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How the Green Deal could become Europe's "man on the moon" moment

January 31, 2020 | Koen Noyens

It was a historic moment on December 11, 2019. European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled Europe’s Green Deal: the roadmap that could make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. Described by von der Leyen as “Europe's man on the moon moment,” it was the first time the Commission presented a complete set of measures to cover the full decarbonization of all sectors in the economy, hinged on a legally-binding net-zero emissions goal for 2050.

What is the Green Deal?

The Green Deal spells out a transformative strategy for a carbon neutral Europe—one that encompasses new and updated policies, financing, and innovation. The strategy describes a plan to support the following initiatives:

  • Providing cleaner, smarter, and healthier forms of transport
  • Decarbonizing the European energy sector
  • Renovating buildings to help people cut their energy usage
  • Transforming agriculture for an environmentally-friendly food system
  • Encouraging businesses to prepare for a circular economy

What will the Green Deal do to transport ambitions?

The presented Deal is just the beginning of a journey toward Europe’s own “man on the moon” moment. For these plans to come to fruition, laws need to be drafted and agreed upon by the EU member states and members of the European Parliament. And of course, public and private funding will need to be raised to make these ambitions possible.

Recently established standards for car and van CO2 emissions will have to be revised to “ensure a clear pathway from 2025 towards zero-emission mobility.” These standards were only agreed upon a year ago, when EU negotiators decided to endorse a 37.5 percent and 31 percent reduction by 2030 for cars and vans respectively. These increased standards will be the biggest driver for electrified transport.

The Deal states that the EU should have a fleet of 13 million EVs by 2025, which will require the rollout of one million public charging stations. Hopefully, EU funding will address persistent gaps—notably for long-distance travel and in less densely populated areas. Also, funding will be made available for automated and connected multimodal mobility programs, as well as Mobility as a Service solutions.

Stricter air pollutant benchmarks for internal combustion engines are also outlined in the Green Deal. These will aim to improve the air quality near airports, and regulate the access of polluting ships heading to the EU—making it mandatory for docked ships to use shore-side electricity.

So, unsurprisingly, fossil fuel subsidies will be a thing of the past. The emission trading scheme will be extended to include maritime emissions, while effective road pricing will also be introduced—potentially influencing fuel prices to better reflect their impact on the environment.

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Why is the Green Deal so important for road transport?

Transport is Europe’s biggest polluter of greenhouse gases, and responsible for over a quarter of the EU’s total CO2 emissions. Road transport in particular contributes to more than 70 percent of this share. In fact, transport has been the only sector in Europe where emissions have increased over the last decade. And as a third of all new cars being sold today are SUVs, it’s clear that curbing transport emissions will be no easy feat. 

However, the new EU rules will soon start to bite. From next year onwards, vehicle manufacturers will face the hard choice of selling a higher percentage of emission-free vehicles or paying stiff EU penalties on polluting models. It appears that 2020 is shaping up to be the turning point for the industry.

The number of EV models available in Europe will jump from 100 to 175 this year, and that number is projected to double again by 2025—offering drivers more choice and price points for consideration. In fact, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicting that sales will increase by 35 percent in the first nine months of 2020, Europe may take over from China as one of the fastest growing markets for EVs. 

Though investments in electrification by European manufacturers will be important, it is the wave of new policies that will do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to stoking the demand for EVs in the years ahead. EU member state taxation, support schemes, CO2 standards, and EV sales quotas will all play a part in this new, and much-needed age of eMobility.

The Green Deal is ambitious, and rightly so. For zero-emission mobility to become a reality in 30 years time, the last petrol and diesel cars will need to be sold by the ‘30s. However, the Green Deal should go beyond harder CO2 laws for vehicles. For it to be successful, businesses need to move from non-existent or half-baked electrification strategies to a situation where electric transport is a notable part of their core business model—be it owning EV fleets or EV charging spaces.

On the one hand, this is about fleet strategies. Every company needs to step up and prepare themselves for an electric future. There’s a growing business case for adopting fleet electrification: the total cost of EV ownership is decreasing rapidly across all vehicle segments. Customers and employees are beginning to demand sustainable mobility services, and with growing urbanization and city-level measures, companies will need to rethink their delivery strategies. 

Member state initiatives and taxation policies have helped to create the first necessary market pulls and will need to remain strong in the coming years to provide the right stimulus. However, any fleet strategy will need to take both public and private charging infrastructure into consideration. So, let’s talk about infrastructure.


eMobility is not possible without charging infrastructure

Recent research shows that we need to move beyond the Green Deal’s target of reaching one million public charging points by 2025. To keep up with the Deal’s ambitions, we need closer to 1.3 million, and then another three million charging points to accommodate the 44 million EVs projected to be on Europe’s roads by the end of this decade. In short, it’s critical that 2020 is the year that the supply of chargers in the EU begins to increase in line with the upcoming surge of EV ownership.

Policy makers should be nudging those with ideal locations for public charging stations—such as shops, petrol stations, and leisure facilities—to make use of their spaces. However, with more than 80 percent of charging currently taking place at home or at work, the public offering is just a fraction of the total number of chargers needed.


How can we boost residential and workplace uptake?

For the private domain, the recently agreed upon European charging requirements for buildings are clearly not sufficient in the short term, and don’t give enough power to tenants or owners looking to install charging stations. Residential or workplace charging schemes, like in the UK, provide financial support toward some of the up-front grid, cabling, and installation costs. EU funding allocated under the Green Deal can provide a helping hand here, especially since over 40 percent of EU citizens live in shared buildings, and most of them do not own a car space. The EU should encourage the adoption of initiatives like those in Amsterdam where residents and businesses can request the city to install chargers in the public domain close to their home or workplace.

As much as we need impressive targets for hard-hitting speeches, the Green Deal discussion should prioritize quality—an aspect that’s clearly missing in the overarching message. Only when charging deployment plans revolve around consumer needs will the EV driving experience be comfortable and seamless across Europe. Putting the driver first is of paramount importance.

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Because EV charging happens predominantly at home and at work, any successful policy strategy will need to recognize the continued need for regular-speed charging. At the same time commuters, shared urban mobility, commercial vans, taxi drivers, buses, or logistic vehicles will increasingly require DC fast and ultra-fast charging spots. Grid capacity bottlenecks and connection costs for charging hubs at public roads or company sites need to be addressed. An improved regulatory framework for grids coupled with EU funding can help public authorities and grid operators overcome these hurdles.

We also need to get the pre-conditions right, like the alignment of open communication protocols and technical standards that will form the basis of a truly open European charging infrastructure. Open communication is essential for charging networks to become available to driver’s at the lowest possible cost. The EU needs to make these protocols the standard for charging infrastructure stakeholders.

Finally, station location and price information needs to become transparent and understandable. While most charging still happens at home or work, and is therefore integrated into electricity bills, EV drivers need to know they can rely on public stations to advise them on the price they will be charged for the power they use and the time they are parked. Fortunately, the industry is strongly committed to delivering real-time price transparency, so all charging infrastructure helps to optimize driver experiences.


It’s all about the experience

All in all, with the total cost of EV ownership falling and range anxiety becoming a thing of the past, it’s the seamless end-to-end experience that will accelerate the expansion of eMobility. Once the driving and charging experience reaches an reasonable level, other drivers will be more likely to follow suit.

Charging infrastructure has the potential to become a flagship of the European Green Deal. By encouraging cross-industry collaboration, the Deal will lay the foundation for tomorrow's mobility, digital, and energy systems. Not only does intelligent charging carry the potential to transform the way we run our power system, but it also opens the door to a wide range of connectivity, retail, and mobility services. 

For Europe’s “man on the moon” project to become a reality, it needs to spark the imagination of citizens. In their 1992 classic ‘Man on the Moon,’ R.E.M sang If you believed they put a man on the moon, if you believe there’s nothing up his sleeve, then nothing is cool.” This reminds us that for the Green Deal to reach its full potential, it needs to appeal to the people. This Deal is already historic—but let's make it cool and inspiring, so it can be proudly embraced by every European citizen.

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