European Union Adopts Set of Standards Designed to Make Alternative Fuel Vehicle Ownership Easier

As any owner of an electric, plug-in hybrid, or other alternative fuelled vehicle in Europe will tell you, support for their vehicles varies greatly from country to country and region to region, meaning that sometimes making even the simplest of trips can be a logistical nightmare.

Yesterday however, the European Union took the first step in an attempt to change that forever by adopting a new directive designed to make it possible for alternative fuelled vehicles to drive around Europe as easily as any gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle. The goal: to ensure the EU meets its own modest 10 per cent renewable transportation targets by 2025.

Electric car charging provision of 1 point per 10 cars is suggested.

Electric car charging provision of 1 point per 10 cars is suggested.

Under the agreement, member states of the EU must set and publicly disclose their own country’s targets and policies on alternative vehicle infrastructure by the end of 2015. Each of the 28 member states will also be expected to meet a minimum set of refuelling requirements for electric, hydrogen and compressed natural gas vehicles, as well as adopt a single set of standards for refuelling of each vehicle.

For compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, the directive — which will come into law twenty days after being published later this week — suggests a target of one refuelling location ever 150 kilometres (93 miles), with a focus on urban and suburban locations and alongside the TEN-T road network. A Europe-wide set of key road routes designed to expedite travel around the EU, the TEN-T network links major cities and ports, but in no way provides comprehensive links to every major European city.

When it comes to liquified petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles, the directive calls for further extension of existing networks, with refuelling stations every 400 kilometres (248 miles) along major TEN-T routes.

For electric vehicles, this equates to adopting a single recharging standard for AC charging stations and DC rapid charging stations, although given the various DC quick charging stations already in use we’re not sure quite how this will be implemented in the real world.

When it comes to charging station provision, the directive sets a suggested charging station to car ratio of 1:10, meaning a country like the UK — which aims to have 1.55 million plug-in cars on the roads of the UK by 2020 — will need to install some 155,000 charging stations to meet the necessary targets.  Sadly however, the directive still focuses on promoting electromobility in urban and suburban environments: there’s no mandated provision for longer-distance trips.

Interestingly, hydrogen refuelling isn’t mandated beyond ‘a sufficient number of refuelling stations’ for states which decide to adopt hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This is noticeably less than the requirements for other alternative fuels, perhaps suggesting that the EU is acutely aware of the cost of implementing and organising hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

The EU wants a minimum set of fuelling stations for hydrogen, LPG, CNG and Electric vehicles.

The EU wants a minimum set of fuelling stations for hydrogen, LPG, CNG and Electric vehicles.

Taken at face value, the infrastructure directive could be a important driving force to help promote the use of alternative fuels across Europe, marking a switch from gasoline and highly-popular yet polluting diesel vehicles to far greener vehicles.

But without hard and fast legislation on the total number of refuelling stations, critics are already calling the directive weak and ineffectual.

What do we think?

Here at Transport Evolved, we’re keen to see any legislation or directive that’s designed to get more alternative fuelled vehicles on the roads of Europe. Given the number of different countries involved and the variety of support currently implemented, we’re also glad to see some attempt to codify at least a single set of standards and expectations for each member state. But what worries us is the scope of the proposed directive when it comes to provision for alternative fuels outside of major urban areas.

The directive calls for concentration of refuelling along the TEN-T routes, and in urban and suburban areas.

The directive calls for concentration of refuelling along the TEN-T routes, and in urban and suburban areas.

For example, as our aborted cross-Europe trip earlier this year demonstrated, reliable and comprehensive rapid charging infrastructure is essential for electric car trips outside of the confines of big city centres. Since most electric cars on the market today can easily travel more than 70 miles on a charge without needing to refuel, electric car owners who live and commute in the same city don’t need to even use public charging if they have access to overnight charging at home. What’s worse, most electric cars on the market today come with some form of rapid charging capabilities, making them more than capable of longer-distance trips. Provided there’s suitable infrastructure, of course.

Since not every member state has an affordable, reliable public transportation infrastructure, those making a decision to buy a new car will naturally choose a vehicle which offers the best autonomy in their home country. If renewable and alternative fuel options are focused on only urban and suburban areas or a few choice road networks, we’re doubtful the directive will help the average car buyer to make the switch to cleaner, greener transport.

But what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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