It’s time to switch gears on electric vehicle uptake across Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

An electric vehicle charging station.

European Mobility Week—which is taking place in Brussels this week under the theme of clean, shared and intelligent mobility—provides a good opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved to date, and what is still required to enable and accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles in Europe, write Hans De Keulenaer and Diego Garcia Carvajal.

Hans De Keulenaer is the director for energy & electricity and Diego Garcia Carvajal is electromobility coordinator at the European Copper Institute, an organisation representing the copper industry in Europe.

Where are we now?

After the summer break, Brussels has a full legislative agenda on the table for autumn, including key discussions on energy. The level of ambition that is ultimately agreed on will define the European Union’s reputation as leading the way towards a near 100% renewable energy system.

More importantly, it will determine to what extent EU member states can unleash the potential of stringent legislation in terms of stimulating job creation, growth and competitiveness.

While the Clean Energy for All Package does not specifically cover transport as a sector, the Commission’s proposal for a revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) does introduce a vital new element in its Article 8, calling on member states to install (pre-equipment for) charging points in new and substantially refurbished buildings.

Mandating such building “readiness” for electric-charging points would facilitate meeting consumers’ charging needs. This provision comes on top of the current Member State implementation of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID), which largely focuses on expanding the number of—and ensuring interoperability between—Europe’s publicly accessible recharging points.

If the requirement of charging points in buildings makes its way through the EPBD trilogue negotiations, this would send a strong signal to investors and consumers that the time for a significant uptake of electric vehicles across Europe is now.

What needs to be done

We already know that the potential in terms of environmental, social and economic benefits is enormous.

A new study commissioned by the European Copper Institute and published during European Mobility Week shows just how big: a large-scale integration (80% penetration) of electric vehicles into the European passenger vehicle stock would account for 8.6% of the EU’s CO2 emission reduction target for 2050, taking into account any remaining emissions from additional power generation.

It would also help address Europe’s significant energy import dependencies, which are particularly marked in the transport sector: transport in Europe is currently 94% dependent on oil, a massive 84% is imported, at a cost of up to €1 billion per day, with an environmental bill that can never be repaid.

At member state level, the UK recently became the latest country to announce the phasing out of diesel- and petrol-fuelled cars, only weeks after France announced a similar plan to reduce air pollution and become a carbon-neutral nation.

It is clear that Europe as a whole is moving towards the end of fossil-fuel cars, albeit at vastly different speeds. So, let’s accelerate the EU energy transition through electric vehicle promotion to unleash the environmental benefits and leverage jobs and growth across the European Union.

The report on electric vehicle uptake identifies three main barriers: 1) the high initial cost of vehicles, 2) a low level of consumer acceptance and 3) the lack of recharging and refuelling stations.

The current EU legislative work—the AFID and the EPBD—could help address barrier 3 and, in doing so, respond to many consumers’ concerns about electric vehicles, thus also tackling 2. Meanwhile, the increasing uptake of electric vehicles is addressing barrier 1: electric vehicle parity is on the horizon, not just at the level of total cost of ownership, but even with regards to initial purchase price.

The role of copper

Copper is more relevant than ever as we move towards a more sustainable future: it is a key component of electric vehicles, playing an important role in their batteries and control systems as well as charging infrastructure. It is also key for renewable energy solutions, such as solar and wind, to feed electric vehicles with green electricity.

Copper can also replace rare-earth materials: the European Copper Institute was recently selected for a Horizon 2020 project to improve performance and reduce the cost of electric vehicle motor technologies by incorporating advanced copper products instead of rare-earth materials. This is good news in terms of security of material supply and from a sustainability point of view.

As an active stakeholder in enabling Europe’s ambitious shift to a cleaner energy future, contributing expertise, experience and data to advance this goal is a key activity for the European Copper Institute.

The new report on Electric Vehicles is one example, another is the DecarbEurope Initiative, through which a number of solutions providers across industries and sectors are working together to facilitate the move towards a truly low-carbon economy.

Going forward, more coordinated action and synergies must be created across industries and sectors to reach the EU’s 2030 climate target. Let’s make sure transport is properly anchored within these efforts by providing the right legislative framework and support for electric vehicles to take off.

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