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EU states ordered to plan for ‘clean fuel’ transport infrastructure

Out-Law News | 15 Oct 2014 | 12:44 pm | 3 min. read

European Union countries must develop national blueprints for the deployment of infrastructure to encourage the use of ‘clean fuel’ vehicles, under a directive adopted by EU ministers.

The directive, adopted by the Council of the EU (2-page / 96 KB PDF), gives all member states two years to draw up policy frameworks for introducing the “minimum infrastructure” necessary, including recharging and refuelling points for the increasing number of vehicles expected to be using electricity, hydrogen and natural gas.

Italy’s infrastructure and transport minister Maurizio Lupi said “we are taking a decisive step to make the European economy more resource-efficient, less dependent on oil and more attentive to the quality of life of citizens”.

The directive will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal this month. Under the directive, each member state must send its ‘alternative fuel deployment strategy’ to the European Commission. These strategies or ‘national policy frameworks’ will set out the countries’ national targets for putting in place recharging and refuelling points “as well as relevant supporting actions”, the Council said.

Energy law expert Jeremy Chang of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: “It is hoped that the national targets contemplated by the directive will help drive the increased deployment of recharging and refuelling points for different types of clean fuels with associated benefits for the supply chain.”

However, Chang said “some commentators fear that the measures do not go far enough. Although there are recommended targets, the directive does not provide specific EU-wide targets for member states to meet. The challenge for member states will be to determine their level of commitment in a way which effectively harnesses the potential of clean fuels.”

Together, the policy frameworks of all EU countries “will provide long-term security for private and public investment in vehicle and fuel technology and infrastructure roll-out”, according to the Council. “The deadlines for having the infrastructure in place range from 2020 to 2030, depending in particular on the type of fuel, vehicle and deployment area. For instance, the directive stipulates that by the end of 2020, member states should install enough recharge and refuelling points so that electric cars and cars using compressed natural gas can circulate at least in cities and suburban areas.”

The Council said “common technical standards” are to be applied, making all new recharge and refuelling points interoperable, while private investment “is expected to play a key role in the build-up of alternative fuels infrastructure”.

According to the Council, “support measures by member states are possible”, in compliance with EU state aid rules. EU funding from the Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon 2020 may also be available.

Creating a sufficient network of recharging and refuelling stations is considered “crucial in order to drive consumer demand for vehicles powered by clean fuel, and to encourage manufacturers to develop such vehicles and to sell them at competitive prices”, the Council said.

The use of clean fuel is currently being “held back by the high cost of vehicles, low demand and the lack of infrastructure”, the Council said. This is creating “a vicious circle”, where refuelling stations are not being built because there are not enough vehicles, while vehicles “are not being sold at competitive prices because there is not enough demand”. “Consumers are not buying the vehicles because they are expensive and the stations are not there,” the Council said.

The Councils said that, in addition to breaking the “vicious circle”, the new directive aims to reduce dependency on oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. The directive also “intends to promote economic growth and job creation in the EU, in particular in small and medium-sized enterprises.”

Estimates by the European Commission indicate that alternative fuels gradually coming onto the market are expected to produce savings on the EU oil bill amounting to about €2.3 billion per year in 2030, and another €1bn per year “from the dampening of price fluctuations through improved security of energy supply”.

EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas said: “Alternative fuels are key to improving the security of energy supply, reducing the impact of transport on the environment and boosting EU competitiveness. With these new rules, the EU provides long-awaited legal certainty for companies to start investing, and the possibility for economies of scale.”

Kallas said EU member states had “requested flexibility in deploying the infrastructure. it is now up to them to develop the right national policy frameworks”.