Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

News in Brief

  1. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  2. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  3. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  4. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit
  5. UK to allow EU flights in no-deal Brexit
  6. Greek reporters arrested after story on 'mishandled' EU funds
  7. Austrian minister urges police to out foreign sex offenders
  8. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group

EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg argued that disclosure of how MEPs use their monthly €4,400 expenses allowance risks violating an MEP's data protection rights. Journalists behind the case will appeal.

Agenda

Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK

The EU will be watching closely how the political dynamics of Theresa May's Conservative party conference starting next week will influence Brexit negotiations. MEPs might also be forced to release their office expenses.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  2. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  3. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  4. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  5. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  6. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  7. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  8. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us