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Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is spreading increasingly rapidly across Europe, writes Stephen Gardner. But the development is not necessarily well coordinated.

Eduard Stolz of Park & Charge, a network of charging points in central Europe overseen by the Swiss Electric Vehicle Association, says that, in the past year, "the number of charging points has gone up by 50 percent, especially in the central and northern part of Europe."

Park & Charge lists EV charging points in a directory known as LEMnet.  This is "one of the most complete databases," says Stolz. LEMnet covers the majority of charging stations in the countries of central and western Europe, and in Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

LEMnet includes more than 3000 public and private charging stations, including Park & Charge's 500-strong network in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Information also comes from major energy companies, such as E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall, which are involved in setting up EV charging networks. Municipalities, private providers and drivers also submit information.

LEMnet is available as a printed publication or via a Google maps overlay. This shows that the charging station networks seem densest in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, though this may in part be due to more comprehensive data for those countries being available to LEMnet. In other countries, charging sites are concentrated on big cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels and Paris.

Tea and charging

In the British Isles, LEMnet shows clusters in and around Dublin and London, but beyond this relatively few sites. In Ireland, the rollout of infrastructure is being overseen by the Irish Electricity Supply Board, but the fast charging public stations are provided by Japan's CHAdeMO, the name of which is derived from a Japanese pun that means "let's have tea while charging".

CHAdeMO charging points are also being set up in Belgium, Portugal and the UK, often at petrol stations. According to CHAdeMO, their stations allow EVs to be powered up from "zero to 80 percent of their capacity in less than 30 minutes" -- enough time for a cup of tea.

However, CHAdeMO is absent from some neighbouring countries. In Germany, for example, Park & Charge and, to a lesser extent, RWE are dominant. In Amsterdam, the city authorities plan to roll out a network of charging stations provided by US company Coulomb Technologies.

This is where the problems start. An EV driver setting off from Antwerp in Belgium, for example, to drive to Rotterdam in Holland, might start by charging at a CHAdeMO station, which is 500V/125A DC, and requires a CHAdeMO connector. In Rotterdam, RWE charging stations are available, but these are 400V/32A AC with a different connector. The motorist would need to drive on to Delft, north of Rotterdam, to find a CHAdeMO station to recharge the battery for the trip home.

Park & Charge's Eduard Stolz, who is also a member of the European Union Focus Group on Electro Mobility, says this is an illustration of a problem of lack of coordination. "An EU driver is completely confused," and would potentially have to carry a "big adaptor kit" to deal with different sockets at charging stations, he says.

Standard attention

Work on the standardisation of charging infrastructure is ongoing in the EU Focus Group on Electro Mobility, which published initial recommendations in June. Standards are also being worked on through cooperative projects, such as the large-scale EU-funded Green eMotion project. According to a project spokesperson, "lacking demand and missing business case", rather than diverging standards, are the main barriers to roll out of EV charging infrastructure.

Against the background of standardisation work, however, installation of charging stations by various providers continues. Stolz says there is an effort by some providers, such as power utilities, to "try to occupy the market," and in effect impose their solutions. In some countries, such as Belgium, differing approaches have led to a "really confused situation," he says.

Nevertheless, by 2017 Europe could have 2 million charging stations, including home-charging facilities, according to industry analyst Anjan Hemanth Kumar of consultants Frost & Sullivan. These would support 3.1 million EVs, including hybrids.

"Infrastructure programmes will be concentric [around] specific regions and urban areas," Kumar says. "The UK, France, Scandinavian regions and Germany will lead in terms of infrastructure development". Schemes such as London's "plugged-in places" plan for 25,000 charging stations by 2015, and the French government's EV programme will be of particular importance in creating "EV hot spots... [in] mega cities and mega regions," Kumar adds.

Rural areas will initially miss out. The LEMnet map, for example, shows not a single EV charging station in Wales. The Green eMotion project spokesperson says that "at the moment, e-mobility only makes sense in urban areas," and petrol engines will continue to be used in less densely populated places. According to Kumar, this will change post-2020 when EVs with greater ranges will come on the market.

EV drivers will also hope that charging-related standardisation issues are resolved by then, so that they do not have to drive further than necessary to find a compatible charging station.

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