EU proposes electric car ‘Plan B’

Dropping electric car sales around Europe has forced the EU adopt a new approach in order to reach their 2020 climate goals

The European Union climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, wants her home country to provide 5,000 electric-car charging points by the year 2020 in order to reach stated climate goals.

Hedegaard, who served as climate minister from 2007 to 2009, said that if the 27 member states supply the charging points, electric car sales will increase.

“We can finally end the discussion about the chicken and the egg when it comes to whether the infrastructure needs to be present before the electric car market explodes,” Hedegaard wrote on the European Commission website. “It has to make sense to buy an electric car and it doesn’t if you can’t even drive halfway across the country without running out of charge.”

The automobile industry’s transition to the electric car in Europe has not gone as smoothly as EU legislators had hoped, with electric car sale numbers lagging seriously behind the 2020 goals set by the EU.

In Denmark, which is one of the better-equipped electric car nations per capita, there are only 280 charging points and electric car sales have plummeted drastically. As a result, Denmark recently downgraded expectations from 400,000 electric cars by 2020 to 200,000. The negative trend was further illustrated by the state-owned energy provider DONG's recent decision to cease investment in the Better Place electric car providers.

But until now, political initiatives have focussed on the cars without giving much thought to the charging points, something that Hedegaard hopes will change.

“With our proposed binding goals for charging points, which have a common charge plug, electric cars will soon be hitting Europe’s roads. That’s a victory for the environment, business, consumers and employment,” Hedegaard said.

The vice president of the European Commission, Siim Kallas, said that it was a strong step towards quelling Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.

"Developing innovative and alternative fuels is an obvious way to make Europe's economy more resource efficient, reduce our overdependence on oil and develop a transport industry which is ready to respond to the demands of the 21st century,” Kallas said in a statement. “Between them, China and the US plan to have more than six million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. This is a major opportunity for Europe to establish a strong position in a fast-growing global market.”

There are still a number of issues that need to be ironed out. As of now, there are two main types of charging points in Europe, which could lead to a situation where a car travelling from Denmark to Germany cannot be re-charged.

But the EU contends that by 2015 there will be common standards for charging points across Europe so that electric cars can traverse freely across the continent.

And to satisfy the Danish 2020 goals of having 5,000 charging points and 200,000 electric cars, the government has decided to enter into strategic partnerships in order to develop infrastructure for vehicles that run on electricity as well as gas and hydrogen.

“I hope the partnerships will get the ball rolling. We have made funds available but if we are going to get anywhere we also need the private sector to contribute to developing the infrastructure and vehicles,” Martin Lidegaard (Radikale), the climate minister, said.

Partnerships that promote electric cars will receive 40 million kroner over the next three years, with the first 30 million kroner being made available this year. The government said that it recognises that electric cars will only become mainstream if manufacturers notice an increase demand and electric cars become visible to consumers.

The EU proposal, which wants 795,000 charging points in all of EU by 2020, must be approved by the European Parliament and all 27 member states before it can go into effect.