At a time when the number of electric vehicles is skyrocketing, there is an urgent need to work towards a high-performance charging infrastructure. Aurélien de Meaux shared his views in an article published in Les Echos on 25 January 2022.
Deploying thousands of charging stations? Yes, but what kind of stations? The question of reliability and charging speed of these charging stations is crucial. At a time when the number of electric vehicles is skyrocketing, it is urgent to work towards a high-performance charging infrastructure. After the “early adopters”, if we want to massively increase the adoption of electric vehicles, we need to make charging quick and easy to use.
The transition to all-electric vehicles that we are currently experiencing is most certainly the greatest industrial transformation in history since the advent of the combustion-powered vehicle. The entire automotive sector and its subcontractors are undergoing a complete changeover. In 2021, 7.7% of all vehicles sold in France were 100% electric and we expect this market share to reach 80% by 2030%. Electric vehicles will then represent 15% to 25% of the total market.
Motorists are in the “starting blocks” and that is a very good thing. 96% of users of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles say they are satisfied with their purchases*. However, 68% of them are dissatisfied with the charging stations available to the public. The main source of dissatisfaction is the charging stations' malfunction or breakdown, if not their inaccessibility, due for example to the fact that a car is parked in the space designated for charging.
The quality of the charging infrastructure is therefore crucial to this all-electric revolution. The technological breakthrough currently taking place is identical to that which French society experienced in the 1990s with the spread of ADSL and 3G. At the time, the aim was to create a national infrastructure and the finest possible coverage of the whole country so that every citizen could benefit from the progress made in the field of telecommunications.
The French Government has fully played its part, while industry has dragged its feet
In 2015, the law on energy transition laid solid foundations. As for the ADVENIR programme, it funds the deployment of charging stations throughout the country, with a target of 100,000 set by the French Government. The development of Low Emission Zones (LEZ) by local authorities is also having a significant impact. Going even further, the European Union is threatening to ban combustion-powered vehicles by 2035.
But a lot of time has been wasted, mainly because of the slow progress made by car manufacturers in shifting to electric vehicles and the existence of models that are unsuitable for the market because they are too expensive. Today, though, the trend has been reversed and the figures are there to prove it: 17,000 electric vehicle registrations were recorded in September 2021 (nearly 13% of vehicle sales).
The issue is not the number of charging stations, but the number of cars being charged
The charging station race is not an end in itself. To win over a maximum number of motorists, two criteria must imperatively be met: first, the charging stations must be fast, and second, they must be reliable. The main challenge in relation to charging infrastructure is the lack of reliability of the installations. With 20% to 25% of charging points not working today, users are faced with a genuine lottery which, in some cases, can turn into a nightmare.
Hundreds of thousands of public charging stations are expected to be needed by 2030 for about 7-8 million electric cars. Extrapolating from this, this would mean installing millions of charging stations over time as the national fleet grows. This seems rather unrealistic, as it would require a huge land footprint, with questionable quality due to the maintenance of so many charging stations. So it seems more sensible to install fewer charging stations, but fast ones that allow more cars to be charged.
Putting the user right at the heart of the process
What is also at stake is to offer a user experience that meets people's expectations, i.e. it must be extremely seamless and simple. Initially, things will revolve around innovation in terms of customer experience. In the mobility sector, all the innovations that have taken place over the last ten years have one thing in common: a simple mobile app that makes users' lives easier.
Among other services, this app should allow the user to book their charging station, follow the progress of the charging process, stop or resume it, and of course pay for their charging session.
Then it will be time to provide the service associated with charging. The idea is to offer moments of distraction and relaxation with snacks while charging your car (shopping, coffee, reading, screen entertainment) depending on the location and time of parking. Charging time should eventually become a time of relaxation and comfort instead of stress and constraint.
If these conditions are met, the electric vehicle will be widely adopted in France.
*Ipsos for Avere-France
Aurélien de Meaux is the co-founder of Electra.