Romania needs a new strategic plan for electromobility

Investments in charging infrastructure for electric cars should only be made after defining a clear plan to strengthen the electricity grid throughout the country. We need an electric mobility strategy, different from the one included in Romania’s latest energy strategy, which is a reasonable one, but modest and not visionary enough, says Daniel Pintilie, CEO of Watto Stations. The lack of e-charging infrastructure is the main obstacle in the development of electromobility. At the same time, despite delays caused by the Covid-19 crisis, Watto is in negotiations for the second financing needed to build a pilot charging station and is awaiting approval to receive European funds to help develop the future network.

Are the measures taken by AFM and its programs sufficient for the development of the electromobility infrastructure?

AFM programs are effective, but not sufficient. Like any industry at the beginning, electromobility needs a concerted effort, supported in several directions. AFM does an excellent job. But in order to really make a difference and to give Romania the advantage of the global context, its programs should be structured more clearly and supported in parallel by public information campaigns on as many channels as possible.

Many people do not have access to such information, but would be interested in accessing and understanding it more easily. At the same time, the conditions should be much clearer and friendlier. And most importantly, the programs should be thought long-term and only after consulting the private sector and experts in the field.

You can’t expect to develop an electric car market considering only today’s technology. Very soon, a 50 kW charging station will become a reference for the minimum accepted power. Why would you encourage the installation of weaker charging stations on highways, when everyone wants the exact opposite? This level of power is not relevant for us now, because there is really no market for electric cars today. And the charging speed of cars today should not dictate the power of the charging stations we want in the future.

We need fast and ultra-fast charging stations (at least 50 kW), positioned outside the cities, where you can charge your car in a maximum of 10 minutes and then go your way. Only this approach will encourage long-distance travel with an electric car and accelerate the mass adoption of electric cars.

It is not helpful to install charging points of only 22 kW on highways. No one will want to wait a few hours in an empty parking lot. You always have to look at the trends and be one step ahead of them. This is the only way to encourage the development of a market and the assimilation of a new technology, successfully integrating it into the collective mentality; showing people that you know what you’re doing and that you’re thinking about their future in an serious way. We don’t even need to be too inventive in the field of electromobility. We can look at those who have already done thing like that, states like Norway or the Netherlands. I think we have a unique chance and it would be a shame not to take advantage.

How is Romania in terms of electromobility, compared to other countries in the region and to the EU-28?

When we talk about electromobility, we can’t just talk about electric cars, without analyzing the charging infrastructure. The latter is missing, and this is the main obstacle in the development of electromobility in any country. At EU level, 76% of all charging points are concentrated in only 4 countries: 28% the Netherlands, 22% Germany, 14% France and 12% the United Kingdom.

Romania is among the last countries, along with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece. Approximately 400 public charging stations were available at the end of 2019, and the charging infrastructure has been constantly expanding in the last 24 months, with a half-yearly growth rate of about 30%.

We benefit from the most consistent financial support for the purchase of electric and hybrid cars in Europe: 9,440 euros for an electric car and 4,100 euros for a hybrid vehicle. The share of pure electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in total new car registrations increased to about 2.2% in the second half of 2019, surpassing countries such as the United States, Spain or Italy.

One of 20 new buses registered in the second half of 2019 was an electric bus, a share more than double that of electric vehicles. Cluj County is the leader for the adoption of electric buses, the city of Cluj-Napoca having 41 such buses, while Turda has the entire fleet composed of 20 electric buses. Although electric buses are expected in other cities this year (Brașov, Zalău, Sibiu, Iași and Suceava), there are no clear deadlines for the introduction of such buses in southern Romania, including Bucharest.

What should be done to accelerate investment in green infrastructure?

First of all, we need to look at the more developed countries that have already gone through this transition, when we think of similar funding programs. Investments in charging infrastructure for electric cars should only be made after defining a clear plan to strengthen the electricity network throughout the country.

We need an electric mobility strategy, different from the one included in Romania’s latest energy strategy, which is reasonable, but modest and no visionary enough, in my opinion. We do not have time for modesty or ‘reasonable’ measures that will only prolong the agony of an outdated energy system, no longer in touch with the realities of our times. We live unique moments that require courage, vision and commitment.

In order to electrify road transport, you need a strong and resilient electricity grid, which can withstand at all times a massive flow of electricity in both directions. The risk is too great to do things differently, and the security of the energy system will be put to the test if we do not do our homework well.

What are Watto’s main plans for the next period?

Through Watto, we are building a regional charging infrastructure, so necessary for long-distance travel with an electric car! We will be able to charge both personal and commercial cars (minibuses, electric vans, etc.). We promise only 8 minutes of waiting to charge 80% of the battery, as well as the latest technology for a unique experience. We are in negotiations for a second round of financing, necessary for the construction of the pilot station. In parallel, we also applied for non-reimbursable funds. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, talks were delayed by several months.

However, I am pleased to note the steady interest of investors and the European Commission’s concern for accelerating transport electrification and allocating significant sums of money to this industry as well. By the end of the year, we hope to have more clarity on these discussions.

No matter how long this crisis lasts, one thing is certain: the future decisions must be sustainable and focused on care for the environment and human health. We no longer have time for experiments, nor too much space for testing. We need to act now. The future sounds electric!

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This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of Energynomics Magazine, issued in March 2020.

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Bogdan Tudorache

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