Network of electric vehicles charging stations growing in Germany

Some 27 ev charging stations for electric cars have been taken into service so far this year as part of a network of 50 such stations that will be operating in Germany by the end of the year, Germany’s automobile association ADAC has announced.

Electricity from the stations is given free of charge to all owners of electric vehicles until the end of 2011, the association said.

The loading stations, with a one-hour loading time, provide energy for an average range of up to 100 kilometres. The ADAC said its participation in building up the countrywide network is only the first step in a programme to boost electromobility.

Germany, the birthplace of Volkswagen, Porsche, and BMW, plans to become a global leader for developing electric vehicles.

The country will increase electric vehicle production from less than 2,000 units currently to 1 million units by 2020 and 5 million units by 2030, aided by some 500 million euros (US$705 million) in research funding through 2012.

Overall, German greenhouse gas emissions have fallen some 21 percent since 1990, but transportation-related emissions increased roughly 1 percent through 2005. To achieve its target of a 40-percent emissions reduction sectorwide by 2020, Germany plans to use the long-awaited electric car plan to further trim transport emissions.

"The federal government’s target is to make Germany the leading market for electric mobility," the Environment Ministry said in a statement. "Power for electrically driven electric vehicles can be generated from a number of primary energy sources, thus helping to promote independence from oil imports and fluctuating petrol prices."

But plugging electric vehicles into the power grid will not guarantee low-carbon transportation. Even in Germany, a world leader in renewable energy production, coal-fired power plants are expected to supply at least 40 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020. A debate is now brewing within the German government about how electric vehicles can best lower emissions.

The Environment Ministry insists that the electricity used to charge plug-in vehicles should come exclusively from renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind power. Otherwise, the greater demand for electricity from the vehicles could increase overall German emissions.

But the Ministry of Economics and Technology argues that placing strict limits on vehicle charging would require electricity providers to concentrate renewable energy generation in areas with large shares of electric vehicles. This could overburden the power grid and threaten the country with blackouts, according to renewable energy experts within the ministry.

German car manufacturers are considering marketing strategies that could help ease the environmental burden consumers may feel if they charge electric vehicles using the current, largely fossil fuel-based, grid. Renewable energy providers in Germany ordinarily collect government certificates to confirm that the prices they collect for their low-carbon electricity are higher than the market price for standard electricity generation. Under the proposals, auto manufacturers would purchase the certificate directly from the renewable energy providers and sell the certificates to electric vehicle consumers along with the cars.

An efficient smart grid may also be needed to ensure that electric vehicles release fewer emissions. Some experts worry that the vehicles would draw electricity from the grid during peak energy consumption periods and therefore increase power production needs. An advanced grid would allow operators to control when and where the electricity flows. Through smarter grid management, plug-in electric vehicles could store electricity when renewable energy sources such as wind are abundant and feed power back to the grid at times of higher demand.

Germany plans to develop a smart grid network in conjunction with its Scandinavian and southern European neighbors. Research efforts are also under way in 16 municipalities to test the use of "smart meters," which allow the utility to monitor individual electricity use and improve efficiency.

Germany is the latest country to announce ambitious electric vehicle plans. U.S. President Barack Obama has called for 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to be in service by 2015, a goal he supported last month with the authorization of $2.4 billion in federal grants for electric vehicle research.

The United Kingdom announced that consumers would receive 5,000 pounds (US$7,400) in subsidies for the purchase of plug-in hybrids. France provided $550 million to subsidize the development and construction of "carbon-free" vehicles in 2008. And Spain announced that 1 million electric vehicles would be placed on its roads by 2014, offering subsidies for 15-20 percent of the vehicles’ cost.

Daimler and BMW plan to introduce their first electric vehicle models by 2012. Volkswagen has said it will roll out its first electric vehicle in 2013.