The crossroad where Mobility meets the Energy Transition

It has been decided and it will involve many changes: 2026 will mark the start where only electric company cars will be eligible for tax breaks in Belgium. While we hear many voices about the feasibility in terms of charging infrastructure deployment, we believe that this constraint will not hinder the objective of 2026. Both private and public operators are on deck, developing roadmaps to put everything in place to cover 100% of the need in charging units. Let us think for example about D’Ieteren (via its subsidiary, EDI, one of the market leaders in charging infrastructure in Belgium) who is more than doubling the charging points sold each year and offering a wide range of possibilities from home/work charging (representing 70-80% of expected charging need) to (semi-)public and street charging.

However, in the long run, we believe that other challenges will indeed come in the way and therefore need to be considered as soon as possible.

Challenge #1 – The need to mitigate variability in the power supply and demand

According to the Belgian Transmission System Operator (TSO) Elia, the current decade is the one of electrification. In the meantime, on one hand, we are shifting increasingly to decentralized and shared renewable resources to reach a carbon-free system, and on the other hand, this jeopardizes the guarantee to have a stable power supply. It brings new requirements in terms of flexibility of our network, originally designed for a few players responsible for production, transport, distribution and supply.

Charging points and electric vehicle (EV) batteries could play a key role in such conditions by bringing a potential for demand-response (with smart charging, including charging delay and power modulation) to balance consumption and production.

At the offer-side, additional contribution for balancing consumption and production is feasible with vehicle-to-grid (“V2G”). Even though we need to keep in mind that this solution is not fully operational yet, this would allow the electricity injection from an EV charged battery to the grid when the demand is high. The combination of an extended panel of production capacities (including both decentralized production units and vehicle-to-grid abilities) and an accurate demand-response (through smart charging) would mitigate variability and high-power needs at certain times.

Challenge #2 – The capacity of the network to handle high amount of charging units

Electrification also means additional load to be carried by the distribution network, managed by the Distribution System Operators (DSO). In some cases, it will require a transition from a low (230V) to a higher voltage (400V) as 230V will not be enough to feed the needs in (sub-)urban areas, where multiple charging units in the same building or neighborhood will be expected.

Challenge #3 – The need for data exchange

Moreover, charging an EV at work, at home, at destination, at shopping centers or in countryside areas is not as simple as refueling a car in terms of timing, availability of resources (space and power), and payment. We are playing a game whose rules are smart loading, split billing (e.g., in the case of company cars), decentralized production, flexibility management, sometimes with EV users entitled to social rates, in a high energy price context. Therefore, as the market is getting bigger, the need for data exchange is crucial. Taking all of this into consideration, data sharing through actors – public, private and authorities – and a well-defined role of energy roaming operator is the only way to set up a smooth EV user experience.

Challenge #4 – The need to establish clear roles and responsibilities of each actor in a fast-growing market

Finally, we are facing a fast-growing market confronted with emerging needs. Besides the material needs in vehicles, batteries and charging points, the fact that more EV’s are on the road involves taking some steps to deal, among others, with:

  • Installation and management of charging spots
  • Energy management and incentives to smart consumption
  • Measurement and billing of energy consumption via dispersed charging points and modes
  • Battery swap (and recycling/end-of-life)
  • Various renewed customer services and experiences
  • Regulatory framework and policy
  • ...

All those services are currently provided either by historical actors, who were already performing similar services in other industries, or by new actors that are popping up almost every day taking the opportunity to take a place in a promising market. Innovative technologies and ideas to support those services are being developed as concurrent or as alternatives completing the existing ones. Such a complex and novel situation makes it difficult to know who plays which role and how is the market going to look like in a few years.

Are the historical actors going to cover all those services? 

Will a new competition be introduced? Will energy and automotive players compete in the same market, or will it be different?

 We are facing a handful of challenges as the number of EV’s is growing. Besides the need in infrastructure deployments that seems to be handled already by both private and public actors, considerations to tackle obstacles in terms of stability of the network, additional power load, data exchange and difficulties faced by fast-growing markets seem more than crucial.

It is obvious that, as in any growing market, actors are still wondering who is going to play which role. We believe that, as the challenges are pressing, there is a risk of not taking advantage of synergies to serve the same unique EV user in the end. Will there be a common vision at some point? Should it be at a regional, federal, or at a European level? In any case, let us hope that all the actors will find a common ground in order to make the 2026 ambition possible, without neglecting EV user experience, as a first step for further electrification in our mobility.

Victor Cambier & Alice Zeegers 22 November, 2022
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