Smarter, Faster, eCar?

By Dr. Angelika Niebler, MdEP
Winter 2012

Coming to service stations in order to fill up you car with petrol can oftentimes be more than frustrating these days. During the past years petrol prices have increased tremendously. The situation in many European countries is similar.

Therefore people began to think about alternatives already some time ago. In 2010 the European Commission launched its "European Green Cars Initiative" equipped with 5 billion Euros in order to boost to the automotive industry during times of economic hardship and to support the development of sustainable forms of mobility. Electrically powered cars are only one kind of sustainable transport, but its importance has been growing constantly.

But can this kind of cars really constitute an alternative for conventionally powered cars? Criticism arises not only regarding the limited range of eCars. But I am convinced that one day, at least in urban areas and for shorter journeys to begin with, electric cars can contribute to achieving the world targets in emissions reductions. Especially the use of eCars for commercial services such as garbage collection might be beneficial, as the reduced noise level of eCars offers new operation opportunities. Within the European Union, 19% of total greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the transport sector and more than 90% of total transport emissions are caused by road transport.

But that is exactly where the problem begins. As long as the electricity being used for powering electric cars comes from coal-fired power plants, electric cars will certainly have a negative life cycle assessment. Green cars will therefore only be green if we will be able to constantly increase the amount of renewable energies. I was more than impressed when I had the chance to visit Masdar City in Abu Dhabi a few months ago. The city within a city completely relies on solar energy - and so do the automated electric cars that serve as public transportation within the city. This is truly sustainable.

But Europe is moving as well. Between 2009 and 2011 the German federal government provided 500 million Euros to fund the development and commercialization of electric mobility. 130 million Euros have been allocated to eight model regions where academia, industry and local authorities cooperate to develop an infrastructure for electric mobility. We need innovative urban infrastructure and mobility concepts. The most attractive parking spaces in the city centres could for example be used as charging stations. France on the other hand is offering sales premiums for customers opting for an electric car.

But there are still problems to be solved. One of the key issues and challenges is certainly the development and implementation of international norms and standards for all interfaces. Without interoperability and connectivity between the electricity supply point and the charger of electric vehicles the cars are doomed to fail on an internal market with a free movement of goods.

It will still be a long journey before we will find more electric than petrol-driven cars on our roads, but we are on the right way.