EU auditors: Deployment of charging infrastructure for e-vehicles must be accelerated

EU auditors: Deployment of charging infrastructure for e-vehicles must be accelerated
Credit: ECA

The EU is still a long way from reaching its target of 1 million charging points by 2025 and lacks an overall strategic roadmap for e-mobility, according to a new audit report published on Tuesday by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Despite successes such as in promoting a common EU plug standard for charging electric vehicles, and improving access to different charging networks, the auditors found that the availability of public charging stations varies substantially between countries, that payment systems are not harmonised, and that there is a lack of real-time information available to users.

In 2020, although there was an overall decline in new vehicle registrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the market share of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles increased significantly and accounted for 10.5 % of new registrations. The production of e-vehicles in Europe is expected to multiply in the coming years, reaching more than 4 million cars and vans annually in 2025.

Moreover, a growing number of member states (among them Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden) have announced plans to ban sales of fossil-fuel cars from 2030. Outside the EU, in Norway, the world’s leading e-mobility market, e-vehicles account for 15 % of all passenger cars.

“Electro-mobility requires sufficient charging infrastructure. But for that infrastructure to be built, there needs to be greater certainty about the uptake levels of electric vehicles,” said Ladislav Balko, the ECA member responsible for the report, at a virtual press conference (13 April).

“Charging infrastructure is unevenly accessible across the EU. We think that the Commission should do more to support EU-wide network coverage, and ensure that funding goes where it is most needed.”

Under the European Green Deal, the EU is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 90 % by 2050 compared with 1990, as part of a larger effort to become a climate-neutral economy. Transport accounts for approximately one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, predominantly (72 %) through road transport.

Audit with limited scope

The objective of the audit was to determine the effectiveness of the Commission’s support for the deployment of an EU-wide publicly accessible infrastructure for charging electric vehicles during the 2014 - 2020 period, based on a directive on alternative fuels infrastructure.

The 2014 directive aimed at overcoming a market failure that is described by ECA as the ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem: developing charging infrastructure to promote the uptake of e-vehicles. The auditors looked at the way in which the Commission adopts standards and supports member states’ deployment of charging infrastructure.

They also assessed how the Commission managed funding for electrical charging infrastructure under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) by auditing a sample of 11 projects in Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain, worth approximately €130 million, or 46 % of all CEF grants for charging infrastructure.

However, the audit scope was limited and the audit did not address broader issues such as emissions and renewable energy targets, battery development and research, and generation and distribution of electricity needed for charging stations. Alternative or complementary charging infrastructure, such as charging e-vehicles when driving (Electric Road Systems), was also outside the audit scope.

While such systems are being tested and developed in Sweden and other member states, they are still less mature than charging stations and have until now hardly received any EU co-funding, anyway not under the CEF. The audit team explained that this was the reason why it did not include electric road systems in the audit.

The audit focussed on charging stations along the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) but urban charging is also an issue in the absence of intercity charging infrastructure. Brussels’ regional government decided recently to implement new measures to facilitate its plan to install an additional 250 charging stations, the equivalent of 500 charging points, for electric vehicles across the city.

To gain first-hand experience as users of charging infrastructure, the audit team used an e-vehicle to visit and test a number of EU co-funded charging stations in Germany, France and Italy. Overall, the auditors described the journey as a positive experience and were apparently surprised that the stations were operational and even, with one exception, provided the required ad-hoc payment option.

Shortcomings in implementation

However, according to the auditors, no comprehensive gap analysis was made to identify how many publicly accessible charging stations were needed, where they should be located, or what sort of power they should supply. The directive, adopted in 2014, did not specify a minimum number of charging points. Member states were instead expected to deploy an “appropriate” number of points.

Since 2014, the number of publicly accessible charging points in the EU‐27 and the UK increased from 34 000 to 250 000 as of September 2020. Of these, only 14 % are defined as fast (approximate charging time less than 40 minutes). If the deployment of infrastructure continues to follow the trend, there will be a significant risk that the target of 1 million public charging points by 2025 will be missed.

There are substantial differences between member states, with the highest density in the western and the lowest in central and eastern European countries. In the EU-27, Germany, France, and Netherlands together account for a large majority (69 %) of all charging points. Such uneven deployment of charging infrastructure does not facilitate EV travel across the EU, according to the audit team.

Furthermore, the funding provided through CEF did not always go where it was most needed. There were no clear and coherent targets, or any consistent minimum infrastructure requirements at EU level. Overall, the user experience is complicated by different payment and information systems. For example, there is little coordinated information on real-time availability and billing data.

The auditors found among others that prices were shown in different ways (€/kWh, €/minutes or €/charge), which does not facilitate comparability as required by the directive. From a financial audit point view, the audit team found non-compliance with the co-financing conditions but declined to comment whether it was considered as an irregularity.

The majority of projects were classified as studies, and accepted by the Commission although they included the actual deployment of infrastructure as the largest single component of the total project costs. This made them eligible to receive a higher co-funding rate.

The projects were also exempted from the need to submit a cost-benefit analysis, the usual requirement for commercial, revenue-generating infrastructure. All of the audited projects had faced or were facing implementation delays. The audit team noted that the current rates of use of co-funded stations are generally low, which increases the sustainability risks associated with these investments.

On a positive note, the audit recommendations address the shortcomings and were accepted by the European Commission.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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