Electromobility - E-infrastructure is lagging behind the EU plan

In 2020, 15.972 purely electrically powered vehicles were registered in Austria. In the first quarter of this year alone, there are 6.620 electric cars in the statistics, an increase of 172,7 percent. The Tesla 3 model even leads the current March statistics in the overall evaluation (ahead of Fiat 500 and Skoda Octavia). Austria is thus in the top European field.

Since the major vehicle manufacturers have switched and the range has increased from model to model, the march of the "Stromer" no longer seems to stop. The development across the EU is similar: in 2019, 89,4 percent of all new vehicles registered in the EU were powered by gasoline or diesel, six percent were hybrid electric vehicles, three percent were electrically chargeable vehicles and 1,6 percent were all other vehicles alternative fuel vehicles (e.g. gas or hydrogen).

In 2020, the electrically chargeable segment (battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) increased its market share significantly, with 10,5 percent of new registrations already falling in this segment. By 2025, the production of e-vehicles is expected to increase sixfold, with four million cars and light commercial vehicles expected annually.

The charging infrastructure required for this cannot keep up with the explosion of e-vehicles; the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has now stated in a report that it should work better.

The Luxembourg auditors complain that the plan set out in the “Green Deal” to set up one million charging points in EU countries by 2025 is a goal that is still a long way off. For test purposes, they even went out with an electric vehicle themselves to check charging stations in Germany, France and Italy. “Last year, every tenth vehicle sold in the EU was electrically chargeable, but charging infrastructure is not equally accessible everywhere in the EU. We believe that the Commission should do more to support EU-wide network coverage and ensure that funds go where they are most needed, ”said Court of Auditors Ladislav Balko.

Infrastructure vicious circle

Charging infrastructure is a prerequisite for more electromobility, "in order for this infrastructure to be built, however, it must be more certain that electric vehicles will actually be accepted." That is a vicious circle, as the examiners themselves say.

Although the EU supports the member states through political instruments, coordination and financing, the auditors complain that no comprehensive gap analysis was carried out to determine how many charging stations are needed where and which charging capacity they should offer. The funds made available under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) did not always go where they were needed most, there were no clear and coherent goals or uniform minimum infrastructure requirements at EU level. "There is no overall strategic timetable for vehicles, infrastructure, networks, batteries, economic incentives, raw materials and digital services." There are always problems finding suitable locations

The problem areas that arise with the customer in everyday life are also criticized: Various payment and information systems are becoming an inscrutable thicket. There is hardly any coordinated information about real-time availability, charging data and billing details between the various networks, i.e. no harmonized roaming systems.

Anyone who has ever tried to charge their vehicle in strange cities at strange charging stations knows a thing or two about it. The location of the station can usually be called up, but there is a lack of data on functionality, queues or easily comparable cost situations. After all: in 2014 there were 34.000 charging points in the EU (still with Great Britain), now there are 250.000 - significantly fewer than the 440.000 that were originally mentioned. If the 2025 target is still to be achieved, 150.000 charging stations would have to be added annually, 3000 every week. Austria is one of the model students, according to its own specifications. At the end of 2020, Great Britain was well above the target it had set itself in first place (250 percent of the target). Then come Lithuania, the Netherlands, Latvia, then Austria. Twelve member countries did not even reach half of the target. Bulgaria brings up the rear, Sweden and Spain have not set any targets at all.

In view of the ongoing revision of the political and legal framework, the EU Commission should develop a strategic roadmap for achieving the goals and set minimum standards. The auditors recommend that funding be made available on the basis of objective criteria and gap analysis so that co-financed projects offer non-discriminatory access to all users. The EU funding is not linked to a minimum operating time or to guaranteeing equal access for all users of electric vehicles. In addition, there are often delays and poor capacity utilization.

Obsolete policy

The basis for the charging network is AFID, an EU directive from 2014 on the development of the infrastructure for alternative fuels. The Court of Auditors sees an urgent need for re-sharpening here. Originally, it contained 800.000 charging points by 2020, the number was lost "en route" without replacement. What remained was a “recommended guide value” of one charging point per ten e-vehicles without specifying the geographical distribution, population density or network coverage.

The member states can define essential criteria themselves, so important detailed questions remain open. An example: No distinction is made between battery-powered electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, but their charging patterns differ greatly. Most of the existing charging stations are also "slow" devices with an output of up to 22 kW. The Court of Auditors positively notes that at least the EU standards for charging plugs have largely been adopted.

In its opinion, the Commission itself refers to a lack of powers, for example with regard to coordination. The member states are responsible for this. The problem shows that there are not yet enough charging providers to promote the nationwide expansion.

In principle, the recommendations are accepted in Brussels. A new strategic action plan, which also includes other alternative fuels, should be in place by summer.