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Mission: To build Europe's largest charging networks for electric vehicles

We recently spoke to Tomas Björnsson, Vice President and Head of Vattenfall’s E-mobility business unit to find out more about why Vattenfall has entered the EV charging market.

Tomas Björnsson

In 2008 Vattenfall, the Swedish state-owned utility, made an unexpected move and formed a joint venture with Volvo Cars. This was the starting point for innovative business development around E-mobility which has now moved from development work to an operational business. But why has the utility entered the transport sector?

The market for electric vehicles (EVs) charging solutions and networks is already growing exponentially and will continue to do so for a long time into the future. 2017 will be a milestone, with more than one million EVs sold globally. Vattenfall has launched a service providing customers with a ‘one-click-experience’ that makes it easy for owners of EVs to charge their vehicles. Vattenfall and its partners are also behind a public charging network of thousands of public charge points in Vattenfall’s core markets Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. Only in Amsterdam, the network currently facilitates 80.000 charging sessions per month, by 25.000 unique users. However, this is only the start and their ambition is to become Europe’s largest charging network.

Market under rapid development 

Tomas started by setting out the wider context for EVs, “It’s becoming more and more common to own an EV. But it’s still not the ‘new normal’ and most of the cars sold are still conventional ones. However, in a few years we’ll see prices dropping as a number of new models reach the market and that will be the start of a boom.” In Norway, 30 per cent of new car sales are already electric. Tomas believes, “It might take some time before Sweden reaches that level but in 2020 the figure for Sweden will be in doubledigits”. This will be supported by the Swedish State plan (‘Energiöverenskommelsen’) for the country to be climate neutral at the latest by 2045 and proposed incentives to drive the EV market forward in the transportation sector.

Globally, it’s becoming obvious that it simply won’t be possible to continue to use fossil-fuel powered cars in big cities due to the impact on the local environment. With China looking into a ban on conventional cars in the future it’s clear that a transition to EVs is on its way.

From business development into InCharge

Tomas explained that Vattenfall’s overall strategic ambition is to enable their customers to live free from fossil fuels within one generation. That means not only supporting their own business transition but also helping customers make their own transition. He says, “Electricity is an extremely smart energy carrier that can solve a lot of the climate challenges in other sectors such as industry but also in transport”.

The first step towards an operational charging business was taken in the Netherlands almost ten years ago, when Vattenfall began installing charging poles for electric mopeds in Amsterdam. Since then the development has been fast. “If you take a taxi in Amsterdam it’s almost guaranteed to be an electric car", Tomas adds.

Vattenfall today is focusing on charging services using the name InCharge. The concept was launched at the end of November 2016 and the charging network is being built together with partners who connect existing charging stations or want to establish new ones. Vattenfall is making it easier for companies, local authorities and local power companies to offer electric car charging to employees and customers. Today around 20,000 are registered to InCharge but the number is growing. “We’d like to build a gigantic charging network together with our partners”, Tomas explains. Sweden, Netherlands and Germany are first in line but Vattenfall’s core markets cover 75 per cent of the entire northern European future demand.

Demand growth is a given and many of the stations are being installed to drive change faster. “This is a pre-requisite for the total business”, says Tomas, with Vattenfall aiming to grow faster than the market, a market which is forecast to double each year.

In the long term, this type of supplier service will be consolidated, as the economies of scale are significant. In five to 10 years, charging solutions will be fully implemented and customers won’t need to think about looking for charging stations but will find them easily available everywhere.

How does it work?

Electric car drivers can easily charge their vehicles using Vattenfall’s app, charging card or charging tag at all charging stations linked to the network. Registration is free and, as of the middle of November, there were 4,000 charging points. One question that is often raised is about the risk of creating an unstable grid as electric charging grows. “It’s all about operating smart”, Tomas claims. “Technology is being developed so that connected chargers can prioritise the batteries with lowest charging needs to make sure all the charging isn’t happening at the same time.” 

Due to the fact that 80 to 90 per cent of charging happens either at home or at work the demand for solutions will be biggest at these sites. “We’ll see a tremendous increase in requests from companies to offer their employees charging during working hours”, says Tomas. Vattenfall is leading the way in this itself, and has decided to fully electrify its transport fleet within five years.

Autonomous vehicles increase the push for E-mobility

Another factor that Vattenfall thinks will drive growth in EV is the significant advances made by manufacturers towards fully autonomous vehicles. These will offer huge advantages, eliminating vehicle collisions (making our roads much safer), optimising the movement of vehicles leading to greater efficiency, and freeing up drivers’ time (to do other things rather than driving) – to name just a few.

Technologies are being developed to allow the full transfer of driving function from the driver to vehicle systems. Manufacturers are testing vehicles with greater levels of autonomy on public roads, including vehicles with full self-driving capability. Tomas believes, “Even though the transition from fossil-fueled transport will happen anyway, selfdriving cars will be electric so rapid development of autonomous cars will push E-mobility”.

However, the ecosystem in which autonomous road vehicles will exist is incredibly complex. Successful deployment is dependent on more than the technology. That means regulation, insurance and commercial models are just some of the areas that will need to come together.

Tomas is clear that, “it’s hard to believe that when the barriers come down, the autonomous vehicle will be anything else but electric. If you believe in a future of autonomous cars you also believe in a fossil-free future.”

Global programme launched to speed up switch to electric vehicles

EV100 is a global initiative bringing together companies committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and making electric transport the “new normal” by 2030.

The transport sector is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change, accounting for 23% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With businesses owning over half of all registered vehicles on the road, it is crucial that companies lead the shift to electric vehicles. Companies can drive mass roll-out and make electric cars more rapidly affordable for everyone around the world.

Baidu, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Heathrow Airport, HP Inc., IKEA Group, LeasePlan, METRO AG, PG&E, Unilever and Vattenfall are the first ten members of EV100, with members swapping their large diesel/ petrol vehicle fleets to electric vehicle fleets and/or installing electric battery charging infrastructure by 2030.

Together, EV100 members will send a strong market signal that there will be mass demand for electric vehicles by 2030 or before, well ahead of current forecasts for global uptake. By setting out their future EV purchasing requirements to an ambitious timescale, these big purchasers can drive increased uptake, reduce costs, and make electric cars more rapidly affordable for everyone around the world. Tomas concludes, “The future is clearly electric, and the change is happening already now.”

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