Electric car for everyone? Green course in the transport sector

Electric car for everyone? Green course in the transport sector
Electric car for everyone? Green course in the transport sector
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16:35, February 2, 2024

Roberts Zile, Vice President of the European Parliament

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The “greening” of transport is one of the main pillars of the European Green Deal, as the transport sector generates a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the countries of the European Union (EU), and their volume is increasing. In order to achieve climate neutrality, the EU’s plans require that by 2050, transport emissions must be reduced by 90% compared to the 1990 level (in 2011, this figure was only 60% in the European Commission’s plans). In order to implement EU requirements to decarbonize transport and increase the share of renewable energy resources in the field of transport, huge costs are necessary, which will fall on the shoulders of the Latvian state budget and the population, as European funding will be relatively small. In this article, I will explain what changes the European Green Deal foresees for the transport sector.

According to surveys, the majority of citizens believe that the Green Deal is “the EU’s requirements for businesses and governments to meet climate and environmental goals”. However

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The green course also envisages a change in the daily habits of every citizen, as a result of which individual mobility will become significantly more expensive and less accessible to people with low incomes.

The brilliance and misery of the electric car

In short, it could be said that in the transport sector, the Green Course encourages switching to electric cars wherever possible, because they do not produce harmful emissions and significantly improve air quality in cities. How many resources are needed to make an electric car and where to put the used cars afterwards – that’s another question.

In Latvia, the share of new cars from the total number of cars is small, most cars are used, while electric cars are about 1% of the total number of vehicles. Although the spread of electric cars in Latvia continues to grow, real life shows its effect: in addition to the still high prices of electric cars, their users also face many inconveniences in operating an electric car, compared to an internal combustion engine car. For example, charging an electric car takes much longer than refueling. If it is still relatively convenient to charge the car at home overnight, then to charge the car outside the house, you need to plan additional time for it, especially if there are queues at the charging stations. Using an electric car in cold or hot weather also causes inconvenience, because using an air conditioner or heater quickly drains the battery. That is why, for example, it is often observed in Belgium that in summer traffic jams, electric car owners prefer to sit in a heated car and not turn off the air conditioner, rather than risk being left with an empty battery on the road. On the other hand, in Scandinavia, drivers tend not to turn off the heater and drive in thick jackets, hats and gloves – for the same reason.

Yes, driving an electric car does not produce CO2 emissions, but they are inconvenience, fatigue and car unreliability. In connection with this, even a new concept has arisen – range anxiety (travel distance anxiety, or worry about whether there will be enough energy for the intended trip). Of course, not everyone has a negative experience – the newer the car and the more powerful the battery, the fewer the negative experiences.

Recently, there have been negative signals regarding the sale of electric cars in Western Europe – in December of last year, sales of new electric cars decreased for the first time since April 2020. The biggest drop was in Germany – by 47.6%.

London, on the other hand, is currently undergoing additional inspections of almost 400 public electric buses – they were removed from routes after two electric buses (one of which was a hybrid) caught fire in a short period of time in mid-January.

EU requirements for the placement of electric charging stations

The regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on alternative fuel infrastructure, adopted last summer, stipulates that by 2026, a car charging station with the specified minimum output power must be installed on the main roads of the EU TEN-T network (Latvia’s TEN-T road network) at least every 60 km , which should be raised over time. Charging stations will also have to be created every 120 km for the needs of trucks and buses. The regulation also requires the establishment of hydrogen filling stations by 2031 at the latest.

In order to ensure fast charging of the car battery, only DC high-power (at least 50 kW) charging stations should be built. This raises concerns as to whether the power transmission network will be able to provide the required capacity, as there is no full analysis of this. Or there is a risk of reserving large amounts of capacity that will not be used. In addition, higher capacities require more expensive grid infrastructure, which increases implementation costs.

These requirements are not compared to the economic, geographic and population density indicators of the Member States. In 2021, when the European Parliament started working on the regulation, it was known that 70% of all electric charging stations established in the EU were concentrated in only three Western European countries: the Netherlands, France and Germany. Together, these countries are only 23% of the EU territory.

The infrastructure should be developed according to the market situation, but at that time the German colleague emphasized that the placement of electric charging points in an even density throughout Europe is necessary “so that a German can travel with an electric car without worries, for example to Greece or Romania”. But the costs will fall on the shoulders of local residents.

The network of electric charging stations in Latvia is slowly developing, charging points are also appearing in more distant places, however, the required 60 km radius will be a challenge in many more places. While the number of charging stations is likely to increase in the future, concerns remain as to whether even if they are installed every 60 km, they will have enough capacity and will be sufficient given the uneven traffic flows and the high concentration of riders on certain routes , basically only around Riga. Also taking into account the fact that two-thirds of Latvia’s population is concentrated in the central part of Latvia, the remaining third – in Riga and its surroundings.

Emission allowance trading system for fuel and low emission zones

The green course does not forget about those who will not want or will not be able to switch to electric transport and will continue to drive a gasoline or diesel engine car. Namely, these “sinners” will have to pay more for their travel habits.

The Emissions Trading System (ETS), launched in 2005, is one of the instruments through which the EU aims to achieve CO2 emission reduction. It operates on the “polluter pays” principle. It is planned that from 2027 the ETS will also include fuel and energy consumption in road transport, responsibility for CO2 imposing the purchase of emission quotas on fuel suppliers. Therefore, expenses for fossil fuel dealers will increase, but the expenses will, understandably, be included in the price of fuel, so as a result, all motorists will be the payers.

There is also a plan to continue introducing so-called low-emission zones in European city centers. Namely, drivers who drive diesel or gasoline cars, which produce more emissions, have to pay extra for the opportunity to enter these city areas. Or the entry of such cars there will eventually be completely prohibited. There are discussions in the Riga City Council about when and in what format such a zone will be introduced in the center of Riga.

In this context, we can also mention the “15-minute city” model popularized by Anna Hidalgo, President of the Paris Council, representing the Socialist Party, which envisages urban planning in such a way that everything needed on a daily basis should be within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from the place of residence of residents, so that they do not have to spend a long time in the car or in public transport, thus freeing cities and their inhabitants from cars.

Of course, no one will be restricted by force, but the trend towards the creation of less mobile communities is visible.

A reversal of the ban on petrol and diesel cars?

Until recently, EU officials representing the field of transport continued to talk passionately about a general transition to electric cars after last summer’s loudly celebrated “historic” EU decision to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars from 2035. But now it looks like the backlash might be on, thanks to the opposition of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and other realistic-minded colleagues to these unrealistic plans for full electrification. The most widely represented political group in the European Parliament – the European People’s Party – also plans to support the revision of this ban, indicating the need for a technology neutrality approach. However, it seems that there will be efforts to save the European automotive industry from the bleak future of losing competitiveness as Chinese manufacturers enter the market.

Really, would we be willing to hand the European transport industry over to China? In the production of electric cars, China is well ahead of Europe, for example, the sales data of the Chinese company “BYD” even surpassed “Tesla” in recent months, and the number of users of Chinese-made cars is also growing rapidly in Europe. Chinese cars can be bought at a relatively low price because car production is generously subsidized by the Chinese government, which the EU has opened an investigation into. Even if we choose a car made in Europe, most of the rare metals used in the production of these car batteries come from China. In the electric car industry, China has far outpaced Europe both in terms of technological development and the availability of raw materials, and it is unlikely that Europe will be able to catch up with China in this regard in the near future.

Ports and shipping

German and French farmers are protesting against plans to drastically reduce diesel subsidies. In fact, the Latvian government intends to do the same – to gradually cancel the existing exemptions for excise duty on diesel fuel used in port areas. The aim is to reduce fossil fuel subsidies, encourage ports to reduce diesel consumption and switch to electricity as required by EU regulation. Ports that call at least 50 large passenger ships or 100 container ships must provide shore power for such ships by 2030. However, it is clear that the relevant infrastructure is lacking, but its creation requires disproportionately high investments.

The Green Course envisages including maritime shipping emissions in the ETS. Although the system only started operating this year, gaps are already visible. For example, when ships call at an EU port, the ETS charge applies to the entire journey on the last leg between the port of transshipment and any other EU port. On the other hand, if ships call at a port outside the EU, the ETS is only applied for 50% of the journey. Thus, in order to reduce ETS costs, carriers plan to divert cargo to North African ports. Although it affects the ports of Southern Europe rather than Latvia and the European Commission is already taking action to correct the shortcomings, it still shows how ill-considered the requirements of the Green Course are.

The fact that questions about the EU’s competitiveness are becoming more and more prominent in the Green Course race is also evidenced by the fact that the President of the European Commission von der Leyen has invited the former head of the European Central Bank and the former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to prepare a special study and report by the summer of this year, which to do to improve EU competitiveness. On the other hand, another former Italian prime minister – Enrico Lett – has been entrusted by the European Council to prepare a report on the future of the EU common market. Let’s wait for the conclusions.

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The article is in Latvian

Tags: Electric car Green transport sector

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