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Annual share of plugin vehicle sales of overall auto sales in Belgium. Image courtesy of EAFO.

Clean Transport

Open Letter to His Excellency Phillipe Henry, Minister of Wallonia for Climate, Infrastructure, Energy, & Mobility

Your Excellency,

You probably think, why does a Dutch know-it-all think he has to tell you what to do? That is very understandable. My countrymen have often treated their neighbors below their southern border as simple people who only have value as providers of beer and frites. I try to be different, and I was actually triggered to write about this by two dimwitted Dutch politicians in Brussels. European Commission VP Frans Timmermans and his chief of staff, Diederik Samson, should have known a lot better than repeating the advice from the legacy industry fighting the transition to clean energy. Here is what they should have said.

Think of me as a European climate change panicker. I write for a US-based green site aiming for a global reach. My area of expertise is battery electric vehicles (BEV) and how to charge them. I think of the possibility of electrifying road transport as the low hanging fruit in the fight against climate change. If we are unable to get the low hanging fruit, what are our chances of reaching the Paris goals in 2050?

On May the 4th, 2021, you mentioned the intention of having 7,000 charging points in Wallonia by 2025 on TV channel LN24. The original date for having this number of chargers was 2030. The source for this number was the EU directive AFID 2014. The numbers in this directive are more than just outdated. They were unrealistic to begin with, and the world is very different from what was envisioned about a decade ago. This number of 7,000 chargers is lower than the number of “level 2” (L2) chargers needed in the city of Liège in 2025. This is what made me decide to write this letter.

You should not feel singled out. It was just a coincidence that you are the one addressed. In the next meeting of EU transport ministers you visit, you will see at least 20 other ministers who could benefit from this letter.

My mastery of the French language is nonexistent, so my information is from publications in Dutch and English. If my understanding of the situation in Wallonia and of your policy goals is completely wrong, my apologies. I tried to get a feel for the direction Wallonia is taking by looking at FAST 2030. Regretfully, I found only a French version of the policy. With the help of translating software, I was able to decipher the introduction and overview.

My impression is that it is an awesome vision on mobility, transport, society, and the environment. Regretfully, just half a decade after conceiving these ideas, the rapid development of electrification of private transport has made parts of this vision outdated.

  • The market for passenger vehicles (PV) will transition to pure electric (BEV) before 2030. The part of the fleet on the roads in Wallonia that has a tailpipe will be largely decommissioned before 2040.
  • Level 4 or level 5 full-self-driving systems will make BEVs usable for the elderly, the youth, and the incapacitated (either temporarily after a night out or more permanently).
  • The possibility of driving on sunshine that is collected with one’s own solar panels will make the marginal cost per kilometer of driving nearly zero for those lucky to charge from their own solar panels.
  • What has changed for the better for FAST 2030 is that minibuses without a driver can offer a fast, high-density, frequent network of public transport for even the most sparsely populated regions.

What is not outdated, just harder to realize, is the goal of switching transportation modes from driving to walking, riding a bicycle, using a bus, or taking a train. Also, increasing carsharing and carpooling combined with commuting less can still lower the number of kilometers driven.

The new Belgium legislation that aims to make company cars driving on fossil fuels less desirable in 2023 and financially disastrous by 2026 will have profound effects on the charging infrastructure needed.

If I understand the situation correct, the population of Wallonia is slightly smaller than the population of Flanders and also slightly less affluent and a lot less urban. In normal times, there are about half a million new cars sold in Belgium each year. About 60% to 70% of those cars are company cars, made available to employees as benefit-in-kind bonus. It is a tax dodge that is hard to eliminate, but just eliminating it for fossil fuel cars is a way to use this tax dodge for a good goal. Please explain this to your Dutch colleagues in The Hague.

With Brussels between Flanders and Wallonia, making this all the more complex, I’m use one-third of car sales for Wallonia. With a company car share of 60% to 70%, after rounding the numbers, I get 100,000 new BEVs each year in Wallonia starting in 2026. That is just from this regulation. What the market is doing independent of this regulation is the topic of wildly different ideas among specialists, crystal ball users, and industry insiders.

Because the demand for BEVs is already rising, and the legislation is starting to put pressure on the industry in earnest by 2023, by 2026 there are likely going to be between 200,000 and 300,000 BEV on the roads in Wallonia. For those who can charge in their own driveway or elsewhere on their property, life is simple. For the rest, you need a (semi-)public charger for every 3–5 vehicles.

To build the charging infrastructure, there are four focus areas for three modes of charging. These modes are charging while parked overnight or at work, charging while doing something else like shopping, charging while traveling.

For charging while parked on public streets or in public parking lots, the government must provide a charging solution. The way the Netherlands (aka Charging Paradise) is handling this is local government planning combined with implementation by a commercial concession holder.

When the parking space is managed by a home owners association (HOA), real estate investor/management corporation, public housing cooperation, or comparable, the more difficult task for the government is to get these bodies to take action. For employers, it will become attractive to offer charging to their employees, just like the BiK cars they offer now.

For charging while parked, the AC L2 chargers are mostly used. Drivers must learn to unplug their cars and move them when charging is complete. Occupying a charger for days after finishing charging is not the best way to make friends.

For charging while doing something else, a more powerful, faster charger is required. Plugging into a L2 charger for a few hours is not something many people will do. The fast chargers offering 50kW of DC charging capacity developed for the first generation of electric vehicles are perfect. Generally, this is urban charging for those not having the option to charge while parked for a longer time.

The final mode is charging while traveling. The supercharging stations along the highways are for these drivers. Currently, planning should be for 4 chargers of 350kW each per station, at a minimum. They should be able to grow tenfold at least by the time all cars are BEV in 20 years time. In a relatively small region like Wallonia, this will mostly be for visitors from the north, the south, the east, or the west. Even if they are just transients, selling them electricity (and coffee plus snacks) is commercially interesting.

As I said in the beginning, it was the numbers that triggered me to write this letter.

For charging while parked a long time, there is need for a (semi-)public L2 charger for every 3–5 BEVs that use this kind of parking on public roads/housing parking lots. This means installing 50,000 to 100,000 L2 chargers along curbs and in parking lots at multi-family home buildings between now and 2026. Between 2026 and about 2040, the infrastructure companies in Wallonia should be able to install 20,000 to 40,000 chargers each year.

One of the options for using a public charger could be making 1% to 5% of battery capacity available to the grid operator to stabilize the grid for a discount on the charging price. In a few years, this could create a distributed capacity of a few hundred MW in a virtual power plant. From the start, all L2 chargers should be prepared for smart charging and V2x functions.

The fast chargers (50kW DC) in city centers and shopping malls are complementary to the L2 chargers. Starting with a goal of 1,000 before 2026, the targets for this type of charging can be balanced with demand. Some people will think it is more convenient than using L2 chargers, and it is critical when the local L2 chargers are all occupied. This is too new to have a rule of thumb to predict the numbers needed in Wallonia.

For the highways and main roads, a charging station is needed every 60 km at first, growing to every 30 km with more traffic. The routes to and from Luxembourg are not equipped like they are for gas stations right now, and they need to be even better.

Around the big population centers, like Brussels and Liège, on all main routes about a dozen kilometers into or out of the city, there should be charging stations. A few supercharging stations inside the cities for taxi drivers, tourists, and such are also needed. Demand and experience will tell you how many and where.

While the L2 chargers and fast chargers (50kW DC) are the domain of the municipalities, the planning for supercharging stations is the job of your department. I personally like the “beauty contest” based tender a lot more than the “money, money, money” type. It gives refreshing results and enables creative entrepreneurs to compete with big corporations.

You know far more about policy development, regulations, and incentives. Also, you know how to integrate this with the existing long-term FAST 2030 goals. Developing and implementing policies is outside my area of expertise, so I leave that gladly to the professionals.

 

With high regards,

Maarten Vinkhuyzen,
BEV and charging nerd,
writer for CleanTechnica

 

 
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Written By

Grumpy old man. The best thing I did with my life was raising two kids. Only finished primary education, but when you don’t go to school, you have lots of time to read. I switched from accounting to software development and ended my career as system integrator and architect. My 2007 boss got two electric Lotus Elise cars to show policymakers the future direction of energy and transportation. And I have been looking to replace my diesel cars with electric vehicles ever since. At the end of 2019 I succeeded, I replaced my Twingo diesel for a Zoe fully electric. And putting my money where my mouth is, I have bought Tesla shares. Intend to keep them until I can trade them for a Tesla car. I added some Fastned, because driving without charging is no fun.

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