BRUSSELS – Standardization remains the main hurdle European Union countries will have to pass to see increased acceptance of electric vehicles, auto industry specialists conclude.
Their comments come as the European Commission starts an impact assessment “into the legislative options and technical modalities” of developing a standardized, publicly accessible EV recharging infrastructure for member countries.
Attendees at a conference here organized by the Public Policy Exchange welcomes the EC’s plan to adopt a single charging standard at the EU level, in a move to push the EV market forward.
Currently, EU decision-making powerhouses France and Germany have two different standards in place.
Earlier this year, ACEA, the European auto makers’ group, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers and Eurelectric all endorsed the Type-2 connector used in Germany, indicating they are willing to back EC plans to adopt one EU recharger standard.
Of the EU countries that already have adopted a charger type for plug-in EVs, only France so far has opted for the Type-3, which is considered fully compatible with the national codes in all European countries for use in buildings, as well as linking vehicles to the electric grid.
Nick Ford, senior automotive consultant at Frost & Sullivan, says the main challenge for the German connector is that it lacks a “shutter” cover designed to prevent electrocution when a car is not being recharged. These are required by many European countries, including England, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Finland.
Petr Dolejsi, ACEA director of mobility and sustainable transport, stresses at the event that predictability and interoperability are needed to unlock the necessary investment in the recharging infrastructure needed to boost the EU’s electric-car market.
Clear timing is needed,” he says. “We cannot expect investment from the side of infrastructure providers to invest into uncertain solutions.”
Ford stresses the importance of continued government support for EVs: “We are not at the point yet where we can see the market being self-sustaining, so stimulations are still important to get to the point where we have enough early adopters taking on board the technology.”
Overall, the pace of charging-infrastructure development has increased over the past two years. Last year, according to data provided by Frost & Sullivan, the U.K. had the largest number of public charging stations available (1,800) in Europe, followed by France (1,270), Germany and Spain (880 each).
Disappointing EV sales in Germany are blamed on factors including high purchase prices and power-grid uncertainties.
Better grid management, including the development of a grid network coordinated with those of neighboring countries, may help. However, in a key potential stumbling block, German officials have not yet decided whether grid-recharging fees for EVs should be sent only to renewable- energy producers, or whether power plants of all kinds should benefit.
According to VDA, the German auto industry association, the country needs “a level competitive playing field, research promotion and market-launch impetus going beyond the national borders.”
A VDA spokesman tells WardsAuto that standardizing the interfaces between EVs and the infrastructure in Europe “is just as necessary as having powerful infrastructures and climate-friendly energy for electric cars.”
In Italy, standards for EV production are based mainly on EU directives and European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization criteria, says Pietro Menga, president of the Italian branch of the European Association for Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles.
But Menga says both German and Italian-French connectors are acceptable for EV recharging in Italy, and both types must be provided in the country’s growing network of public recharging stations. Currently, there are about 1,300 such stations.
Both types of connectors are not necessarily mandatory when the recharger is located on private property, such as a shopping-mall parking area.
Transport engineer Philippe Hirtzman, recently appointed by France’s new socialist government to deal with EV-range limitation and recharging issues, has expressed confidence that the connector-standardization issue soon will be resolved.
Charlotte de Silguy, head of the French branch of the European Association for Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles, also is optimistic an agreement soon will be reached. The French government “seems to have real will to implement e-mobility,” she says, particularly with new regulations to encourage the installation of more charging points.
But in some countries, there are so few EVs that standardization is not even on the regulatory radar.
Of the roughly 13 million vehicles in Poland, only about 2,000 have electric or hybrid engines, with no growth expected anytime soon, says Jakub Faryś, president of the Polish Automotive Industry Assn.
Consumers in Poland consider EV batteries costing about €1,000 ($1,272) too expensive, and they deem charging times “too much of a burden,” Faryś says, adding the government sees little benefit in devoting resources to promoting EVs during the current economic slowdown.
“For the moment, a limited number of cities are trying to introduce solutions,” such as free parking for EVs and allowing them to drive in bus lanes, he says.
– with Andrew Kureth in Warsaw, Lee Adendorff in Italy, David Hayhurst in Paris and Alan Osborn in London