Op-Ed: Taking charge of the electric car future

Policymakers meeting in Bonn, Germany, for the COP 23 climate conference have an excellent opportunity to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport via electric vehicles, writes Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB.

With prices for electric vehicles falling rapidly and advances in battery technology extending their range to more than 300 kilometers, the biggest remaining impediment to the adoption of battery-powered cars is the dearth of charging stations. For consumers to switch to electric cars, they need to know that, no matter how far they venture from home, they will be as certain to encounter a charging station as they now are to find a filling station. This is precisely where policymakers are now in a position to enable a quantum leap in e-mobility.

Many policymakers understand the environmental, public health and economic benefits of EVs, which is why governments offer subsidies and rebates to consumers who purchase qualifying vehicles. But it is just as vital to promote investment in the necessary energy infrastructure.

To date, progress has been slow. Across the European Union, there are only an estimated 120,000 non-residential charging stations, according to the European Alternative Fuels Observatory. In the United States, where more than a half-million all-electric or plug-in hybrid cars have been sold, there are roughly 16,000 non-residential charging sites. In China, where last year alone more than 350,000 electric vehicles were sold, the government is aiming to raise its total to 800,000 charging sites by the end of 2017.

As a technology leader, ABB is engaged in the effort to develop high-power charging technologies for electric vehicles, extend the power-grid connections that support these charging systems, and move towards renewable power generation. In this effort, we are one of several companies working with transport officials around the world to set up fast-charging networks for electric cars, buses and other types of transportation. To date, we have installed cloud-based charging solutions in more than 50 countries so they can seamlessly manage the flow of electricity, service information and payments.

To speed up the transition, policymakers have a variety of measures at their disposal ranging from tax breaks for investments in charging systems; establishing international standards for charging protocols; funding additional research for high-power charging technologies; or even mandating installation of charging stations at some existing filling stations, such as those located on public highways.

Technological advances have given us a historic opportunity to run the world without consuming the earth. The key is for all of us work together to combine electric vehicles with renewable power generation, connecting them with a smart grid. As the environmental and public health concerns of our longstanding reliance on fossil fuels have grown, it is clear just how much we stand to gain by embracing new and improved ways to travel. The faster we can make this happen, and rid our cities of air pollution and our atmosphere of greenhouse gas emissions, the better.

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Dr. Ulrich Spiesshofer is President and Chief Executive Officer of ABB Ltd, a pioneering technology leader, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally. With revenues of $34 billion in 2016, the ABB Group of companies operates in more than 100 countries and employs about 136,000 people.