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Electric vehicles—if you build it...

While EV charging stations are expanding rapidly in Europe, the US uptake is slower

Austria took a landmark step forward in EVs in April when 11 energy suppliers, Germany's three major auto-manufacturers and several electrical power companies joined forces to open a nationwide charging network stretching from Vienna to Bregenz in the west of the country. Already, 1,300 charging stations can repower the country's EV fleet. By the end of this year, it will be 2,000, according to the Federal Association of Electromobility Austria. Even now, the network is already sufficient for EV drivers to travel 700 km across Austria.

The Austrian stations are also connected to the global eRoaming platform established in 2012 by Berlin-based Hubject, a consortium formed by automobile giants BMW, Mercedes and VW with Siemens and several other companies. Motorists, who can see the location of the charge points in real time on conventional navigations systems and phone apps, pay for the service via tag-cards or mobile phones.

Across the EU, the availability of charging positions for plug-in EVs increased exponentially with the backing of the European Commission. From nearly zero in 2010, the total rose rapidly to 30,000 in 2013 and hit 120,000 at the start of 2017. According to the European Alternative Fuels Observatory, Norway heads the table followed by Belgium, Sweden and the UK.

The situation in America is blurrier. As Warwick Business School's Frederik Dahlmann, assistant professor of global energy, tells Petroleum Economist, there isn't the same level of policy support for charging stations as in Europe. "That's unlikely to be the case in the US where the Trump administration seems lukewarm about climate change," he says. Rather, he predicts the necessary infrastructure will be installed by the private sector and private investors, perhaps with the support of individual states concerned to reduce carbon emissions.

One such state is California, where governor Jerry Brown's administration has set a target of 1.5m zero-emission vehicles including EVs on the road by 2025. A sticking point is the high current cost of charging EVs relative to fueling conventional petroleum vehicles. As EVgo, which runs the US' biggest fast-charging network, and energy think tank Rocky Mountain Institute pointed out in a report in April, in the summer months the cost of delivered electricity rises to $1.96 per kilowatt hour (KWh) in some parts of the state, or nearly seven times higher than the gasoline equivalent of $0.29 KWh. "That makes it difficult for direct-current fast-charging providers like EVgo to remain competitive with the costs of operating petroleum-fueled vehicles," notes the report. The researchers expect economies of scale to bring down prices ultimately.

Direct-current fast-charging is one of the leading technologies in the US at present, providing about 150 miles of range at a charging rate of 50KWh. But EVgo is already working on a 150kWh system to service the next generation of higher-range EVs.

This article is part of a report series on Electric vehicles. Next article: New electric mobility


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