Germany lays the foundations for electric vehicles

With Germany on a drive to clean up its streets, electric cars are increasingly part of the journey towards a low carbon economy.

September 21, 2018

With Germany on a drive to clean up its streets, electric cars are increasingly part of the journey towards a low carbon economy.

Yet while the government is keen for change, with targets of 1 million electric cars by 2020, consumer demand is in its early stages, partly due to a lack of charging infrastructure and concerns over how long batteries last between charges.

Public charging points rose to 13,500 by the mid-point of 2018, according to utility lobby BDEW, yet it claims much more needs to be done to encourage investment in private charging points.

However, incorporating charging points in older German buildings, which are often without any underground parking, will prove tricky. In contrast, new schemes, such as Instone Real Estate’s Luisenpark development in Berlin’s Mitte district, are better positioned to include underground park-and-charge spaces. Slots at Luisenpark will be sold to the scheme’s residents as they move in upon completion, scheduled for around two years from now.

While a ratio of around five to 10 percent of car parking places in a new development is reasonable, larger implementation is complex, explains Thomas Zabel, JLL head of German Residential Development.

“Capacity for electricity in new projects is limited,” he says. “Achieving larger numbers of charging points would be a challenge given the physical limits on developers – as well as the added associated costs.”

While there is currently no pressure on residential developers to include charging points within their schemes, Germany’s federal governments could one day move towards quota-based systems already in use, for example, for affordable housing provision.

“How quickly that happens will vary greatly from city to city – depending on the priorities of Germany’s federal governments,” says Konstantin Kortmann, head of residential investment in Germany.

Berlin, for example, may be currently more concerned with addressing housing affordability rather than environmental issues, while the opposite may be true for Stuttgart and its surrounding Baden-Wittenberg region, with its respective mayor, Fritz Kuhn and regional president, Winfried Kretschmann, both Green Party members. In a region of Germany which is home to Daimler and Porsche, the battle for electric vehicle use is likely to be intense.

Car-sharing points the way for electric vehicles

In Berlin, electric vehicle use goes hand in hand with another potentially-environmentally sound strategy: car-sharing. Volkswagen plans to put as many as 1,500 fully electric vehicles on the streets of Berlin in 2019, using battery-powered e-Golf models under its “We Share” brand.

The merger this year of the city’s two main car-sharing providers, Car2Go and DriveNow, has cleared the way for their respective owners, Daimler and BMW, to also move towards greater provision of electric vehicles.

“Car-sharing schemes are the perfect way to point the public towards an increased use of electric vehicles,” says Kortmann. “Their use is not only a big move in the pollution-cutting effort, but also gives users a feel for a type of car they may not have driven before.”

E-scooters, which are now present in several German cities through schemes such as rivals Coup and Emmy, and are another potential entry point. For those on two-wheels, power has been less of an issue, with e-scooters often chargeable via standard plugs.

“This is much easier for residential developers to work into their planning,” given the obvious physical footprint of scooters compared with cars,” says Kortmann.

Going the extra mile

Nevertheless, with rising demand comes the need for more public charging points with supermarkets being a prime spot. The Kaufland supermarket chain is aiming for 100 free electric vehicle fast-charging stations at its stores in Germany by next year, following in the footsteps of other big German chains such as Lidl.

Less-urban projects such as the Innovationspark Zusmarshausen charging service station will be needed to encourage drivers to go beyond city centers and out onto Germany’s motorways, says Kortmann.

“For now, electric vehicles in Germany are an urban trend,” he says. “That is very much aligned with the wider move towards more central city living. But more accessibility to charging points across Germany can change that.”

Charging standardization is also an issue, with more than one cable in circulation and users often faced with a struggle to find the correct power source. That has put the electric car concept some way off becoming commonplace, despite efforts such as those of the city of Berlin to standardize.

Moves such as the banning of diesel in major German cities, including Hamburg and Frankfurt showing that authorities mean business. However, Germany’s federal governance means adoption of cleaner methods of travel will occur at “varying speeds”.

With the likes of Deutsche Post now moving towards electric vehicles through an agreement with Aachen-based electric vehicle manufacturer Streetscooters, the general direction of travel for cleaner driving is clear, says Kortmann.

“While the likes of Japan have gone more down the hydrogen gas route, in Germany, it’s clearly electric vehicles which will take the lead,” he says. “That’s really come from a greater desire for mobility and the government’s push to cut emissions.”

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