Ministers give go-ahead to electric vehicle standardisation

EU ministers have called for the rapid development of a European standard for electric vehicles to speed up their uptake, with France and Germany leading requests for EU finance to fund pilot projects.

The EU's industry ministers attending a Competitiveness Council meeting yesterday (25 May) gave their support to the European Commission's strategy for clean and energy-efficient vehicles, which was published last month (EURACTIV 28/04/10).

The strategy aims to promote the uptake of green vehicles without prejudice to technology, but it outlines specific action for electric cars, which it reckons are still missing a European framework.

The ministers called for car-charging interfaces to be rapidly standardised to ensure that electric vehicles can be recharged anywhere within the EU, with any model of charger. They argued that interoperability between electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure is key to winning consumers' acceptance and thus creating a mass market for the new vehicles.

Industry ministers thus urged European standardisation bodies to come up with a harmonised solution for the interoperability of plugs by mid-2011. They said this should take into account existing technical solutions and international work on standards, stressing the need to continue promoting EU standards internationally.

Currently, international efforts to create standards for electric cars are fragmented, and each region is working to become the leader in standard-setting by developing their own solutions.

Within the EU, a handful of member states have been striving for faster progress on a European vision for electric vehicles. Spain, which holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, has taken upon itself to drive the agenda.

At the Council meeting, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain presented a joint declaration on electric mobility, seeking to speed up the process to create a "fully interoperable pan-European charging system". Frequent expert group meetings should provide a draft EU standard in the latter half of the year, which would then be finalised by mid-2011, the draft said.

The four countries called on the European Commission to provide financing for pilot projects on electric mobility, especially for trans-national cooperation. While giving practical input to the development of common standards, these will also improve cross-border mobility.

France and Germany have started a cross-border electric vehicle pilot project in the Strasbourg-Stuttgart region.

Positions

Speaking to Brussels journalists, French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said he welcomed EU standards "with great satisfaction," arguing that they would reassure both consumers and local authorities who need them to make investment decisions.

Estrosi said all countries had agreed on a common standard with seven pins but that the European Commission still needed to choose from the several models available.

In future, drivers will be able to choose from two plug-in models, Estrosi further explained. A seven-pin model will be used to recharge the battery more quickly and will also allow for data to be transmitted. Faster recharging will be made available at a higher price than the slower version, which will use a standard plug, he said.

Better Place, an Israeli company providing network infrastructure for electric vehicles, welcomed the Council's recognition of the growth opportunities in the electric vehicles market, adding that progress would be even faster if standards could be agreed quickly. 

"However, much more needs to be done to ensure that private and public infrastructure for charging electric vehicles is in place ahead of when the electric vehicles are expected to enter the market in volume," said Marianne Wier, public affairs director at Better Place.

Background

The push to develop viable electric cars has been driven by the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to curb climate change and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The transport sector has been offsetting emission cuts from other sources, as it has become the fastest-growing consumer of energy in the EU.

An informal meeting of competitiveness ministers in February opened a debate on a common strategy for electric vehicles (EURACTIV 08/02/10).

In April 2010, the European Commission tabled the new strategy to promote the uptake of clean and energy-efficient vehicles in the EU (EURACTIV 28/04/10). While remaining technology neutral, it stressed the need for more action on electric vehicles.

The specific actions proposed for electric vehicles include proposing electric safety requirements in 2010, the development of a standard for charging interfaces by 2011 and investment in charging infrastructure.

Timeline

  • By mid-2011: EU standard for electric vehicle charging interface to be ready.

Further Reading