Charging infrastructure: a major challenge for cities

Oxford has announced its intention to become the first city in the United Kingdom to ban combustion engine vehicles from its center by 2020 (Mashable). This initiative echoes the recent statements of the Mayor of Paris, who confirmed that the French capital was aiming to implement a ban on such vehicles by 2030 (Reuters). While binding initiatives can still be counted on the fingers of one hand, many countries are putting their hopes on the electric car as a means to achieve their emission reduction targets. This transition does not only concern vehicle owners. It is, above all, an energy and urban planning challenge, for cities and their infrastructure.

Billions of investment required

To develop the use of electric vehicles, cities will have to multiply their numbers of charging stations. Several reports believe that the inadequacy of the current infrastructure represents a stumbling block for the deployment of the electric car, particularly in the United Kingdom (Clean Energy News). In France, the total cost of the necessary investment would be between €25 and €35 billion by 2050 (France Stratégie 2017–2027 — In French). Globally, it has been estimated that $2.7 trillion will be needed to establish a charging infrastructure to support 500 million electric vehicles (Technology Review).

Spatial and regulatory constraints

As shown by the difficulties encountered in China (City Lab), the effective deployment of infrastructure cannot be implemented without taking the whole picture into account, and finding a way to address all of the problems related to the number of charging stations necessary, their distribution across territories, their location in the road network, as well as their technological interoperability (The National Renewable Energy Laboratory). In terms of available space, urban centers are facing an additional challenge. Indeed, while major oil companies are intending to offer charging facilities via their service station networks, these networks often do not extend into large cities (Clean Technica). Here it could be down to the operators of underground parking lots to carry out the necessary redevelopment. However, there are very strict regulations that control the implementation of charging stations in such locations, which in France for example stipulate that only the upper floors of parking lots can be equipped with chargers to ensure that fire risks are limited (Economie.gouv.fr — In French).

The need for smart peak management

Another crucial issue concerns the electric power demand, which could be considerable in the event of simultaneous recharging. For example, if 30 million vehicles were to be simultaneously recharged at 7pm, this would require an additional 90 GW of power, which is almost a doubling of the electricity demand in France during peak hours (France Stratégie 2017–2027 — In French). However, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology could respond to this challenge by re-injecting electricity from batteries into the grid while vehicles are parked (Transport Shaker). Finally, each of these ideas must allow for the possibility of another simultaneous phenomenon, the advent of which promises to radically transform mobility: the autonomous car.

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