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.
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.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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