, most utilities across Europe do seem to have a very similar approach – mainly because most also face very similar challenges and constraints. For instance, EU and national renewable energy targets imply an increased share of both decentralised and variable renewable generation. Electric vehicles, as mobile and flexible loads, can help to make optimal use of this capacity: bi-directional communication between EVs and charging stations will make it possible to use EVs as ‘storage’ for surplus renewable capacity. Moreover, it will allow EVs to be charged during off-peak hours when grid utilisation is lower. Utilities have recognised the advantages of this type of charging – and they see electric vehicles as an integrated part of the smart electricity system of the future.
cars21.com: EURELECTRIC is one of the partners of the Green eMotion project. What are your first conclusions from the tests done so far in different regions across Europe?
Hans ten Berge: We are very proud to be involved in the Green eMotion project, which brings together a total of 42 partners from industry, electric vehicle manufacturers, municipalities as well as universities and research institutions. We hope that this broad range of partners will ultimately ensure that the best e-mobility solutions prevail for the European market.
The demonstration phase of Green eMotion will only really get going as of 2013 – at the moment a lot of preparatory work is being done at the large-scale demonstration sites across Europe. However, I can already say that the concept for the IT architecture of the European e-mobility marketplace is progressing well. This ICT feature will enable a European clearing house – allowing customers to plug in and charge their EVs everywhere in Europe. This is one of the main objectives of Green eMotion. In addition, electricity companies are currently busy analysing different charge management strategies in order to prepare the electricity grids for the efficient integration of EVs under mass market conditions.