Electric Car: Funded and Demanded

For the transport revolution to be a success, the number of electric cars will have to surpass internal combustion engines on the road. Many countries and car manufacturers are therefore offering substantial subsidies for the purchase of an electric vehicle. And what about the buyers? They occasionally need a lot of patience when it comes to the daily use of their electric car – especially when paying at a charging station.

The expansion of the charging infrastructure is progressing – but the large number of connection options sometimes causes frustration when it comes to paying. Photo: Shutterstock – Viktoria Hnatiuk

For most people, a new e-car is still a substantial investment. So when will electric cars be available at a bargain price? That’s likely to take quite a while. After all, government and car manufacturers are subsidizing new purchases with considerable sums. In its Climate Protection Plan 2050, Germany has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector by around 40 percent by 2030. To achieve this, it focuses on the electrification of road transport. So far, at least, the public has responded well to the funding concept. According to the German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), which is responsible for subsidies, 336,002 battery-electric vehicles have been subsidized since the funding start in 2016 up to May of this year, including around 80,000 in the first quarter alone. Both the federal government and car manufacturers pay into the funding pot – buyers receive up to 9,000 euros per vehicle.

The federal government’s share is exactly 6,000 euros for vehicles with a net list price below 40,000 euros, and 5,000 euros for vehicles above that. If the net list price of the base model in Germany is over 65,000 euros, the government no longer subsidizes. The subsidy is limited until 2025 and applies to new cars registered after June 3, 2020. The car manufacturers, in turn, generally contribute up to 3,000 euros per car sold, with manufacturers such as Hyundai and Renault even increasing their share by up to 2,000 euros for individual models. In addition, the Motor Vehicle Tax Act continues to exempt pure e-cars from taxation – all vehicles registered for the first time by December 31, 2025, will be eligible for the tax exemption. However, the original ten-year exemption period is now limited to December 31, 2030, so the bottom line is that it might be worth considering the purchase of an e-car sooner rather than later.

Will infrastructure remain the Achilles’ heel of electromobility?

For the time being, infrastructure remains electromobility’s Achilles’ heel. On the one hand, expansion is progressing well because more and more car manufacturers, electricity suppliers, petroleum companies, and service providers are investing in the charging network. The Federal Network Agency currently lists 2,362 charging point operators with publicly accessible charging points in Germany, with the 100 largest collectively operating about two-thirds of the reported charging infrastructure (as of February 2021). In April, energy provider EnBW announced the commissioning of a public charging park with high-capacity columns at the Kamener Kreuz interchange in North Rhine-Westphalia by the end of the year. With 52 charging points, it’s set to become the largest facility of its kind in Europe. On the other hand, the large number of connection options sometimes causes frustration at the charging station when it comes to paying.

Paying by charging card works best in the roaming system

Many operators hide the cost of recharging – you only discover the price per kilowatt hour via their app or website. Some operators are also cooking up their own thing with regards to payment methods. As a rule, electric vehicle users must first register to use an app or charging card. But there are also providers who only make these tools available to their own electricity customers or for a monthly fee. It’s not necessarily a disadvantage for users that the range of charging cards with local operators is limited. Frequently, charging station operators join forces for roaming, where everyone accepts the respective roaming partner’s charging card. Roaming alliances such as Plugsurfing and Hubject are particularly well positioned, providing comprehensive access to national and international charging infrastructure via app, charging card, or charging key.

Exactly how digital should spontaneous charging at charging stations be?

There’s also room for improvement in the use of infrastructure for so-called ad hoc charging. That’s when e-car drivers spontaneously stop at a charging point – in a sense as guests of the operator, who often charges dearly for his services. In Germany, it’s a legal requirement that ad hoc charging must be possible at every charging station. According to the German government, around ten percent of charging processes take place spontaneously today – with a clear trend toward 20 percent in the next few years. The typical procedure for ad hoc charging is for the user to download the operator’s app on their smartphone or to scan the QR code at the charging station. In both cases, they end up in the operator’s online portal, where they can view the price per kilowatt hour and enter their payment data. They must then read the general terms and conditions and privacy policy before the charging process begins. For experienced smartphone users, this procedure is no problem. But what about using a contactless checking or credit card? This is precisely where legislators and energy industry find themselves at odds. The new charging point ordinance, which is currently in the final stages of the legislative process, stipulates that from mid-2023, operators of public charging points will have to provide a card reader for payment with major credit cards. For the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), this step represents a regression to analog times that would slow down the expansion of charging infrastructure and make it more expensive.

Plug & Charge is still in its infancy in this country

In fact, a genuinely digital solution would perhaps have to offer even more convenience – for example, by simply driving up to the charging station, plugging in the charging plug, and refueling, while payment is automatically processed in the background. The idea behind this isn’t entirely new – it’s called Plug & Charge and is based on technology for automated communication between vehicle and charging station. The electric car identifies itself to the charging station the moment the plug is connected. In Germany, Plug & Charge is still in its infancy – partly because equipping charging stations with the necessary hardware is very expensive. Tesla’s Superchargers demonstrate that the exchange of data via plugs does work. Dutch charging provider Fastned also has its own solution for fast chargers, called Autocharge, which transmit the vehicle’s unique identification code to the charging station via the CCS connection.

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Checklist – Tips for e-cars

Electric cars offer plenty of material for new experiences and exciting adventures. To conclude our series, we asked expert Andreas Richter from the DEKRA Competence Center for more tips on use and operation.

The choice of battery

Smaller or larger battery? Smaller batteries score points for eco-balance, but also provide less range. Low temperatures and very frequent charging put a bigger strain on small batteries. Larger batteries have greater range, more charging power, and longer service life.

Know your usable battery capacity. A safety reserve is intended to prevent harmful overcharging and deep discharging. Therefore, the battery provides a limited amount of energy – the so-called usable capacity. Users should know this, or their range calculation could end up being too optimistic.

Driving and using e-cars

Making smart use of recuperation. Electric cars are particularly efficient on downhill stretches or in city traffic with frequently changing speeds. Skilled drivers can achieve up to 20 percent more range by using recuperation in a smart way.

Consider outside temperatures. The battery’s performance diminishes with very high or very low temperatures. In summer, a shaded parking space is wise to protect the battery; in winter, a parking space in an underground garage would be a good choice.

Using resources. Components such as windshield heating, seat heating, and air conditioning, do consume battery resources, but their use isn’t significant compared to driving consumption. When the charge level is low, using them could come at the expense of range. However, road safety and health take precedence.

Even electric cars need care. Always keep appointments for inspection and maintenance. A typical job is checking the brakes, which can start to rust if recuperation is frequent. In addition, brake fluid and cabin filters are changed. Checking the battery connections is also part of the service program.

Option for longer service life. Self-discharge usually isn’t a problem for high-voltage batteries. If the e-car is going to be stationary for a longer period of time – for example in winter – it’s advisable to charge the battery to between 40 and 70 percent.

Charging and infrastructure

Avoid extreme charge levels. Batteries generally cope well with low and high charge levels. However, if you value a long battery life, you should avoid extreme levels – the ideal charge level lies between 20 and 80 percent.

Claim subsidy for a wallbox. The German government subsidizes the installation of wallboxes with a maximum of 900 euros per charging point, including installation. The prerequisites for this are a charging capacity of 11 kW (ex works or throttled), an intelligent control system, and the station’s exclusive use of renewable energies.

It’s the charging capacity that counts. Anyone dependent on public infrastructure for charging should look for a higher AC charging capacity when purchasing an e-car. Then even a short stop will provide you with a little more range.

Charging faster with direct current. DC charging stations only deliver maximum power between 20 and 80 percent of battery charge level. A full charge to 100 percent isn’t efficient due to the significantly longer charging time. Better to only charge up to 80 percent and refuel more often on long trips.

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