After a hesitant start a few years ago, the first sign of progress was winning the order to build 13 highway fast-charging stations in December 2019. This was followed by two stations at Ostend–Bruges International Airport and a shopping plaza in Roeselare. This last month, we saw the results of the activities in Belgium aimed at becoming a trusted partner for Flemish EV drivers.
First, there was the announcement to build 5 big stations on industrial parks close to highways in Western Flanders. This week it was followed by the announcement of winning 10 more concessions for highway charging stations. That was followed a day later by the opening of dual stations, on each site of the highway, just north of Brussels along the highway to Antwerp.
These first 4 stations are not yet a reason for Flemish EV drivers to put Fastned as their preferred charging provider in their route planner, as EV drivers in the Netherlands are doing, but the 30 stations that are now open or announced will offer consistent charging options in all of Flanders, and Fastned will open more stations at locations that it acquires on the open market.
The Belgium car market is very different from the market in the USA. About 70% of new cars are sold as benefit-in-kind cars to employees, with the formal ownership managed by operational lease companies. They are also known in Belgium as “salary cars.” There is now a discussion to mandate that all new salary cars become BEV from 2023 onwards.
If this regulation goes into effect, the Belgium BEV market will reach Norwegian levels in 2 years. That is great for the environment. It is also a gigantic challenge to the builders of infrastructure. Most of these new BEV owners will not have the opportunity for home charging in their own driveway or garage. These over 350,000 new BEV owners per year will need about 100,000 curbside chargers per year. There is no industrial infrastructure in Belgium to build this.
Belgium is a divided nation. Northern Belgium is Flanders. It is building a charging infrastructure, but not fast enough for this new sales mandate for salary cars. Southern Belgium is Wallonia. It is far behind in building infrastructure compared to Flanders. It is less densely populated, and outside the old mining and industrial cities, more people will have the opportunity to charge on their own premises.
Still, there is a lot of work to be done to make Wallonia realize that it is really urgent to build the charging infrastructure. The goal of 7,000 new chargers by 2024–2025 is really just a bit above nothing. I suggest to all Belgian readers to tell the regional Minister of Energy and Mobility, Phillipe Henry, that his plan is missing a zero. An extra 70,000 by 2025 is an absolute minimum, and an extra 250,000 is more realistic if this mandate for salary cars becomes law.
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