Tesla car charging at a fast-charging station

Is the EV rollout facing gridlock?

As the European Union takes a decisive step towards a greener future by mandating a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions from new trucks and buses by 2040, the impending face-out of fossil fuel vehicles in heavy transport raises concerns about potential gridlock in the EV rollout. The laudable environmental goal, however, is accompanied by the pressing issue of an already strained EU grid, prompting questions about the preparedness of charging operators to meet the rising demand.

Let’s begin with the positive momentum: The electric vehicle (EV) market in Europe is experiencing significant growth. In 2023, new car sales rebounded by 13.9%, with electric vehicles surpassing diesel for the first time. Electric car sales surged by 37%, constituting 14.6% of total sales, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.
In the heavy transportation sector, registrations of electric buses, vans, and trucks skyrocketed by 39.1%, 56.8%, and an impressive 234.1%, respectively.

However, it’s crucial to temper enthusiasm with perspective. Despite the remarkable year, electrically chargeable cars, including battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, still constitute only 1.5% of the total EU car fleet. The electric vehicle fleet for vans, buses, and trucks stand at 7.4%, 15.9%, and 1.5% in that order.
Even though the total EV fleet is only starting to pick up pace, charging operators are already starting to feel the pressure of the growing demand due to grid issues.     

More demand, more grid?

The surge in EV adoption across vehicle classes necessitates substantial investments in public charging infrastructure and grid upgrades to accommodate the growing demand. By 2030, the EU has an official goal of EV passenger car sales reaching 35% of the market, with a target of 33% for new vans and 30% for trucks. Fossil fueled buses, integral to public transport in many cities, must be faced out entirely by 2035.

This expected growth brings one key infrastructure player to mind: The grid. A concern we previously highlighted in our commentary: “2024: The year of the grid? An insufficient EU grid is something that developers of renewable energy projects have known about and struggled with for a long time, but the problems of the insufficient energy grid are now slowly starting to affect the larger energy ecosystem.

Take Repsol for example. The Spanish energy company and charge point operator is one out of many facing issues with power connections at its charging stations, exemplified by nearly half of its 1,600 Spanish stations lying dormant due to power shortages. This underscores the urgency for comprehensive solutions and action.

The European Commission’s recent announcement of plans to upgrade the bloc’s power grids within 18 months, addressing EV charging station power shortages. This signals a proactive approach to overcoming potential gridlock in the evolving landscape of electric mobility, but if these plans turn out to be enough to meet demand still lies in unknow.

Infrastructure, grid, and energy requirements for growth of electric vehicles (EVs) in Europe

How Charge Point Operators are mitigating the insufficient grid

Concerns about the reliability of the electricity grid and its capacity have slowed private investments in EV-charging infrastructure, according to a report from KPMG. The good news is that this is now forcing CPOs to push smarter charging strategies to minimize EV charging’s strain on the grid. Getting consumers to shift behavior and utilize the energy during off-peak hours is undoubtedly a smart move.  

CPOs such as Ubitricity, GeniePoint, Tesla  and Char.gy have utilized dynamic pricing across their charging networks. This will enable consumers to take  advantage of lower charge rates during off-peak hours while benefiting the CPOs during peak demand.

Various research projects estimate that the adoption of basic smart charging technology could reduce EV-led increases in peak-period electricity demand by 14%-40%, depending on the time of day, the total number of EVs on the roads, and the technologies involved.
National governments in Europe are also in the early stages of implementing “Smart Charging” regulations which will enable electricity grid stability, optimize charging, and reduce costs for consumers. Recent UK government legislation ensures that all charge points will have smart functionality, with particular standards defined that cover points including default settings to charge at non-peak times, technical communication protocols, cyber-risk protection, user safety, and electricity supplier interoperability.

In conclusion, while the current state of the European energy grid presents challenges to the roll-out of EVs, these challenges can be addressed through strategic planning, technological advancements, and supportive policies and regulations.