When the EU passed a directive obliging member states to guarantee minimum refueling points for electric cars and other alternative fuels in 2014, Siim Kallas, vice-president of the European Commission at the time, proclaimed that the law would bring long-awaited legal certainty to companies to start investing.

“Member states have asked for flexibility,” he said. “It is now up to them to develop the right national policy frameworks.”

Spoiler alert: national governments have not developed the right national policy frameworks. Critics say the fault lies with the structure of the law itself. It was a directive, a type of EU law that sets a target for member states but does not prescribe how to achieve that target. Faced with great flexibility and few consequences for not investing, most national governments have not put much effort into building the charging infrastructure needed for mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

Now the Commission is proposing to scrap that 2014 directive and replace it with a regulation, a more prescriptive type of law that tells national governments what to do and sets out penalties if they don’t. . Increasing charging infrastructure is key to decarbonizing transport.

Electric car charging. (Illustration by Sergii Iaremenko/Science Photo Library via Getty Images)

Stakeholders from the electric mobility and alternative fuel sectors are encouraged by the new proposal, as are consumer and driver associations. Laurianne Krid, chief executive of the International Automobile Federation for Europe, which represents drivers, says the proposed regulations contain real ambition which “will allow consumers to charge or refuel their vehicle anywhere in the world. EU and as easily as it is now”.

“We expect the more prescriptive regulation to significantly accelerate the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure, as it comes with an obligation to provide infrastructure across the EU,” she adds.

However, due to their prescriptive nature, regulations are generally not the preferred type of EU legislation in the Council, the upper house of the EU’s legislature made up of its 27 national governments – and already the backsliding has begun. When the 27 national transport ministers discussed the proposal on December 9, several called for greater consideration of national specificities. Countries in southern and eastern Europe, where the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure is more lagging behind, want more leeway to achieve the targets.

“Differences related to national specificities will have to be taken into consideration as well as different starting points,” said Jernej Vrtovec, Slovenia’s transport and infrastructure minister, who held the rotating Council presidency until the end of December 2021. investments are needed at both national and European level. A technologically neutral approach will have to be maintained, at least in the segments for which we do not yet have all the answers.

Mandatory National Goals

Ismail Ertug, the centre-left German MEP in charge of the dossier in the European Parliament, said it will be essential to maintain the main ambition of the proposal as MEPs negotiate with the Council over the next year. to come. “Some member states have already slowed ambition,” he says, noting that it was the Council that overturned the original 2014 directive. “All indicative measurable targets were canceled at that time, but with a regulation, Member States will not be able to undermine its content.”

While the 2014 directive only required governments to develop national policy frameworks for publicly accessible refueling and charging points, the new proposal sets mandatory national targets that require the construction of more charging infrastructure for each new electric vehicle. There are national fleet-based targets for cars and vans that state that for each battery-powered EV, a total power output of at least 1 kW must be provided through publicly accessible charging stations; for each plug-in hybrid, at least 0.66 kW.

The Commission also sets distance-based targets for light and heavy road vehicles along main roads, in each direction of travel, with a maximum distance of 60 km between them. Finally, there are requirements to ensure the user-friendliness of charging stations, such as common payment options, price transparency and smart charging.

The new regulations are not just about electric vehicles. Publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations should be deployed at intervals of no more than 150 km along major roads, with at least one available in every urban area with more than 100,000 inhabitants. The Commission is also introducing provisions to ensure minimum coverage of publicly accessible liquefied natural gas (LNG) refueling points for heavy-duty vehicles and ships. Separately, it covers the supply of electricity ashore for certain container ships and passenger ships in seaports, and for the supply of electricity to stationary aircraft.

Krid says that while she welcomes the provisions, they need to be further strengthened to deliver to citizens. She would like electricity prices at charging points to be based on the amount of electricity received rather than a price per session or per minute. She also says the regulation should set up digital public information platforms to allow people to compare fares.

Ertug says he wants to strengthen the consumer provisions of the regulations by making the acceptance of credit cards by charging stations compulsory. He also wants to give it more teeth by adding a penalty mechanism similar to that contained in the European law on CO2 standards for cars. It would be a faster and more efficient way to ensure compliance than the usual infringement procedure, he says.

“For each charging point not installed, the Member State should pay X amount of money. fleet-based approach for truck charging infrastructure, rather than simply the distance-based approach suggested by the Commission.

On the other hand, there is one area where Ertug would like to see more flexibility – he suggests vehicle density should be taken into account by requiring charging stations every 60km. “In some areas like northern Sweden, it doesn’t make sense to invest thousands of euros in stations that won’t be used,” he says. “But, we have to make sure that a vehicle density parameter does not become a loophole,” adds the MP.

Automakers and NGOs agree

Ertug plans to include these ideas in his report, which will be submitted to the parliamentary transport committee by February 11. The committee will debate the report and amend it in March and April, with a vote expected in May. Ertug hopes to see a vote of the whole parliament in July – but the timing of final adoption will depend on the Council, which will pass its own version of the legislation. This will then have to be reconciled with that of Parliament.

“I have to look at my institution first, but with one eye we also look at the Council,” says Ertug. “It has to be doable. [to pass a Council vote], but it must also be ambitious.

In general, the Council has supported the aim of the legislation and there is not a big lobby against it. The automotive industry, especially in Germany, changed its tune seven years ago, realizing now that it will not be able to sell its new electric vehicles without infrastructure, and that it has little control over the construction of this infrastructure. .

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This has created a rare alignment of interests between NGOs and automakers. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association supports the move from directive to regulation, mandatory targets and the new burden on infrastructure providers. In fact, he wants the proposal to be made even more ambitious.

The NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) calls it a “strong proposal with some shortcomings”, namely that it includes targets for LNG infrastructure. T&E would also like Parliament to add a safeguard mechanism to ensure that fleet-based targets do not result in a two-speed Europe. Ertug says he is thinking about it.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. “Infrastructure deployment should be based on individual member state demand profiles,” refining association FuelsEurope said in a position paper. The regulations are “oriented towards electrification [and] the proposed objectives create a bias in the expected development of the new infrastructure [which] could unfortunately prevent markets from developing the most competitive and efficient low-carbon solutions”. FuelsEurope also wants the principle of proportionality proposed between fleet size and power output for electric charging to be extended to hydrogen and LNG.

Need of speed

What is clear is that time is running out. The market for electric vehicles is growing rapidly and infrastructure is not keeping pace – not by a long shot. There is a general consensus that the legislation must be passed quickly. EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean has repeated this point several times. However, the proposal is part of the overall “Fit for 55” package, which is meant to be debated and adopted as a whole.

Nonetheless, Ertug is pushing for the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Act to be taken out of the package and passed sooner. “The market is moving fast. We see the number of electric vehicles increasing, and not just in Germany. My firm intention is to be as fast as possible.

However, Krid is wary of the idea of ​​separating the settlement from the rest of “Fit for 55”. “Infrastructure is a prerequisite for realizing our common ambition,” she says. “The settlement is part of the package and an integral part of the strategy. We ask that the proposals be considered as a whole.

NGOs and industry are hoping to see signals from the Commission and the French Council Presidency, which took over from Slovenia in January, that they agree with Ertug’s approach to adopt this regulation sooner. Only once an ambitious rollout of alternative fuels infrastructure is secured, they say, will there be enough market signals to really get electric vehicle production off the ground.