What does the EU’s new grid initiative mean for fleets?

Tuesday 19th December 2023

Headshot of Jon Lawes - Managing Director at Novuna Vehicle Solutions

Jon Lawes, Managing Director at MHC Mobility, says there is hope that EU measures could spark an acceleration in EV infrastructure rollout and help end Europe’s ‘charging point lottery’ – but success will ultimately depend on governments and the private sector working together.

It’s an unfortunate reality that, as they look to play a leading role in the EV transition, Europe’s fleet managers have to navigate highly inconsistent charging provisions.

The geographical distribution of charging stations across the Continent varies considerably, with 59% of all EV charging points concentrated in just three countries – the Netherlands, Germany and France. On a per capita basis, the Netherlands contains by far the largest number of charging points in Europe, with 577 per 100,000 inhabitants. By contrast, Cyprus and Romania have just eight charging points per 100,000 inhabitants.

This charging point lottery is a major headache for businesses in general and fleet managers in particular. For instance, how can a German business switch to a fully electric fleet if its staff regularly need to drive in neighbouring countries such as Poland and Czechia, where the availability of charging points is patchy at best?

It’s also a problem for private users. Fleets are generally making good progress on their transition commitments but there remains a consumer EV adoption gap. Further charging availability will therefore be critical for EV confidence among businesses and consumers alike.

Unpicking the EU’s Action Plan

The EU’s announcement last month of a new Action Plan to expand the bloc’s collective electricity grid is welcome news.

Electricity demand across Europe is expected to increase by 60% by 2030. The Action Plan aims to greatly increase the EU’s renewable energy capacity in that time frame from 400 GW in 2022 to 1,000 GW, by unlocking the investment needed to enable the grid to expand and cope with rising demand from EVs, as well as the electrification of industry and renewable hydrogen production.

The plan aims to promote grid expansion in numerous ways, including:

  • Improving the long-term planning of grids to accommodate more renewables and demand for electricity.
  • Introducing regulatory incentives through guidance on forward-looking investments and on cross-border cost sharing for offshore projects.
  • Improving access to finance for grid projects by increasing the visibility of EU funding programmes, especially for smart grids and the modernisation of distribution grids.
  • Stimulating faster permitting for grid deployment by providing technical support for authorities and guidance on better engaging stakeholders and communities.
  • Improving and securing grid supply chains.

A turbocharge for fleet transition?

While this latest effort from the EU is a step in the right direction, it still depends on action at the member state level to ensure these additional measures bear fruit when it comes to EV charging points.

The hope is that the Action Plan will provide the impetus for both public and private sector investment by charging point providers and translate to more charging stations on the ground. But while the plan aims to promote awareness of available funding streams and better coordinate governments, energy companies and investors, there is nothing to force the relevant stakeholders to the table. Many elements of the plan remain embryonic, such as the promise to “work towards harmonised definitions for available grid hosting capacity”, or the call to “support system operators in digitalising and streamlining procedures for grid connection requests”.

However, if member states engage with the Action Plan and commit to making charging infrastructure rollout a reality, this could come to be seen as a pivotal milestone on the road to net zero. Meanwhile businesses have a part to play too, in urging local governments to make the most of the plan’s provisions.

There’s no time to spare on the transition. It’s vital that the EU, national governments and businesses alike put their best foot forward and collaborate to ensure this plan does not simply become a missed opportunity.