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Future transport

Future transport: an e-mobility case study

Reducing mobility-related emissions has been on the agenda in European countries for decades. One of the key challenges is finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels. As citizens and policy makers look for alternatives to diesel and petrol cars, electric vehicle (EV) technology is often seen as part of the solution. However, existing charging infrastructure is dampening the growth due to fuel range anxiety and charging point congestion.

In the Sweco Urban Insights report “E-magine a journey through Europe – energy infrastructure for sustainable mobility,” experts on electrical mobility (e-mobility) perform a fictional case study based on real data. Is it possible to travel across Europe in an electric car today? In this article, we will briefly explore some of the issues and conclusions identified in the report.


Background: crossing Europe in an electric vehicle

The case study was conducted to examine the feasibility of travelling long distances today in an electric vehicle. While the road trip is fictional, it is based on data from several different journeys. A family of four starts out in London and travels through Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden before reaching its final destination in Warsaw, Poland.

Throughout the trip, the family makes both positive and negative discoveries. For example, planning for the journey required a disproportionate amount of research. There were also obstacles along the way, such as a lack of rapid charging infrastructure and problems finding the right plugs.

On the other hand, the family also discovered that some cities offer solutions aimed at making life easier for electric vehicle drivers.

Quality versus quantity in charging infrastructure

Alternative fuels are clearly of rising importance and will become a more integrated part of society in the near future. Although hydrogen vehicles are also developing quickly, electric vehicles will likely dominate passenger transport in the short term.

E-mobility faces its own challenges, however. Fuel range anxiety is one problem that needs to be solved. Likewise, concerns about congested charging points – potentially leading to considerable delays even on pre-planned routes – need to be addressed.


Charging point availability

One of the main bottlenecks holding back the expansion of electric vehicle technology is recharging, which may take up to 8 hours at a standard charging station.

One solution to the issue is found in Sweden, where most EVs sold are Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and therefore able to complete most journeys without needing to be charged.

Nonetheless, there are still many Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) on the roads that need to be charged much more frequently and urgently. We therefore need to ensure that some form of priority charging system is put in place as we move forward.

Improved infrastructure in urban areas is one prerequisite for success. The approach taken in London and many cities appears promising: new developments should ensure that a certain percentage of parking spaces are equipped with charging stations.

Although there is still a long way to go, we should eventually be able to match the number of EVs with a suitable number of EV charging points. Motorway rapid charging takes this a step further. Expanding the network across countries is a major challenge in fully integrating EVs into our societies.


Charging point quality

When talking about charging infrastructure and availability, the focus is often on quantity, which is easy to monitor.

But numbers or electrical load are only parts of the issue. Instead, focus should be on balancing the right number of chargers with the appropriate power requirements. Some chargers installed at new developments, such as new sports facilities or office buildings, might be used only rarely.

The reason for this mismatch is the lack of charging infrastructure in the current climate, and this calls for further assessment and a deeper understanding of the needs that are most important to EV owners and potential future buyers.

Another important aspect is how requirements differ between a country’s regions, and this calls for further analysis. Rural and suburban areas, for example, often offer better options for home charging than city centres, where most cars are parked on the street with no access to home charging.

It might therefore be more effective to provide chargers at workplaces rather than trying to place chargers in an already over-crowded environment. The competition for land in city centres indicates that the space should be used for purposes other than charging cars. Furthermore, the cost of grid power connection for superchargers is much higher in city centres, which makes it desirable to evaluate other locational options. Rapid chargers are more essential along transport routes with large volumes of through traffic.

The future may see an electric car with a short-range battery charging from contactless inductive chargers around cities and a long-range hydrogen tank enabling long journeys and trips on minor roads that do not provide charging facilities. The objective is to make the most of what we are able to do now and prepare to do even more in future.


Existing infrastructure must be utilised carefully

When developing sustainable e-mobility solutions, it is extremely important to utilise existing grids with caution. Not even the most revolutionary electric vehicle will remain attractive if it regularly causes substation power failures or blown fuses. Many years have been spent developing and improving our existing infrastructure, so considerable changes to its current usage should not be taken lightly.

As people come home from work and charge their vehicles – while also cooking and using other electrical appliances – we can expect demand peaks of entirely new dimensions, especially in areas with high concentrations of EVs. To manage peaks in power demand, load management will be critical.

Other interesting advances in technology include vehicle-to-grid (V2G), where plugged-in EVs can be used to provide local power network balancing and EV owners rewarded for providing this service. Careful automated control of V2G will ensure that EV owners are not inconvenienced by having their batteries discharged excessively.


The need for new EV technology standards

The E-magine case study underscores the issues of coping with a vast range of different plugs and chargers on the market, as well as the large differences in charging station quality. Charging station payment methods also need to be coordinated. To drive change in this area, it could be argued that European countries need to bring all infrastructure in line with common standards. This harmonisation would also reduce costs and promote a common market for sustainable fuels.

Report: E-magine a journey through Europe – energy infrastructure for sustainable mobility

This report focuses on electric vehicles and their integration into society in coming years and analyses the state of alternative fuel vehicles and facilities across Europe today.

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