Tesla Model 3 charging in front of a house

energy & mobility

How a law on energy-efficiency of buildings could be the unsung hero of electrical vehicle charging

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is a game changer for the automotive industry.

In Brussels, the proposal for an Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) is seen by many as the cornerstone of the transition towards e-mobility. By setting binding targets on Member States, the law should help scale up public charging point access, bringing the infrastructure needed for  electric cars, vans and trucks.

In fact, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) – a seemingly unrelated piece of legislation – could  be the real tipping point for a massive electrification of road transport. The EPBD sets out rules for energy efficient building renovations and new building projects, but it also promises to bring much more availability to recharge electric vehicles (EVs) in those buildings.

AFIR: a step in the right direction

The AFIR could oblige Member States to deploy EV charging stations every 60 kms in certain highways by 2025. The proposal would also oblige Member States to have an adequate number of chargers (measured in kW output) based on the percentage of EVs in each country’s total fleet. The details are still to be hammered out in ongoing trilogue negotiations, with an agreement expected before the summer.

The Commission’s proposal has been generally well received because it will have the same legal force across the EU, and places higher obligations than its toothless predecessor, the 2014 Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive. At the same time, industry stakeholders and NGOs alike have been extremely active in calling for more ambition, with position papers and letters to policymakers flying around Brussels every other month.

The Regulation is meant to address the lack of recharging infrastructure, which is one of the main bottlenecks in the transition to EVs. But truth be told, EVs are actually rarely charged in public charging stations at all. Studies show up to 95% of EV charging takes place at home or in private buildings (think offices or supermarkets). Customers seem to prefer this option as well. As reported by the IEA, countries with high share of private or residential charging end up having fewer public chargers serving a high number of EVs. Nonetheless, the agency estimates that in the upcoming years, the supply of public charging solutions will increase everywhere.

We notice, at least within the Brussels automotive bubble, that the EPBD proposal has stayed in the shadow of its big brother, the AFIR. It has made it onto barely any Brussels event programmes, it is scarcely mentioned by journalists or think tanks in the field and unlike the AFIR, it has not been singled out by the President of ACEA – the EU automotive trade association – as the missing link in achieving a successful phase-out of CO2-emitting vehicles by 2035.

We notice, at least within the Brussels automotive bubble, that the EPBD proposal has stayed in the shadow of its big brother, the AFIR.

EPBD: the tipping point?

The revision of the EPBD – presented by the Commission in December 2021 – shows us that the European Commission understands the need for charging access in buildings. Although the existing EPBD already had some provisions related to EV chargers, the new proposal introduces some tweaks to increase the ambition of the law. It establishes the obligation to install at least one charger in new non-residential buildings with over five parking spaces, and to install at least one per every ten spaces in existing non-residential buildings by 2027. It also includes obligations on pre-cabling of buildings to facilitate the installation of chargers at a later stage as well as a ‘right to plug’ which would guarantee citizens a straightforward installation of chargers in their buildings.

The Council of the EU adopted its position on the revised EPBD in a meeting of Energy and Transport Ministers on October 25th 2022. For the most part, the Council agreed with the Commission’s proposal but called for a reduction in some of the requirements (e.g., on pre-cabling) and for more buildings to be exempt of the obligations.

In contrast, the Parliament’s ITRE Committee is proposing to go even further with the targets. The charge is led by Green MEP Ciaran Cuffe (Ireland) who is lead rapporteur on the file, and who also happens to be an architect by trade. The Committee adopted its Report on the file on 9 February with political groups striking a deal in which they call to include one charger for every five spaces in new non-residential buildings, and at least one charger in most new residential buildings with over three spaces.

The Parliament is expected to adopt its final position in March. Even though it is already compulsory in some Member States, the proposed obligation to install chargers in certain homes would be a big win for the EV industry, and could help build confidence for consumers who would otherwise be hesitant. It is widely known that the main concerns for consumers are the lack of charging infrastructure and ‘range anxiety’ – the worry about being stranded with a car that’s run out of juice.

Some stakeholders in the EV industry have of course taken a great interest in the proposal and have been vocal on their demands for greater ambition. AVERE – the European Association for Electromobility – recommend strengthening charging point targets and expanding the scope to cover more buildings.

The European association of the charging infrastructure industry – ChargeUp Europe – calls for more ambitious targets to keep up with the fast growth of the EV market. It also recommends that charging stations should be digitally connected and ‘smart charging’ capable.

Other stakeholders too, such as NGO Transport & Environment, have expressed the need for more ambitious targets for private EV charging, and for strengthening the ‘right to plug’, by setting a maximum time limit of 3 months between the application for a charger and its actual installation (something that the Parliament did partially recognise).

An ambitious EPBD could work alongside the AFIR to solve the charging ‘chicken and egg’ problem holding e-mobility back and impending its growth.

The Unsung hero of electric mobility

So why has the EPBD stayed in the shadow, despite its game-changing potential? This could be because the measures are camouflaged within a Directive not immediately related to the automotive industry’s interests, or simply perhaps because it is less contentious. Regardless, we believe that the EPBD could turn out to be potentially even more critical for electric mobility than the AFIR.  That’s why we see it as an unsung hero.

What’s next for EPBD? We’ve seen that the Commission proposal was generally met with positive comments from all political sides in the EU Bubble. Negotiations on the extent of the targets are still ongoing. An ambitious EPBD could work alongside the AFIR to solve the charging ‘chicken and egg’ problem holding e-mobility back and impending its growth:  the lack of recharging infrastructure leading to consumers’ reluctance to purchase an electric vehicle, and vice versa.

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