On 3 October 2023 an extraordinary gathering of industry leaders and Commission officials took place at the event titled "Greasing the Wheels: Electrifying Urban Transport - Navigating the role of DSOs in shaping a smarter tomorrow." This pivotal event brought together influential figures, including automotive manufacturers, regulators, DSOs, and Charge Points Operators (CPOs), to engage in an insightful discussion about the role of DSOs in shaping the future of electrified transport. This event served as a platform to evaluate the existing regulatory landscape and identify crucial elements that are still missing on our journey towards a cleaner, more efficient transportation ecosystem.
The discussion revolved around the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), a pivotal piece of legislation adopted on 13 September and published on EU Official Journal on 22 September.
Participants acknowledged the significance of addressing potential locations with congestion issues within the electric grid, especially in urban areas. While the potential of smart charging and Non-Firm Connections (flexible grid connections) was recognised, challenges were discussed meshing these with public charging user expectations and business models.
During the keynote interview with Mr Axel Volkery from DG MOVE, he confirmed that AFIR is a key policy instrument to support clean and efficient transportation in Europe. With AFIR becoming fully applicable in 27 Member States as from 13 April 2024, he stressed that infrastructure deployment and permitting processes needed to be expedited, highlighting that financing was only one, but not the only challenge. Permitting and planning procedures can provide a critical bottleneck for infrastructure rollout. Mr Volkery stressed the importance of not solely focusing on the expenses associated with this transition but also recognizing the potential opportunities it presents.
A panel debate composed by Kai Tullius, Céline Domecq, Diego Garcia Carvajal, Arjan Wargers and Aaron Fishbone followed.
Kai Tullius, Policy Officer at DG Move highlighted that the widespread adoption of EVs can be successfully accommodated if we approach this transition with strategic intelligence. This requires significant investments in the electricity grid to connect large recharging pools along the TEN-T network as required by AFIR and large depots for busses and trucks. Early planning and cooperation between network operators and operators of recharging points is essential to plan for the possible locations and the required electricity connections. In addition, this entails harnessing the capabilities of smart charging and smart meters to facilitate seamless integration, allowing customers to actively participate and realize the associated benefits.
Arjan Wargers, E.DSO Member and Manager Research & Innovation at ElaadNL underscored the pivotal role of smart charging in mitigating congestion challenges faced by both DSOs and TSOs due to the surge in heavy-duty electrification. However, it was emphasised that these measures should complement, not replace, crucial grid investment.
Céline Domecq, Director Public Affairs - Head of Volvo Cars EU office acknowledged the common industry objective of decarbonisation. SheShe underlined the role smart and bi-directional charging can play to support the grid, including to absorb a higher share of renewable electricity, but also the intricate interdependencies between actors not used to work together. She stressed that the electrification of transportation is bridging the realms of transport and energy, necessitating novel procedures to facilitate this transition and prevent grid connection challenges from obstructing progress toward the EU objectives. Cooperation between all relevant actors is key and must be facilitated at EU and national levels.
Diego García Carvajal, Manager Clean Energy Transition at European Copper Institute stressed the importance of DSOs to not only manage their challenges in isolation but rather working together with the rest of energy and transport stakeholders in the demanding task ahead for the advancement of e-mobility. He explained that it is necessary to add two initiatives in the implementation of AFIR:
- Battery trucks. To assess, and eventually reinforce, the grid in advance where trucks will likely recharge.
- Need of a national agreement on the share of public charge points on the street at residential / work areas.
On the one hand, most of truck cases will reach total cost of ownership with diesel by 2026, what will accelerate the transition. On the other hand, a grid reinforcement takes years to be operative. It is important to set national task forces within the implementation of AFIR to assess, and eventually reinforce, grids in advance of need under the supervision of the energy regulator. Truck depots should be included, in spite of being private recharging infrastructure.
Regarding cars, AFIR sets the capacity target (1.3 kW/BEV) but says nothing on the configuration of the urban public infrastructure. Three main configurations: residential/work, destination (commercial locations) and high-power hubs (equivalent to petrol stations). Residential/work is best because energy price can be half than destination (EV affordability, 40% EU fleet, 50% increase of household electricity demand) while minimal impact on grids and the possibility to offer flexibility services. National and local authorities should agree on the share of residential public charging.
Aaron Fishbone, Director of Public Policy at EV charging CPO / E-mobility service provider GreenWay, first celebrated the passage of AFIR as a milestone and for establishing clarity in terms of what needs to be invested in by CPOs and MSPs. However, achievement of the AFIR targets is now all about implementation. In the light of the burgeoning demand for EV charging infrastructure, particularly as we witness the rise of charging hubs, it has become evident that our current approach to handling connection requests is inadequate and must be addressed. the existing system, lacks pro-activity, transparency regarding available capacity, and efficient processing, leading to a situation where many more connection requests, are submitted to DSOs than are expected to become projects, because CPOs do not have information on each location until the DSO responds – on a case by case basis. Regrettably, the process can stretch over years, resulting in delays, uncertainty, and unnecessary effort for all parties involved. He proposed numerous solutions, but emphasized that the nature of the EV charging, and the merging of transport and energy are necessitating new ways of doing things. In addition to needed investment in the grid, there are many ways to address these issues, by providing accurate capacity maps, more coordination and advance planning between CPOs, DSOs and others, ticketing systems to allow tracking of requests, and more.
The event generated a series of forward-looking proposed actions to shape a smarter and more sustainable electrification of transport in the EU:
- Promote cooperative strategies that facilitate collaboration between Charging Point Operators (CPOs) and DSOs, streamlining the interconnection process.
- Create and disseminate grid transparency resources, including load hosting capacity analysis maps, to identify capacity constraints and connection costs, with a view to prioritizing the right locations.
- Design streamlined notification procedures for projects with no significant adverse environmental or social impact, simplifying the permitting process, particularly for recharging infrastructure.
- Strengthen communication and collaboration between DSOs and other network construction needs to streamline permitting and connection processes.
- Establish a dedicated contact point responsible for monitoring permitting bottlenecks and promptly addressing issues encountered by public authorities and CPOs.
The way forward
Recognising the multifaceted challenges and intricacies faced by DSOs in a rapidly evolving landscape, this event underscored the imperative of collaboration between industries and public authorities. As DSOs confront mounting pressures to decarbonize and decentralize electricity systems, these proposed actions lay the foundation for a more sustainable and efficient future in electrified urban transport. Now it is clear that our journey towards a sustainable future in urban transport is both challenging and promising. The regulatory framework, with AFIR at its core, represents a significant step forward. However, it is imperative that we collectively address the missing pieces in this puzzle.