Thursday

27th Jul 2017

Focus

Denmark to be electric cars guinea pig

  • Eletric car beauty pageant in Times Square, New York (Photo: asterix611)

Studies have shown than when prices at the petrol pump rise, there is a corresponding leap in internet searches for the electric car.

But that is about the extent of it as far as the consumer is concerned. When petrol prices return to levels that do not hurt the wallet so much, interest wanes.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The electric car might be touted – at least at face value - as the silver environmental bullet but its hefty price tag and consumers' natural conservatism when it comes to embracing a wholly new technology has kept it mostly in the showroom.

But an ambitious new programme in Denmark, run by Silicon Valley start-up Better Place, is hoping to tip the scales towards the battery-run car.

Like a mobile phone company

Its solution is to tackle all the worries that people have about electric cars – battery expense, range anxiety and lack of infrastructure – in one fell swoop.

"The best comparison would be if you compared us to a mobile phone company. What we're doing is building an infrastructure," communications director Susanne Tolstrup tells EUobserver.

The company is busy building up to 900 charging spots in public places across Denmark in anticipation of the commercial launch of the electric car by its partner Renault in September. Customers who sign up to the scheme will also get their own private charge pad at their house.

And for those doing longer commutes, robot-operated battery switch stations – the operation should take five minutes – are being placed along the country's motorways.

The first electric cars are supposed to be on Danish roads in November with "several hundred pre-orders" already on the books.

Under the business model, Danes would buy the electric car and sign up to one of four deals, paying a maximum of €399 a month for an all-you-can-drive package. Better Place is gambling that prices at the petrol pump will continue to rise.

It is no accident that the company has gone to Denmark for its first European foray. Electric cars, not subject to the country's extremely high registration tax, will work out at almost half the price of conventional cars. The company reckons that the costs overall will represent a 20 percent saving for the Danish consumer.

This "birthday present" aside, success will ultimately come down to whether Danes decide to make this "paradigm shift", says Tolstrup.

Talking it up

But going by talk alone, the electric car's star seems to be rise.

Estonia earlier this year announced it wants to have 1000 electric cars on its streets by the end of next year, Germany wants one million of them by the end of the decade. Major cities such as London and Paris are busy setting up electric car schemes. Formula One – for all its reverence for the speed and strength of the combustion engine – has promised to hold a electric car championship in 2013.

The EU is also contributing to the buzz. It recently granted €41.8 million for research in the area and a Spring discussion paper on transport suggests that conventional cars should no longer be in cities by 2050.

Yes, but

But electric cars are still far from being the environmental godsend that many are hoping for.

"The problem", says Dudley Curtis from green group Transport and Environment, "is how do make the electricity efficient."

If electricity is not decarbonised – Poland for example gets most of its needs from coal – then electric cars could be more polluting that normal petrol cars, which are continually getting more efficient. "You need a really solid renewable energy structure," says Dudley.

There are plenty of other worries too.

"You need some sort of standardised socket, so you can plug your car across borders, then you would need to have certain possibility to buy insurance for these cars and garage services in case of accidents," says Christian Egenhofer from the Centre for European Policy Studies.

While he reckons that electric vehicles are here to stay – biofuels have fallen out of favour due to their potential gobbling up of farmland and developers have yet to find a way to cleanly produce hydrogen fuel cells - Egenhofer believes that even by 2020 there will still only be large pilot scale projects underway as industry and policy-makers try and iron out initial problems.

Another factor is the EU's mixed message on the issue. While it has forced car manufacturers to make more fuel efficient cars, a super-credit system allows them to sell gas-guzzlers for every very low emission, or electric, vehicle they sell. In other words, the fuel standards do not hurt enough to make the electric car more attractive to manufacturers.

And then there is money. An all out push for electric cars will require billions of euros of public money. "Public intervention will be needed to build grids," says Curtis "but in the past, these interventions have gone wrong."

But he concludes that with oil becoming "really nasty to extract so at some stage we are going to come to a point where we need a fundamental technology shift and it looks like electric will be the thing."

Better Place's Tolstrup agrees. "It is going to happen, the question is how quickly it is going to happen."

Until that point, Denmark's electric car motorists will be pioneers, but only within their country's borders. They will have to hire a conventional combustion-engine car if they want to drive abroad.

EU to cap biofuel target to protect food

The EU intends to cap the contribution made by crop-based biofuels to its renewable energy target under draft legislation tabled on Wednesday.

European Transport

Careful transport policy is seen as key to helping the EU on its way to economic recovery. But it needs to take into account two big factors - empty public coffers and environmental concerns. EUobserver turns the spotlight on the latest developments in the sector.

Transport no longer a 'nuisance' policy, Kallas says

EU transport policy has been transformed from being regarded as a 'nuisance' policy to being seen as key to achieving the Union's longterm economic goals, the EU transport chief tells EUobserver.

Brussels to unveil 'core' transport network in September

The European Commission is in September due to publish an overhaul of its approach to achieving the longterm plan of connecting Europe's railways, airports, ports and roads. It is expected to unleash a furious bout of lobbying.

'Whatever we do the pirates have adapted'

The number of pirate attacks off Somalia has increased dramatically in recent years, putting a physical and mental toll on seafarers and provoking a discussion on whether to boycott dangerous waters.

Arctic shipping routes unlikely to be 'Suez of the north'

Shipping and mineral companies are salivating at the prospect of new shipping routes in the Arctic as sea ice begins its global warming-induced retreat. The North Sea Route could be a boon for northern European companies. But caveats abound, not least for the environment.

EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7

The EU executive expects Warsaw to halt the judiciary reform and address concerns over the rule of law, and not to force out supreme court judges, or else the sanctions procedure will start.

News in Brief

  1. Werner Hoyer re-appointed as EU investment bank chief
  2. Spanish PM denies knowledge of party corruption
  3. France 'routinely' abuses migrants, says NGO
  4. Swedish government rocked by data scandal
  5. Member states relocate 3,000 migrants in June
  6. Top EU jurist says Malta's finch-trapping against EU law
  7. EU judges rule to keep Hamas funds frozen
  8. EU court rejects passenger data deal with Canada

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  3. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  4. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  5. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  8. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  10. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  11. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  12. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way

Latest News

  1. Insults fly after EU ultimatum to Poland
  2. UK requests EU migration study, 13 months after Brexit vote
  3. EU defends airline data-sharing after court ruling
  4. Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis
  5. EU-US scrap on Russia sanctions gets worse
  6. Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles have one month to start taking migrants
  7. EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7
  8. Court told to 'dismiss' case against EU migrant quotas

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  3. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  7. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  8. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  9. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  10. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  11. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices