European EV stations’ growth hampered by grid problems

Electric vehicle drivers hoping to top up their batteries at one of Repsol's 1 600 Spanish charging stations might well be disappointed, with nearly half of them lying dormant because they have no power connection.

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Such gaps are evident across the European Union, where the European Commission announced plans to upgrade the bloc's power grids. These are due to be implemented in 18 months and include addressing EV-charging station power shortages.

But despite the declarations of its leaders, red tape preventing progress towards greener transport in the EU is on the rise, according to industry groups and energy companies, with permitting one of the major roadblocks.

The ease of building an EV-charging hub varies considerably from country to country. One industry source said that in Germany a hub was held up for months over rules protecting a single tree, while another located on a busy highway had to wait 10 months for a noise evaluation before it gained approval.

"Although the work of installing a fast and ultra-fast charging point requires only two to three weeks of work, owing to different administrative requirements in Spain, the complete process ... can last from one to two years," Repsol says.

Industry group ChargeUp Europe says that while the Commission recognised that permitting was a problem, it had not proposed any concrete tools or actions. Specific guidelines for member states to accelerate permitting are only expected at some point over the next two years, the plan's timeline shows.

This is slowing down the roll-out of charging hubs across the 27-member bloc, imperilling EU targets to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles, as well as its broader climate goals.

"The time needed for connecting the EV-recharging points to the grid can indeed be seen as a barrier to accelerate the uptake of EVs and needs to be tackled," was a Commission spokesperson’s response.

The process for setting up a fast EV station has risen to an average of two years from six months in the last few years, four EV-charging companies and the industry's representative says, as firms wade through swathes of red tape, from federal to municipal level.

"It's Kafka meets the energy transition. We have so many things working against Europe, but we could fix this," Lucie Mattera, secretary general of ChargeUp Europe, says.

Lucie says the number of EVs will grow faster than the total number of public charging stations, which ChargeUp Europe estimates will rise by nine times by 2030, with EVs by ten.

The electrification of transport is one of the key pillars underpinning the EU's goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. To do so, it will ban sales of CO2-emitting vehicles from 2035 and wants to develop a network of EV-charging stations.

That ambition has created bottlenecks for power companies and regulators unprepared for the surge in demand in the EU, where so far only 5.4% of passenger cars run on alternative fuels, including electric, out of a total 286 million.

"It's up to the member states now to really step up," Miguel Stilwell de Andrade, CEO of Portuguese energy firm EDP, says, adding: "There's just an avalanche of projects."

That call was echoed by ChargeUp Europe's Lucie Mattera who says guidelines from the Commission would likely help EU members align as the rate of new projects varied across the region.

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