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
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.