Business leaders agree that charging infrastructure is the main barrier to sustainable transport in Europe

Electrifying logistics in Europe needs upgrades to charging and power grid says transport business leaders

While electrification is absolutely the direction for major players in the European transportation and logistics space, charging infrastructure, both public and private, is the major hurdle that needs to be overcome according to business leaders quoted in an industry snapshot from Reuters Events, Supply Chain.

A charge for charging

All four industry leaders interviewed for the snapshot agreed that the charging situation within Europe will need to improve in order to push forward electrification.

“The main challenges are external factors such as infrastructure for the charging of electric vehicles,” said Johan Larsson, vice president of electro-mobility business development at Volvo Trucks.

“We need the infrastructure to support a vision for a more sustainable future for transport, particularly on electric charging infrastructure,” concurred Jane Burkitt, vice president of global supply chain at Mars Pet Nutrition.

She noted that while “we can make those steps within our own businesses as we have done at our pet care sites in Germany, where we are running a new electric logistics program,” there would need to be an increase in public investment, with Larsson pointing out that governments would need to “make sure that there is enough power capacity in the grid.”

On target?

These warnings come despite the majority of EU countries achieving their targets for public charger infrastructure in 2023, and the percentage rate of growth in charger installation exceeding EV-fleet expansion last year, according to data from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO).

Digging down further into these numbers highlights the gaps, however. At the time of writing, the EAFO notes that there are less than 100,000 publicly available DC fast chargers across the 27 member countries of the EU.

These are the types of chargers required in public networks to enable electrified logistics operations as they offer more power and can rapidly replenish a battery. Instead, the majority of chargers currently in the EU would take hours to recharge a commercial delivery vehicle battery from a low charge level.

Additionally, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) thinks the EU targets are too low, estimating that 8.8 million charging points will be needed by 2030 to meet climate targets and demand, compared to the 3.5 million estimate from the EU. This puts current installation rates hugely behind requirements.

Governments need to make a grid fit for electric vehicles

The disparity is why Burkitt thinks “we also need to collaborate as an industry to make bold moves on infrastructure.”

This will need to include strengthening the grid and changing planning rules to make it easier to install charging points.

Julien Le Signor, head of environment at Geopost, has found the former to be a major issue. “In the case of EVs, the challenges we face are primarily related to the lack of space to install chargers on site and the amount of power available at our hubs and depots to optimally charge our vans.”

The grid issue is a severe constraint that will need to be tackled at a high level, as the power that needs to be carried across networks will need to be increased and grids will also have to adjust to new areas of power production and storage as a result of investments into green energy projects.

This will be challenging given planning systems in most EU countries. When Reuters spoke to EV charging companies and industry representatives in late 2023, they reported that the process for setting up a fast EV station has risen to an average of two years from six months over the last few years.

“We are working with our various stakeholders to address” issues around charging pinch points though said Le Signor, “including smart charging and asset optimization.”

Alternative trucks a step too far for now?

These concerns culminate in how to address the issue of longer-haul freight, with trucking noted as being particularly challenging by the industry figures.

“The transition to electric and other zero-emission truck technologies also requires us to address the issue of middle-mile and long-haul charging,” commented Le Signor.

“This is related [not only] to the availability and access to enough power to scale up electrification, but also the availability of electric trucks with sufficient range,” said Frank Verhoeven, CEO of Vos Logistics.

He also pointed out upfront costs, as “the investment levels and total cost of ownership are significantly higher than for diesel trucks, which is challenging in the competitive landscape we operate in.”

Volvo’s Larsson said that these issues would mean that there would likely need to be a mix of fuels in place in the future for trucking. “We have a strategy consisting of three technologies to decarbonize our products: electrification, fuel cells and combustion engines powered by renewable fuels,” he explained, but that “by 2040, our entire production volume should be fossil free.”

Click here to download the complete interviews.

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