Spain Urges EU Electric Car Strategy

EU industry ministers on Tuesday (9 February) discussed plans to establish a common strategy for electric cars, a pet project of the Spanish EU presidency.

Following the informal talks in the northern Spanish city of San Sebastian, the country's industry minister Miguel Sebastian said it was not an exaggeration to say that the electric vehicle "has been born today in Europe," and that it has done so under the Spanish presidency.

"Obviously there are lots of questions...issues of legal security, validation, the safety of the vehicles themselves...and cost," he admitted, however.

As national plans vary throughout Europe and use differing technologies, not always compatible, Spain is pushing for the EU commission to come up with a common strategy in May. The Spanish minister cited Germany's support for the plan.

Madrid also wants the electric car included in the bloc's economic strategy for the next ten years, the so-called 2020 Agenda, as it would boost its ailing auto sector, stem soaring unemployment rates and use the renewable energy produced domestically.

The EU would compete against already established electric car manufacturers in Japan, China and the United States.

"It is good for people's pockets, good for European income and employment, good for Europe as a whole, and it will be good for the planet from an environmental perspective," the Spanish minister said.

But his view was not shared by several green groups issuing a report on Monday in which they warned that electric cars alone could actually increase carbon emissions unless they were backed by "smart" power grids.

The report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Transport & Environment, says that existing EU legislation on car emissions is flawed because it allows manufacturers to use sales of electric vehicles to offset the continued production of high gas-consuming cars.

Increasing sales of electric cars to 10 percent of the total could lead to a 20 percent increase in both oil consumption and CO2 emissions in the EU car sector, the groups warn.

About 400 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted on average for every kilowatt-hour of electricity in the EU, but this can more than double if coal is used, says the report.

The answer, in their view, is to integrate electric cars with a "smart" electricity network, which would charge vehicles only when there was an abundance of green power from sources such as wind farms. But smart power networks are still in their early phase, despite EU pledges to develop them further.

"Just as every car sold today has to have an odometer to show how far it has driven, every electric car needs a smart meter to show how much electricity has been used and better still, whether or not that electricity came from a renewable source," Nusa Urbancic from Transport & Environment said in a statement.

Simply plugging electric cars in "like kettles" would leave consumers and electricity suppliers "in confusion and chaos," Ms Urbancic argued. "It's up to the EU to ensure that all new cars sold in Europe are fitted with this kind of technology," she added.

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