Un coche elécrrico enchufado al lado de unas placas solares

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With electric vehicles on the rise, the goal is now to increase the number of charging points around and install them where they best adapt to the users' needs.


Everyday more and more people are opting for electric vehicles (EV), one of the main alternatives for decarbonizing mobility and achieving more sustainable transportation. The data says it all. According to the Spanish Association of Automobile and Truck Manufacturers (ANFAC), Spain added 71,079 new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in 2021, representing almost 7% of the market. Now, the challenge is to increase charging points where users most need them, both in cities and on highways, offering the charging type that's more suitable to their needs.

Charging on the road: The challenge of availability and range

Currently, on average an electric vehicle's driving range in Spain varies between 200 and 350 kilometers. Therefore, one of the first challenges in electric mobility is to guarantee that drivers can recharge their batteries when taking long road trips.

According to ANFAC, Spain currently has 13,411 public charging points, of which fewer than half (5,726) are located on intercity roads. In comparison with other European countries, Spain has merely 0.4 charging points per 1,000 drivers, whereas countries like Germany and France have 0.9 and 0.7, respectively.

Charging points should be located "where the users are already used to refueling," points out Carlos Bermúdez from Repsol.



Far behind other countries in terms of infrastructure, the Spanish government aims to have 100,000 public EV charging points by 2023. However, placing them in strategic locations is just as important as expanding the network. As explained by Carlos Bermúdez, manager of business development for electric mobility at Repsol, the rollout must be done intelligently, following "capillarity" criteria, in such a way that the charging points are installed in locations “where the users are already used to refueling their conventionally-powered vehicles on long trips such as at service stations. In our case, we plan to have more than 1,000 fast and ultra-fast charging points by the end of the year or one point every 50 kilometers."

Charging times must also be considered. Currently, they range between 20 and 30 minutes for fast charging modes and between six and eight hours for normal charging, which is what 88% of existing supply points offer right now in Spain. Carlos Talayero, director of the Master's in Automotive Engineering at Universidad Europea in Madrid and professor at the Technical University of Madrid, argues that with these figures, in long distances "we'll need to change the vehicles' driving ranges or the drivers' willingness to extend their travel times."

Along the same lines of installing charging points exactly where users are used to stopping, especially on long trips, hotels located along highways are also jumping on the bandwagon and installing chargers. The beauty of this option is it doesn't need to be fast charging since the car can charge overnight when the driver is sleeping. Other alternatives are expected in the future. In Detroit, for example, construction has already begun on a wireless charging road, which should be finished in 2023. What's more, researchers at Cornell University in New York are looking into a similar technology to install metal panels on roads that would charge an electric car while driving. In both cases, these technologies would need to be linked to current "infrastructure and costs," remarks Talayero.

Charging in the city: Split between public and private charging

The new ultra-fast charging points can charge EV batteries that can support its maximum power in about five to ten minutes.

In an urban setting, many electric vehicle owners recharge on private networks. In other words, they charge their batteries at their own homes generally using the slow charging method. However, "not everyone has a parking space at their home or building," notes Carlos Bermúdez, so "one of the challenges is to provide more infrastructure for those residential communities and homes."

As a result, public charging points are increasingly becoming more available in cities. As a matter of fact, Anfac’s data shows that Spain already has 7,685 on-street public chargers, mainly in Catalonia (2,407) and Madrid (1,044).

Moreover, opportunity charging is the most common option as malls, supermarkets, and even public parkings are increasingly installing charging points, so users have charging alternatives in strategic areas of the city. Therefore, it’s essential to assess the needs in each case as Bermudez points out: “It doesn’t make sense to install an ultra-fast charger at home, for example, or a slow one at a service station, where you want the charging time to be as close as possible to traditional fueling times. This is one of the main challenges currently facing electric mobility.”

Repsol charging station

Looking ahead, city alternatives are bound to become a reality sooner than intercity ones. An example is Ample, a North American startup Repsol has a stake in, that focuses on battery swapping so that battery range is no longer an obstacle. This is based on a modular battery model, which means that only a part of the entire battery needs to be replaced. When a vehicle enters a swapping station, a robot removes the battery module to charge it and swaps it for one that’s been already charged. This way, it’s fully charged in just a few minutes. Currently, the company is developing various pilots involving corporate fleets in the US and Europe to test this technology and be able to move on to a more commercial phase.

Be that as it may, the truth is that electric vehicles are continuing to grow in Spain, and the industry is already addressing the challenge of offering increased autonomy to all those who, in the city or on the road, commit to this model to make a more sustainable mobility a reality.

Published in El Confidencial