EuropeOn Annual Conference: insightful exchanges on e-mobility and zero-emission infrastructure

While e-mobility has seen an unprecedented uptake in the last couple of years, the race for the decarbonisation of transport is not over. There is still much to do, and this starts with the EU’s agenda for transport under the Green Deal, which is expected to unravel in the coming months. We addressed this situation head-on during the second session of EuropeOn Annual Conference, where we held a panel debate on a consumer-centric shift to e-mobility.

This session was a fertile ground for fruitful discussions. We learned about  what the Commission is planning on one hand, and about the expectations of our other speakers, from the European Parliament, civil sector and EuropeOn membership on the other hand.

The main measure that will be presented in 2021 is the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID), following the Sustainable & Smart Mobility Strategy which should be released later on in December. When the current version of AFID was adopted, in 2014, EU legislators did not have the clear picture we have today when it comes to the direction in which the clean vehicles market is heading. This meant that the Directive still gave room to fossil options such as CNG/LNG alongside the greener electric and fuel-cell vehicles. However, the market has since changed. Electric vehicles have matured to a point where an increasingly growing number of consumers have opted for an EV in the last couple of year. In this context, a new and stronger AFID is eagerly awaited by clean mobility stakeholders and is poised to be a defining measure for this sector for the years to come.

Indeed, the expectations surrounding the upcoming proposal from the Commission, which will then be passed on to the Parliament, made for an interesting exchange of views between our panellists.

We first heard form Dario Dubolino, from the Commission’s Transport Directorate, who outlined some of the options under evaluation for the AFID revision and the sustainable mobility agenda. While it is clear that the level of ambition for transport decarbonisation has to be raised, with the support of new CO2 standards for cars, the Commission is still evaluating the level of intervention fitting this new measure, especially regarding binding targets. He also outlined how, for the e-mobility model to grow, the EU needs an interoperable charging infrastructure network which enables consumers to seamlessly recharge electrical vehicles across border, in line with EuropeOn’s 4 key recommendations on e-mobility.

On the other side, we had Ismail Ertug, MEP and Vice-Chair of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, who already worked on the original AFID back in 2014, when he was disappointed by the lack of ambition both from Member States and the Commission. He assured the Commission of his support for a directly applicable revision (i.e. turning the directive into a regulation), with binding targets and fostering a consumer-centric approach. He took it upon himself to give us a glimpse into consumers’ expectations for the switch to e-mobility. MEP Ertug also praised the Commission’s initiative to fund 1 Million charging points across the EU by 2025.

They both agreed on the need to ramp up ambition in view of climate targets. Taking stock of the previous AFID debates. Ismail Ertug emphasised the clear need to impose binding targets for charging infrastructure deployment at national level. Mr. Dubolino answered that this is an option on the table, but reminding that it would still need to be determined at which level the target would be set and according to which methodology. On the types of fuels included, both speakers agreed that the new AFID should reflect the infrastructure that is needed in light of the direction in which the market is heading. While battery-electric vehicles are clearly an overwhelmingly popular option, it still remains to be seen if other fuels will make it into the final legislation.

Another point of agreement was the need to cater to the heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) segment. Trucks and lorries also stand to become be electrified and they will need their own infrastructure which comes with different challenges. While geographical coverage is not as important, HDVs need high-powered charging, which needs careful planning.

Giving an outside view in this inter-institutional debate, Julia Poliscanova, from EU NGO Transport & Environment, highlighted the need to keep up the pressure on zero-emission transport with a refitted AFID and strong and regularly reviewed CO2 standards. She joined in calling for binding infrastructure targets, reminding us that AFID should reflect the needs of the market where a great majority (over 99%) of alternative fuel cars that car maker are planning to put on the market in the coming years are EVs.

Interestingly, Ms. Poliscanova explained such targets should be divided per member state on the basis of the national EV market and the access to private charging (i.e. composition of building stock), making the link with the EPBD which should further address private charging. Finally, she emphasised the need to put the consumer first, with a true ‘right to plug’ (allowing users to request charging in multi-occupancy buildings) and maintenance requirements for public chargers, among others.

These arguments supporting consumers where echoed by Alexander Neuhäuser, from EuropeOn member ZVEH, who called for an extended network of charging points, and a particular emphasis on private charging. The latter can benefit from on-site renewable energy, which can provide true ‘well-to-wheel’ zero-emission mobility. On recovery and employment, Mr. Neuhäuser carried on explaining the great job potential and added value opportunities for European SMEs. On top of net job creation, the flourishing e-mobility ecosystem will create new business models based on novel energy and after-sales services.

Adding on to that point, Olivier Toggenburger from Park’n Plug, a French leader in the installation and management of charging infrastructures, pointed to the consumers’ expectations to have the right charging solution for their buildings, which require skilled installers able to offer the matching modern electrical installations. Indeed, Mr. Toggenburger emphasised the integrator role of installers, who have the complex task of combining and adjusting the charging solution to the electrical system and power availabilities of the buildings in which the operate.

The need for integrators was further underlined by Casto Cañavate Fernández, from KNX, who presented practical solutions to bridging the gap between smart buildings & e-mobility. While several panellists insisted on the need to roll out infrastructure and reduce the cost of EVs, Mr. Cañavate shed light on the importance of solutions that enable the smooth and cyber-safe integration of home devices, in order to both reassure clients on the security of their connected devices while offering optimal energy management. Such systems are ideal in combination with EV charging, which can be integrated in the building as a flexibility option, especially when coupled with on-site solar.

In this session, it has become clear that e-mobility will play a key role in the short to medium future for the decarbonisation of our transport system, while supporting our energy system, creating quality and skilled jobs and empowering consumers to take part in the energy transition. While EU policymakers have yet to propose and enact new legislation for charging infrastructure, coming next year, it is clear that they have taken stock of the growth of the EV market and understand it needs matching infrastructure.

If you missed our conference you can catch up with the recordings here.

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