EV stations infrastructure needs planning and coordination, Source: Depositphotos

Small Lithuanian town calls for better legislation guidelines to ease EV charging stations spread

Small Lithuanian town calls for better legislation guidelines to ease EV charging stations spread

Taurage is something of a small champion in Lithuania when it comes to energy transition and local experts have some advice to share

Earlier this year the Lithuanian government approved a plan for the widespread expansion of electric vehicle charging stations in the country. 6,000 new such units should spring into existence on its territory by 2030. However, choosing the right location has been left for the municipalities to decide. And not all of them have the know-how.

Taurage, a town of around 21,000 people, is not one of these municipalities which are feeling overwhelmed by the challenge. In fact, it was chosen as one of the 100 cities in the EU striving to become climate-neutral also by 2030. Apart from the capital Vilnius, it’s the only other Lithuanian locality in that club.

In terms of the number of already installed charging stations, it is only surpassed by the capital and seaside resorts. There is a sense of confidence locally, but last month the municipality spoke to two local specialists on the matter and their advice was that standards need to be revised as well.

Evaluating all sides of the equation

At first glance, the government's ambition to transfer the development of electric vehicle infrastructure to municipalities seems logical. They know the habits of local residents best and are themselves responsible for the implementation of the city's detailed plans and other strategic documents. However, some of them have not yet carried out projects of a similar nature, and the requirements and practices are used by old ones - tomorrow's infrastructure is planned based on the data of the first stations built in Lithuania that performed a demonstration function.

"In the plans of some municipalities, there is a fascination with fast charging stations and they want to fill cities and districts with them. It is perhaps too little talked about that the resources of our electricity networks are not infinite, and the power required for fast charging stations is additionally reserved. In addition, these powerful charging stations require the renewal of the electricity supply infrastructure, power reservation costs extra, and the costs of development, not to mention modernization, increase even more. Technologies are changing, while expanding the network of stations, power resource challenges arise, and to solve them, modern practices, not 5 or 10 years old, are needed," thinks Simonas Stankus, head of Inbalance, a company that develops smart charging solutions for electric cars.

He welcomes the plans to invest in the development of the electric car fleet and the ambitions to expand the charging infrastructure, but also emphasizes that this must be done by evaluating all possible alternatives, using the latest technologies and with the lowest possible costs, both direct and indirect.

"Trouble will not only be caused by the fact that the network is planned without arguments and technological vision, but also by putting it together without taking into account the availability of infrastructure. Consequently, it will be necessary to reserve more power, which will increase the price for the end user. The promise of cheaper ecological transport will not be fulfilled everywhere, and at the same time the goals of the green transformation will not be achieved," warns S. Stankus.

Tauragė district municipality specialist Gediminas Kurlinkus draws attention to this. Although the town is still waiting for more accurate data from the government about the allocated funds, the real need for stations and the nature of financing for businesses and individuals, Taurage is already trying to adapt the available preliminary plan to its situation.

"It is already becoming clear that upgrading or installing infrastructure in some convenient charging locations can cost tens of thousands of euros, so it will be necessary to consider possible alternatives. After consulting with the developers of the stations, the municipality should prepare a plan of possible locations for the entire Tauragė city and district and invite businesses to install them. However, for the smooth development of the electric car fleet, some legislation will also need to be revised - for example, the requirement to disconnect the car from charging after the session is over. If in the end charging is done at night near apartment buildings (which is inevitable as electric cars become popular), no one will get up at night to disconnect the car," he says about possible paradoxes.

Enlisting the help of the private sector is crucial

Stankus points out that Tauragė's chosen tactic of talking with charging station developers during the preparation of the charging network development plan is to be followed and should be applied more widely. On the one hand, the business knows the latest technologies and opportunities best, has its own business model and can more easily calculate the profitability of decisions. On the other hand, it is the business that will be responsible for the implementation of all prepared plans.

"After assessing the infrastructure, user expectations and their experience in the market, companies would select the most favourable charging locations, and the municipality would already consider whether to approve them or not. In other words, the business would expect the presentation of the problem from the politicians, and the method and business model would be proposed by specialists who know the technology and tomorrow's problems best. All this would optimize costs, ensure a higher return on investment, attractive prices for the user and carry out thoughtful infrastructure development,” assures S. Stankus.

According to him, first of all, municipalities should use the already available capacities of the electricity network and install stations where electric cars can park for a longer period of time. Such a strategy is used by the countries that are most successfully expanding the fleet of electric vehicles - for example, Norway.

"90 percent of the time electric cars sit idle is the time when they should be charged, so charging stations must be located near apartment buildings, offices or shopping areas. Here, by the way, large power is not needed either, because by using dynamic power balancing technology and Internet of Things solutions, it is possible to distribute the free electricity power of the network between buildings and charging electric cars. Therefore, if municipalities do not want to go the hard way and undertake infrastructure renewal, they should first evaluate advanced, smart options.”

According to him, after assessing the scale of changes expected in the next decade, investments in ecological transport will amount to hundreds of millions of euros, so they should be used as efficiently as possible.

"Tomorrow does not demand the templates of the past, but the solutions of the future - intelligent power distribution in the network, full use of the existing infrastructure, application of digitization tools. Demonstration charging stations did their job - they introduced Lithuanians to the possibilities of charging electric cars. But even the municipalities themselves admit that the existing stops are located where it was the cheapest, but not necessarily the most convenient. Convenience and an attractive price can only be combined with intelligence," the manager of Inbalance is convinced.

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