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Can Belgium overcome the problems of mass electrification?

The 27 member states of the European Union have decided that the internal combustion engine will disappear by 2035. Will Belgium’s efforts be enough to address the challenges associated with the electrification of the fleet?

Week after week, the European authorities are taking steps towards the end of the combustion engine in 2035, as the European Commission has been wishing for just over a year. This week, the 27 environment ministers of the member states gave their approval to the project, much to the displeasure of the car lobby, which so far has had little consensus and is now trying to find solutions and alternatives to postpone the “fateful” date.

Some amendments were added to the original text. For example, an amendment that shifts the date for small niche brands that build around 10,000 cars a year, as well as a total exemption for cars that are built in a very small circulation (1,000 copies a year). The door is also still open for synthetic fuels (e-fuel) and for plug-in hybrids in case the transition to fully electric cars would pose problems in terms of social equality. There is a high probability of this happening, we must admit.

In Europe, the date is therefore set at 1 January 2035, a deadline that Flanders wants to advance to 1 January 2029 in order to present itself as an exemplary Apprentice in the energy transition. These deadlines obviously lead to a whole series of challenges (or problems) that must be solved for a calm transition in a socially just way.

The constructors are not afraid of the transition to the electric car, unless the current shortages of raw materials or semiconductors continue for a long time. Some expect production problems for the batteries, as early as 2024. However, there is no problem with the model range, as the market already has more than a hundred different models. It goes without saying that the offer will be much larger in the coming months and years, so that everyone will find a model that suits him or her. At least in terms of dimensions and comfort characteristics. However, autonomy is delicate for some professions.
The problem of price and autonomy

According to the newspaper La Dernière Heure, the Belgian Automobile Federation FEBIAC indicates that there are still some major problems to be solved, especially the purchase price, which remains extremely high. An electric car today is on average 10, 000 euros more expensive than its combustion engine equivalent, a price difference that not every budget can overcome, although it is partly justified by the technology used.

Prices are expected to fall rapidly in the coming years due to the generalization of the electric car. But this is on condition that the international market of raw materials and components returns to the situation that existed before the current crisis. Of course, if the crisis and shortages continue, prices will not decrease. On the contrary, they will rise. This is the law of supply and demand.

The autonomy of electric cars is also seen as a problem, but that may be a matter of misperception among the general public. Most drivers only drive 70 to 80 km daily. Even the most modest electric cars can cover 200 to 250 km, which seems to be more than enough, explains FEBIAC. Those who need more autonomy can still choose a car with a larger battery capacity.
The charging network

In addition to autonomy, the general public also sees the charging network as a real problem. But FEBIAC also wants to reassure in this area: those who do not have a garage themselves can fall back on the public infrastructure that continues to expand, even faster than in other European countries such as France or Germany.

reassuring words, but let’s not forget that there is a great inequality between the different regions of the country. Flanders seems to have a significant lead over Wallonia and Brussels, as the north of the country wants to install a fast charger at least every 25 km. Why this difference? According to some observers, this is a difference in mentality. The powers around mobility and the environment are in the hands of greens in the south of the country (who want to reduce the number of cars, including the electric ones) and in the north of Open Vld and N-VA. The same is true in Brussels, where the duo Alain Maron (Ecolo) and Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) want to reduce the number of cars in traffic by 30 percent by 2030. This explains the very different objectives.

What about electricity production?

So far, the authorities insist that the capacity for electricity production will be enough to charge a million electric cars. Although there will be a great need for additional capacity, according to grid operator Elia, we do not have to worry too much. Smart grid technology (intelligent network) would make it possible to flatten the demand curve.

In the coming years, hydrogen would also become an important, clean energy source, in addition to other ‘green’ energy from, for example, the wind or the sun. In addition, it was decided to preserve some nuclear power plants, which could absorb any shock.

However, the power grid must be adapted for the transition. And there’s still work to be done. As is often the case, Flanders has taken the lead by investing 4 billion euros in the modernization of the plants. Wallonia is currently muddying up. Network operator Ores recently warned that it is necessary to adapt the network. But the whales are still waiting…

In short, the transition to the electric car does not happen by itself. Various obstacles appear on the surface, although they may be partly unjustified (autonomy, charging stations). However, the most worrying thing is the invisible part of this iceberg, namely the power grid, electricity production and raw material prices. The government should impose a trajectory at the federal level so that everything is perfectly aligned and we are sure of tangible results for this (now mandatory) transition.

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