MUNICH — For people driving through Germany in a normal car, things couldn't be easier. With just a single debit card, they can refuel everywhere at anytime.
That is not, unfortunately, the case for people who drive electric cars. To travel, let’s say, from Wolfsburg via Stuttgart and Munich to Berlin and back, that person would need a couple of dozen cards at least if he or she intends to recharge at public places.
What with new energy providers constantly appearing on the market, hundreds of municipal utilities, and completely different access systems — it’s enough for someone to go from one region to another and the electricity provider will change — conditions as they stand now promise technical problems from the outset.
But the makers of electric cars also know that they alone will not be able to determine the success of the alternative vehicles. The last word belongs to those in charge of infrastructure.
To promote and research electro-mobility in Germany, the German federal government set up four "Electromobility Showcase Projects" in 2012 to test how the different systems with their different billing methods and data standards could be better coordinated.
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E-car charging point in Cologne — Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0
The result, according to Franz Loogen, who heads the Baden-Württemberg project, is that "we’re now at the point that a single card will get you through Baden-Württemberg. Beyond that it gets difficult. But still, I’m operating on the premise that Germany-wide roaming with a single card for recharging should be possible by 2016 at the latest. The objective is for the driver to have at their disposal "barrier-free access and billing to recharge their car."
But as with so many things, politics play a role. Big providers mostly hail their own payment system to be the best one. Most of them are already part of bigger, so-called "e-roaming network" that are not unlike telecom roaming networks in that as soon as the user leaves the area covered by one network he enters the network of the area he is now in.
For recharging electric cars there are presently two such networks in Germany, "Ladenetz" and "Hubject." They work separately. "Our goal is for e-cars to be barrier-free," says Loogen. "For that to happen both networks will have to cooperate closely in future."
Even if that happens, there's still the problem of what Loogen refers to as "Gallic villages," areas that belong to no network and that make driving through in an electric car tougher still.