According to data provided by the Transport and Logistics Observatory in Spain (OTLE), 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in Spain are caused by road transport of internal combustion vehicles, exceeding emissions from industrial activity (20.8%), agriculture (14%) and the generation of electricity (11.8%). For this reason, the decarbonisation of transport is one of the priority actions in sustainability strategies.
Electrification would consist of evolving towards vehicles powered by electric motors. This transition should be simple and smooth. However, it is being quite the opposite: scarce, complex and very slow.
The reasons are the barriers to change caused by the comparison with combustion vehicles, with which we have been living for more than a hundred years. In the area of the vehicle user there are three fundamental barriers:
the speed of the recharging process,
and the availability of points to carry out said recharge.
In the economic sphere, the price of the vehicle is also an important barrier. Lastly, in terms of energy, the possibility of overloading the electrical system could be a problem to be taken into account.
Insufficient autonomy and charging points
The 100% electric vehicle currently does not provide the same performance as its combustion equivalent. It does not have the same autonomy, although it has been improved in this aspect.
Electric models are within the range of 150-400 km of autonomy, incomparable with current gasoline and diesel models. To increase autonomy, a battery with the capacity to store between 50 and 90 kWh of energy is necessary. This also means an increase in the cost of the vehicle.
The charging process currently available is mostly slow, although fast and super-fast charging is already possible in vehicles. The recharging points would be mostly in the so-called electrolineras.
All this brings us to the last barrier: the current deployment of charging points is insufficient. The reality is that today there are less than 15,000 charging points in Spain when you should be around 100,000 in 2023.
Regarding the economic field, the electric vehicle is still more expensive than the equivalent combustion vehicles. However, this difference could be partially corrected if the total cost in its entire useful life and the savings that would be achieved in fuel were analyzed.
Problems in the electrical network
Finally, in terms of energy, the electrification of transport is a problem when the process is scaled. Currently the claims for the incorporation of electric vehicles are those included in the PNIEC (National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan). Among them is the goal of reaching five million electric vehicles in circulation. With that number of vehicles, the electrical network can be sustained without any problem, given that the demand would not be high, but it does not represent a true process of electrification of a fleet of 27 million combustion cars.
If user barriers were resolved, providing great autonomy, recharging quickly at a service station and at any time, the electric vehicle could become popular at the sales level. This would lead to a much more uncertain situation from the point of view of the stability of the electrical network.
Currently the network supports a perfectly defined and controlled demand that the system can anticipate and represent graphically (green line in the graph that follows this paragraph). It can be seen how this line overlaps with the real demand curve (yellow line) and also that the maximum power demanded by the system on a random day is approximately 31,000 MW (June 2, 2022 curve).
The electrification of transport was initially oriented towards slow or semi-fast charging modes (between 3.7 kW and 22 kW) and during night periods, between 10 pm and 8 am, when demand is lower. The green curve would rise in that period of the day, but the system would be controllable.
However, in a fast recharging process, each vehicle will be connected to a recharging point with between 50 kW and 400 kW of power for the time necessary to recharge its large battery. If vehicle recharging were mostly fast and random, the green curve would be much more complex to predict and the system could no longer be controllable.
Let’s see it with a numerical example. Let us imagine an almost totally electrified transport with a fleet of 25 million vehicles capable of recharging at 100 kW, and suppose that 2% of these vehicles coincide charging at the same time. The peak power demand could reach 50,000 MW, which would be added to the already existing demand. The same vehicles but with slow recharging would require 3.7 kW each and the possible peak demand would be 1,850 MW.
The Spanish electricity grid has the capacity to supply electricity to companies, services and citizens at all times. It is called installed power and is of the order of 115,000 MW. As can be seen, if we increase the percentage of vehicles (from 2 to 4%) or the speed of recharging (from 100 kW to 200 kW) the numbers skyrocket and the possible demand peaks could exceed even the installed power .
With all this, what can be seen is that the complexity and existing collaterals make the process of electrification of road transport very difficult, which today seems to be quite far from taking place.
The electric vehicle must be deployed and occupy its rightful place, although its function may not be to massively replace the combustion vehicle. It is possible that we are facing an intermediate step pending the development of the hydrogen vehicle. Even so, to ensure the sustainability of transport, beyond implementing alternative energy sources, we must progressively reduce the current dependence on the private car and begin to make more and better use of shared vehicles, public transport, bicycles and the new initiatives that are undoubtedly yet to come.