Sunday, February 25, 2024

European Charging Infrastructure A Long Way From Great

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Looking at the charging infrastructure in Europe is not something that makes me happy. A new website shows just how bad the situation is.

16 monitored countries with the three cities with most charges in each

16 monitored countries with the three cities with the most chargers in each.

I live in the Netherlands. That is the world’s charging paradise. Norway has the most fully electric cars, but charging electric cars is least problematic for the Dutch. (The ratio of chargers to electric cars is much better in the Netherlands than in Norway.) I was in Oslo last year, the city with the most BEVs, at least in Europe. Charging was less easy there than I was accustomed to. Along the highways, it was no problem. Norway has a relatively high percentage of DC chargers, both in the city and along the roads. The disadvantage of DC charging is that you have to wait, or do it while shopping.

In the Netherlands, we have mostly curbside chargers, intended for overnight charging. It’s the perfect solution for those who don’t have charging in their own driveway. In Europe, the majority of people live in homes without their own driveway.

In the Netherlands, over 2/3 of households do not have their own driveway. But 2/3 of the drivers of plugin cars do have a private charger. The conclusion can be that even in a country with charging infrastructure like the Netherlands’, having your own driveway is a helpful condition for driving a plugin vehicle. But perhaps it’s partially because the people who buy new cars are more likely to live in homes with their own driveway. It’s a nice topic of study for a college paper.

I think in the most other countries, it is not the same, but worse. I was reminded of these problems by a newsletter from EVmarkets Reports announcing its new “Charge Point Monitor.” The newsletter and the monitor showed how bad the charging infrastructure in the 16 monitored European countries is. About the same information for the EU countries can be found on the website of the European Alternate Fuels Observatory (EAFO), an EU agency monitoring CNG, LNG, LPG, Hydrogen, and electricity for transport. EAFO has more data, but the Charge Point Monitor is better accessible.

The availability of DC fast charging is a necessary condition for making electric travel away from your home possible. But AC charging while the car is parked at or near your home or your workplace should be the normal way of charging for daily use. DC charging is faster, but the time or location is often not great to do something else while charging, just long enough to be a long wait. AC charging is done in essentially zero time for the driver. The driver is often at work or at home, preferably sleeping.

The transition to electric driving in most of Europe is still in its infancy. Even in Norway, electric driving is not yet normal for those who buy only used cars. Those who buy only older used cars, at least 50% of car buyers, are still mainly buying fossil fuel burning cars. There are no older used fully electric cars on the market, even in Norway.

Only after the new car market is mainly electric for 10 years will the electric transition reach those car buyers who do not buy new or buy new-ish used cars. The used car market is about 4–5 times the size of the new car market. The fully electric vehicle market share in that market is too small to calculate.

With electric cars being mainly driven by new car buyers, even in Norway, it is understandable that public infrastructure is more for the benefit of long-distance drivers than daily use. Currently, the vast majority of electric cars are charged with the driver’s own charger. About 95% of Dutch chargers (both public and semi-public) are AC chargers. Most AC chargers are curbside chargers, and the drivers who need them think there are not enough, or at least not where they need them the most. This is clearly visible in the Charge Point Monitor. For electric driving to become the standard for all drivers, this availability of charging should become the standard in all countries.

There are a number of different opinions and views on what’s the most desirable infrastructure for charging. This is mainly centered around curbside charging in urban areas. One view is to minimize the availability of chargers because of cost, grid demand, and visual pollution of public spaces.

Another view is the contribution that connected EVs can deliver to grid stability when smart charging is enabled. The logical end point of this approach is that an EV should be in one of two states, driving around or connected to the grid. With smart charging being in its early infancy, this has a long way to go. But it could become the dominant way to design charging infrastructure. Or it could just grow that way because it is the most economical way to do it.

For electric driving to become the main way of driving for all parts of society, daily charging on (semi-)public chargers must become highly available, preferably at chargers where the cars are being parked for hours, making it possible for divers to charge their cars in “zero time.”

The next chart shows how far ahead the Dutch are compared to the rest of Europe.

Top 10 cities by number of charge points in the EU

Top 10 cities by number of charge points in the EU.

There are four Dutch cities in the top five. Only London, over 10 times the size of Amsterdam, is between them. Many cities bigger than all four of the Dutch cities combined are nowhere near a place on this list. I am looking at you, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Madrid — just to name a few.

The availability of curbside chargers is primarily the responsibility of municipalities. When voting in local elections, make sure you know the opinion of your local politicians on this topic. It does not seem very important, but it is crucial for the transition the renewable transportation. Just asking about this topic can make them realize it has some importance for their community.


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