This article is part of our special report Europe’s e-mobility gamechangers.
Electric vehicles have come on in leaps and bounds since Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič launched the Energy Union back in 2015. Now he’s expecting the integration of renewables and the redesign of the electricity market to boost the EV revolution even further.
Maroš Šefčovič is the vice-president of the European Commission for Energy Union and a former Slovak diplomat.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan.
What is the biggest obstacle facing a prospective electric vehicle buyer today?
It’s a mixture of factors, which we have to tackle all at once. We are accelerating our work in rolling out charging infrastructure. I have to say: I am sometimes amazed by the technological leaps in this industry. Two years ago, super-fast chargers could get the job done in 15 minutes. Now it’s possible in three or four minutes. Faster than filling up your tank!
Technology is now being developed to directly link renewable energy, particularly wind turbines, to super-fast chargers. Surprise, surprise, the charging time is already around ten minutes. The rate of development is amazing. I would say that Europeans are still concerned that the ride is not smooth enough and infrastructure is not all there yet though. The Connecting Europe Facility is really going to help with that and the new financial framework earmarks around €40bn in that regard.
And the choice of electric vehicles or lack thereof? Does that play a role?
Yes but I expect within two or three years we will see, only from European manufacturers, around 80 models of new cars with a strong electric element, be they zero-emissions or hybrids. I’m always teasing the carmakers that they should make sure the prices are equivalent with diesel engines too! It’s quite important to address that.
We hope that all the work we’ve been doing under the Energy Union will click together in the coming years and that EVs and infrastructure will go together with the new electricity market design. Electric cars have the potential to earn their owners money, after all. The battery charges during periods when the power is cheap and sells it back during peak demand. They’ve been testing it in the Netherlands and the potential is huge. Pair that with solar panels or wind turbines and you’re in business.
How important is it to Europeans that this industry is European? Poland wants to build its own bespoke EV, Croatia has the Rimac supercar. Changing mind-sets seems part of the challenge.
I think it’s the same kind of story as with batteries. It’s a matter of strategic importance of technological independence. It’s about high-tech industry that brings a lot of innovations to other sectors too. If we don’t master the art of designing, developing and manufacturing EVs and batteries, the automotive sector will lose its leading role and the lustre will disappear.
We have to show young people as well that we can do more than just cars from the ‘fossil era’. Now it’s about incentivising our carmakers to seize this opportunity. Don’t forget that we have a unique situation in Europe with public support for sustainability. This continent is far ahead of others in that regard and, as such, is a natural market for these new technologies. Our efforts on regulatory and financial frameworks are meant to help create that market.
New truck CO2 emissions rules are the first of their kind in Europe. Is this overdue?
Honestly, I think it is long overdue. We know that other major economies like the US, Japan, even China have set limits for heavy-duty vehicles. So it was high time to do it. Not only because of the sensitive air pollution problem but also from a competition point of view. That’s why we went for this two-step approach.
And to our surprise, we realised that the technology already available today to manufacturers allows them to meet the 15% target for 2025. I’m convinced by that. We want to give them some heads-up time, so they can come with something new, super competitive, clean and great by 2030.
So the focus of your argument to industry was that they already have the right pieces in place? For 2025 at least.
Yes. One particular part of the impact assessment was something as simple as lubricants. Spending just a few euros on the best available can lead to savings of thousands over a five-year period. Mudflaps too! The returns are amazing. The split system in Europe, where trucks are leased out, disassociates ownership from fuel consumption though, so trucks aren’t using all that is available. We’ll push them harder to do so.