Mobility with an E: The Evolution of Green Transport and Legislation in the EU

By AVERE – The European Association for Electromobility 

“Hitting those targets” is a phrase that is frequently uttered in the business world. While this mostly refers to KPIs, units sold, or followers gained, it has an entirely different meaning in Brussels. Ever since the emergence of the Green Deal, the EU has set out to hit targets for increased sustainability, lower emissions, and general decarbonisation. While this has far-reaching implications and new requirements for European industry, it has become increasingly clear that the individual behaviours of citizens must also be considered. This begs the question, what behaviour affects all citizens and can be gradually changed towards a greener status quo? The answer is mobility. 

We all need to get from A to B daily, creating new emissions every day that prove to be more and more detrimental to the environment. For this reason, the EU Institutions have continued to generate legislation that incentivises more sustainable consumer behaviour, creates clear definitions, and produces scopes and frameworks for data exchange, all while looking towards manufacturers for more innovation and technology.

The mobility sector is extensive and wide-ranging, from public transport to private cars and heavy-duty vehicles to infrastructure. With the added challenge of energy security following the war in Ukraine, the topic of e-mobility has gained even more traction. How can we ensure an efficient mode of transport while respecting decarbonisation goals? Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are certainly a way forward – creating a crossroads of all sectors while hitting those targets. 

In the past few years, the EU Institutions have understood the importance of decarbonisation and responded by generating relevant legislation. In fact, policy has been created for a wide range of technical aspects, paving the way for a Union in which EVs and BEVs could very well become the norm instead of the traditional fossil-fuelled vehicles. 

Setting the Scene

Currently, Brussels is experiencing a stark movement when it comes to generating legislation that ensures infrastructure readiness for the uptake of EVs (both light and heavy-duty). To highlight user-friendliness, this year’s most significant piece of legislation was the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR). Here, targets for minimum requirements for deploying recharging points along TEN-T roads are set, meaning that a recharging point needs to be present every certain number of kilometres, depending on whether the driver is using a core or comprehensive network. This ranges from every 60 km for light-duty vehicles to 120 km for heavy-duty ones. At the same time, minimum infrastructure must be available, giving way for novel business models of charging point operators as their activities become more sought after and prevalent. As a recap, TEN-T refers to a trans-European network for transport in which lawmakers have defined the main corridors of the continent. In other words, the main roads of Member States have been defined, making the deployment of charging points as described in AFIR easier to navigate. After all, where there is traffic, there should be functioning infrastructure.

While some criticised the targets as not ambitious enough, one must remember that AFIR merely sets minimum requirements and does the opposite of preventing businesses from deploying more charging points in the future. Similarly, the now-set distance between charging points along the network must be seen as a compromise between smaller and larger Member States. While 15% coverage of national roads within the TEN-T network in 2025 and 50% in 2027 (at least every 120km) for heavy-duty vehicles may seem a low target in a smaller country like Denmark, the situation is wholly different in their neighbouring country Germany, where 15% and 50% coverage of the TEN-T network certainly corresponds to a doable and appropriate span. 

Off the Grid?

A vital aspect of charging point deployment is the grid action plan. While the locations of the charging points are now legislatively dealt with, the question remains whether we are actually ready for all of them. In other words, can the current grid handle so much new action?

This topic has now morphed into a major bottleneck for the charging point ecosystem. The main challenge here is the fact that on a European level, the grid is not properly updated. As we move towards increased electrification on a global scale and in several areas (renewable energy, heat pumps, e-mobility, etc.) due to its high efficiency and decarbonisation potential, the eye is now on Transmission System Operators (TSOs) and Distribution System Operators (DSOs). 

The change in energy consumption behaviour calls for a change in which the balance of the grid is operated. While demand and supply are normally balanced, we are now experiencing more demand from EVs and more flexible supply through renewables, which calls for a much-needed system update. 

One way to overcome this is by identifying the congestion phenomenon, needing to ensure that electricity can be catered to generational consumption. Even though predictive data and legal targets now exist, investment in grid upgrades has been delayed. This is not a good sign when you consider that the Heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) market is also growing with an anticipated switch to full electric trucks as the total cost of ownership is reaching parity with diesel. In this sense, it is even more important that the infrastructure not only reacts in a timely manner but also becomes more forward-thinking in future market behaviour. 

One step in the right direction is underway through the increased use of flexibility solutions. The congestion problem needs investments, but flexibility (V2G and smart charging) can also play a role in shaving peaks. These acts can help restore balance in the weight of the electrification sector. 

On the policy side, the EU has prepared a non-binding grid action plan with more suggestions on where the journey should take place and what can be done further. This marks a first step towards future legislation, but more concrete proposals must be made.

Go Big or Go Home

Personal cars are a major e-mobility component affected by new policy streams from Brussels. On the other hand, there is an ever-increasing demand for HDVs. While there is an ongoing debate on whether big trucks can deliver grid flexibility and how big their potential for V2G is, legislation is on the way to cater to this vital element of the European economy. CO2 emissions standards for HDVs are in the works, with the objective of creating a target of 90% emissions reductions for OEMs by 2040. So far, this goal has been met with open arms and has a high potential for going through. 

Despite a growing demand for e-HDVs, concerns about their reach and functionality remain. This is mainly due to the outdated worry that enough appropriate charging points exist and that the distances driven by trucks will not correspond to current EV/BEV capacity. This renders lawmakers apprehensive about phasing out ICE trucks. While this argument has long been a reason for bigger companies not to invest in them, it is quite certain that electric trucks will soon be doing the heavy lifting along European roads. As the total cost of operation goes down, investing in them will be more financially attractive. Additionally, if paired with incentives and fleet mandates to be included in targets set by the EU, this could very well be the right path towards more decarbonisation. 

Carrying Its Own Weight

Another piece of legislation currently under work is the Weights and Dimensions Directive. Although it is unlikely to be completed before the end of the mandate, this text is significant in that it attempts to achieve a level-playing field where BEV trucks can compete with diesel trucks through so-called non-financial incentives. Right now, diesel trucks are the clear frontrunner – 99% of all trucks sold today are still diesel. Yet, this Directive could potentially encourage BEV truck usage. As BEV trucks are naturally heavier due to the batteries, they should technically carry less weight. AVERE underlines the aspect of BEV trucks being able to carry larger loads because they are, in fact, electric vehicles. However, another concern is whether our infrastructure can literally do the heavy lifting and support larger HDVs. With significant weight comes great responsibility. 

Seeing (a Green) RED

A cornerstone of the EU Fit for 55 Package has been the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III), which was passed earlier this year. Touching upon many different aspects, it sets requirements for economic actors to reach emission reduction targets, with transport being one of them. In fact, it is up to the fuel suppliers to deliver on the targets as they need to change the energy mix to include more renewable sources. The good news is that they can rely on a credit mechanism that allows them to reach their targets via CPOs which supply the needed renewable energy via their charging points to operators in a credit exchange. Through these credits (financial benefits), CPOs are incentivised to deploy charging points for profit, notably in less densely populated and rural areas. Thus, an agreeable and symbiotic relationship is created.

The Mandate of the Future

As we begin to see the end of the current EU mandate and gear up for the upcoming elections in June 2024, the current legislature has made important strides towards decarbonisation. In essence, it seems that two play a central role in getting the ball rolling on increased EV/BEV usage: infrastructure and incentives. If an adequate and raw structure exists, more financial stimuli can be set in motion to foster the uptake of electrification in transport. It is up to the future EU mandate to continue these significant efforts and support a more sustainable movement along European roads. Finally, we must do our best to debunk myths around EVs/BEVs and underline the rapid technological developments we have witnessed in this sector. If these forces are joined, then the path to decarbonisation will not only be charged but well en route

About AVERE: 

AVERE is the only European association representing and advocating for electromobility on behalf of the industry, academia, and EV users at both EU and national levels. On top of advocacy, we provide our members with a unique forum for exchanging knowledge, experience, and ideas on how to stimulate electromobility throughout Europe. As a European Federation, we take pride in bringing together the entire e-mobility ecosystem with different members such as National Associations, actors who are active in the charging infrastructure industry and stakeholders who are active on the vehicle side.