By: Lesley Brown
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Electric mobility – let’s discuss charging, surge, and the grid
With fossil fuel vehicles on the way out and electric on the way in, developing mobility for the 21st century is posing urban challenges. How to develop reliable and efficient charging networks? City authorities or governments – who is paving the way, and how?
During a round table in Paris, organised by La Fabrique de la Cité on 10 October, speakers from France, the Netherlands, and Norway presented and debated the issues at stake.
“We started steps to clean up the city air around 10 years ago, with a focus on transport because it has the biggest influence on emissions,” said Bertold Plugboer, project manager, Amsterdam Elektrisch. “The initial batch of 100 electric charging points has since grown to 2,800 today, and we are recording 17,000 unique users and 80,000 charging sessions monthly.”
The electric vehicle (EV) charging network in Amsterdam is spread across both public and private space (e.g. car parks in the basements of apartment buildings), and also includes 30 (to date) fast charging points available primarily for taxi drivers, but which the public can pay to use too.
“To grow the network, roll-out of the infrastructure is demand-driven supported by charging data, which is collected then analysed by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences; this helps us tailor our strategies,” said Mr Plugboer.
Carrots and sticks – the power of incentives to get things moving
In a bid to reduce local air pollution, many European cities have set cut-off dates for banning diesel and petrol vehicles from their centres. At the same time, incentives are needed to bring EVs to market in their stead (encouraging people to use public transport is, of course, important too).
The Clean Air for Amsterdam strategy, which covers all the different transport modes, includes measures for both stimulating and regulating change. One goal is to have emission-free taxis by 2025.
“Taxi firms want a clear policy from government on this,” said Mr Plugboer. “Right now, only Euro 5 or higher cabs can enter the city, plus we have a ‘clean’ taxi rank at Amsterdam Central station, which also helps stimulate the market.”
To induce cab firms to go electric, for a period the city offered a €5,000 subsidy for every e-taxi purchased. “You have to be clear with the market about how much subsidy there is and that when it’s finished, it’s finished,” pointed out Mr Plugboer.
Facilitating pay-as-you-go charging with a single dedicated card valid nationwide, as is the case in the Netherlands, is another way of encouraging uptake.
In Norway, Oslo started introducing EV incentives back in 1990 with a range of measures coming from government, e.g. tax breaks, or the city authorities, e.g. free parking or access to bus lanes. Jenny Skagestad, advisor for urban transport with ZERO (Zero Emission Resource Organisation), insisted that cities are the prime movers behind the electric mobility shift. “After a few years, free toll roads and access to bus lanes for EVs became national policy.”
She also pointed out that incentives, while essential, shouldn’t last forever. ‘They serve to kickstart the market, but are costly, so the question is when to step them down? Free charging, free parking, reduced annual tax… Norway has a timeline for its EV catalysts running from 2014-2025.
Up to 30 June, 2018, there were 168,000 fully electric cars registered
Up to 31 May 2018, 28% of cars sold nationwide and 41% in Oslo were electric
The government wants all the cars sold in the country from 2025 to be electric
Plug in, or out?
Without reliable, affordable and easy to use charging infrastructure to hand, EVs aren’t going anywhere. Chicken and egg might spring to mind, but … if cities invest in building out their charging systems, will everyone buy an electric car? Not necessarily, or at least not today, given the models currently on the market are still priced out of the reach of ordinary mortals. Yet at the same time, range anxiety – the fear a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination and will strand its occupants – is an oft-cited reason why people are hesitating to drive electric; another is charging time tension.
- During a field trip to the US in May 2018, members of Futura-Mobility met Alex Gruzen, CEO of WiTricity, a Boston-based firm at the cutting edge of research on electric power transmission
One thing’s for sure: with EVs already coming onstream and sales expected to lift off in 2022 (according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance), power grid companies are afraid of… the big bad surge or… the ‘kettle’ effect – those moments in the day when electricity demand peaks as nations put on the kettle on in the morning before work and when getting home at the end of the day. Well, national grids want to avoid EVs becoming the new kettle. Because the potential implications, blackouts or even ‘brownouts’, whereby drops in voltage risk damaging electric equipment, are serious.
With EVs on the horizon, the main preoccupation is not how often people will be charging their EVs but how to avoid them all charging at the same time. This is one reason why Dutch grid operators created ElaadNL, a knowledge and innovation centre dedicated to smart charging infrastructure in the Netherlands.
“Smart charging means that when you plug in the car the system finds the appropriate time to recharge, instead of starting to power up instantaneously,” said Gijs van der Poel, a market analyst with ElaadNL.
E-mobility in the City of Lights
In France, the first electric charging station appeared in Paris in 1898. Today, there are 4,000 e-charging points across the capital and strong political desire, spearheaded by controversial mayor Anne Hidalgo, to tackle air pollution by reducing vehicle tailpipe emissions.
If targets are met, all diesel then all petrol vehicles will be outlawed from the city centre by 2024 and 2030 respectively. Such a climate is certainly helping pave the way for developing e-mobility; and not just cars, but buses, trucks, van, boats, bikes, and scooters (trottinettes) too.
Very much part of this shift in fuel focus, French power grid company Enedis sees itself as “a trusted advisor and enabler… helping develop and facilitate electric mobility,” said Eric Salomon, regional director, Enedis Paris.
“We don’t want to impede development, yet at the same time want to be sure the network develops as it should. Take for instance the location of charging points and type, fast or normal speed. It’s important to establish the right kind of infrastructure for the right need, which depends in part on anticipating future needs.”
Countdown to an EV future
For cities to breathe easier, the sooner EVs take off the better.Power operators, whose job it is to ensure their grids remain as stable as possible, are in less of a hurry. “I think we have five years before the EV market takes off,” reckons Mr Van der Poel. “At the end of the day the technology will prevail.”
“In Norway, where there is a long waiting list to buy electric cars, demand is outstripping supply,” pointed out Ms Skagestad. “We are also waiting for bigger electric van models and more of them. In the meantime, companies in need are taking matters into their own hands. Deutsche Post is building their own and Norwegian Post is buying from China.”
With all these e-wheels coming on stream, the clock is ticking for power distribution networks…