Filling up with electricity

Filling up with electricity - it has to work! Concerns about the charging infrastructure make the purchase of an e-car less attractive and thus inhibit consumers in their personal drive turnaround.

| EnBW/Chris Nolte-Kuhlmann
2023-04-01 publication

e-mobility: Charge it up, please!

One of the major concerns many have before switching to an electric vehicle is the possibility of running out of power without an available charging station nearby. As experienced EV drivers will tell you, however, solid progress is being made in the expansion of Germany’s charging infrastructure.

By Michael Neißendorfer

VDE dialog - the technology magazine

Why many interested parties hesitate to purchase an electric car

At the summit of the Strategy Platform for the Transformation of the Automotive and Mobility Industries in January, Germany's federal government and automotive industry confirmed their aim to put at least 15 million fully electric vehicles on the country's roads by 2030. Prior to the event, however, feedback from political and industrial circles had already suggested that inadequate charging infrastructure is the main thing blocking the progress of electromobility and making people hesitant about buying an electric vehicle. Several consumer surveys have also indicated that concerns about the lack of infrastructure and vehicle range are preventing this technology from really taking off. According to the management consultancy Deloitte, for instance, its respondents pinpointed these as the most significant arguments against buying an EV (with 57 percent citing limited range and 47 percent the lack of public charging infrastructure). 

Dig a bit further, though, and you’ll discover that most of the people surveyed had had no practical experience with electric vehicles. If you ask someone who has been driving an electric vehicle for some time, you’re likely to get a different impression. A survey of over 3,000 electric vehicle drivers by the German Association of ­Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) revealed that around three in four believe charging at public stations has improved dramatically in the last three years. Overall, the participants were extremely satisfied with their personal vehicle transition: 98 percent would “definitely” buy an electric car again, and 2 percent "probably" would. 

National Centre for Charging Infrastructure

At the National Centre for Charging Infrastructure, which is commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Transport to manage the activities involved in expanding the country’s charging infrastructure, there’s no talk of sluggish advancement in the switch to electromobility. On the contrary: It’s happy to report that the market ramp-up is proceeding at considerable speed. Since the turn of the year, Germany has passed the two-million-vehicle mark, which includes over one million battery electric vehicles (BEVs). This is a significant milestone on the road to climate-friendly mobility. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, 40 percent of the new vehicles registered that month had an electric drive. It also stated that Germany’s charging infrastructure was undergoing highly dynamic development. As of November 2022, there were over 72,000 public charging stations in Germany according to the Federal Network Agency, and about 25,000 of them were added last year alone. In purely arithmetical terms, that should be plenty for all users: According to the BDEW, the current demand at the average charging station amounts to just 15 percent of its total capacity. In other words, it would already be possible to charge far more vehicles.

This is confirmed by Lars Walch, head of e-mobility strategy and sales at the energy supplier EnBW, which runs one of the largest public rapid-charging networks in Germany: Utilization data from its more than 800 stations confirms that the existing charging infrastructure covers far more than the current demand. “Overall, a lack of charging infrastructure is therefore not an issue from the present point of view,” affirms Walch, who goes on to explain that the problem has more to do with the isolated cases in which a specific location sees extraordinary use.

Charging in every district

Dr. Ralf Petri, head of the VDE Mobility Division and a seasoned EV driver in his own right, is another industry figure who doesn’t see the charging infrastructure as a problem in e-mobility. "I think we’re on the right track," he says. "There are more places to charge your EV all the time, including in places you visit frequently anyway." A quick look at the current statistics from the Federal Network Agency confirms that there are now charging stations in every single district all across Germany. Kerstin Meyer, project leader for vehicles and drives at Agora Verkehrswende, thinks that "the current state of affairs is actually quite good". However, she does note that the number of EVs has risen dramatically recently, and more quickly in proportion to the number of charging points. Meyer therefore believes that keeping pace with this growth is now key to the development of the charging infrastructure. “We see the greatest need for charging options in everyday locations in the semi-public sector – shopping malls, DIY stores and movie theaters, for example. Developing a rapid-charging infrastructure with a capacity greater than 50 kW would be beneficial for the development of electromobility,” she says. “At supermarkets, where the consumers tend to stay for a relatively short time, high-power chargers with more than 150 kW would be even better."

Aral is also betting on high-power charging. The crude-oil corporation, which has been operating the electromobility brand pulse for over two years, brought its 1,000th charging station online last October. Many of these are high-power charging points. “A rapid and simple charging infrastructure is a central prerequisite for making electromobility even more attractive and entirely practical in everyday life. That’s why we’re really speeding up our efforts to expand our network,” says Alexander Junge, director of electromobility at Aral. The company wants to enable EV drivers to charge their vehicles at about 5,000 charging points in Germany by the end of 2025 – not only at its own gas stations, but at supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, as well. According to Aral, which also became a member of VDE at the start of the year, the medium-­term plan is for half of its stations to offer high-power charging.

Fast-charging park

Rapid-charging park at the Kamen freeway junction. Here, EV drivers can top up their range with up to 300 kW. At present, only a few models can actually handle the full 300 kW, so the charging points adapt to each connected vehicle.

| EnBW/Fotograf Endre Dulic
Kerstin Meyer, Project Leader for Vehicles and Drives at Agora Verkehrswende

“Developing the charging infrastructure is a task that the automotive manufacturers, energy suppliers, network operators and gas stations need to tackle together along with Germany’s federal government, states and municipalities.” Kerstin Meyer, Projektleiterin Fahrzeuge und Antriebe bei Agora Verkehrswende

| Agora Verkehrswende

In the countryside, people are more likely to charge at their own power socket

As Kerstin Meyer points out, however, charging at the workplace is also an important issue: “Vehicles can charge there during the day, and their long downtime can unlock additional potential for charging that will benefit the grid in the future.” She adds that the more charging infrastructure is available in private spaces like these, the less need there will be to create public charging points. “Public space is limited and also needed for other types of use,” Meyer explains.
The National Centre for Charging Infrastructure points out that the requirements for charging infrastructure vary dramatically by region. In rural areas, more people have their own parking spaces and the possibility to run their own wall boxes. The need for public charging infrastructure is therefore lower. In cities, on the other hand, the availability of space poses a major challenge.
As positive as the perception of the current situation may be, the development of charging infrastructure still needs to proceed in a comprehensive, need-oriented and user-friendly way. This is where the Charging Infrastructure II Master Plan is designed to make a crucial contribution. In it, the German federal government has identified various challenges, such as the frequently lengthy approval process, delays in supply chains and the labor shortages faced by construction and other participating companies. Through the plan’s 68 individual measures – some of which are very specific – the federal government aims to ensure that the development of the charging infrastructure proceeds more quickly and more selectively in the coming years.

Charging wherever you already are

“With a road map in place in the Charging Infrastructure II Master Plan, the key now is to implement it quickly,” Kerstin Meyer from Agora Verkehrswende declares. And this isn’t the responsibility of the federal government alone. “Developing the charging infrastructure is a task that the automotive manufacturers, energy suppliers, network operators and gas stations need to tackle together along with Germany’s federal government, states and municipalities,” Meyer says, pointing out that charging infrastructure is also increasingly becoming an important way in which places can stand out. “Think of employers that want to attract highly qualified staff and keep them happy, for example.”

Meanwhile, the federal government’s declared target is to establish a million public charging points by the year 2030. But is that even necessary? EnBW, for instance, assumes this number is outdated and that 130,000 to 150,000 public rapid-charging points would be enough. “In everyday life, electromobility works differently than driving a car with an internal combustion engine: You can essentially charge an EV anywhere where there’s suitable charging infrastructure,” Lars Walch from EnBW explains – at work or at the supermarket around the corner, for example. “In most cases, you don’t need to make a separate trip like you would to the gas station.” One point that is often overlooked is that both the charging capacity of EVs and the charging infrastructure itself are developing rapidly and have already made dramatic progress. “Nowadays, charging can be completed much quicker, which means fewer rapid-charging stations can serve more EVs,” Walch continues.

Europe-wide roaming for EV power

Many experts in the industry agree that if the German federal government wants to support the expansion of charging infrastructure, it should primarily provide public space as quickly as possible and simplify the approval process. The grid operators also need to step up. “Charging infrastructure operators like us need to take the different prerequisites of about 900 distribution network operators into account, depending on the region. That makes the expansion effort extremely complicated,” says Walch. He explains that, in some locations, it can take an extremely long time for the local distribution network operator to set up the connection to the power grid because there are no binding deadlines. Walch adds that EnBW is currently waiting for grid connections like this at over 200 rapid-charging locations.

VDE’s Ralf Petri, meanwhile, mentions another important point of criticism: the pricing at public charging stations. “Every provider sets its own prices, and they fluctuate enormously,” he explains. In the case of gas and diesel, the differences from gas station to gas station fall in the range of only a few cents per liter. “For a kilowatt-­hour of electricity, it’s very different – in some cases, you pay twice as much at one charging point compared to another. That creates uncertainty for consumers.” To solve this problem, Dr. Petri proposes a binding roaming charge that would apply all over ­Europe, just as it has for cellphone contracts for some time now.

According to Johannes Pallasch, chair of the management team at the National Centre for Charging Infrastructure, the most important thing is to ensure consumers aren’t put off by outdated prejudices. “Over the long term, the transition to electromobility will only succeed if everyone believes in the advantages it offers,” he declares.

MICHAEL NEIßENDORFER is a freelance journalist in Munich who specializes in sustainable mobility and electric vehicles.