14 June, 2019

Swedish EV plans could be hit by lack of electric capacity

Sweden’s plan to cut vehicle emissions by rapidly advancing the sale of electric vehicles (EVs) could hit an obstacle in the lack of power capacity for charging points.

In the first five months of the year, sales of EVs grew by 253% in Sweden as new government grants kicked in. However, demand for electricity in Stockholm and other cities is outgrowing capacity in local grids, forcing new charging networks to compete with other projects from housing to railway lines.

Sweden aims to become carbon neutral by 2045, with the need to cut vehicle emissions a big part of this. However, to reach this target, industry group Power Circle says Sweden needs to add about 2.5 million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles by the end of the next decade. While many of these will be charged at home for shorter journeys, a network of charging points is also needed for longer trips and for professional drivers - from taxis to delivery vans.

The group suggests that owners should be given incentives not to charge their vehicles at certain times, to manage the power capacity required. There should also be a scheme in place to reward drivers who plug their vehicles into the grid in mornings and afternoons, using bi-directional technology to feed energy back to the grid, lessening capacity problems.

‘Electric cars can make or break the grid,’ says Johanna Lakso, who heads the group. ‘When we are about to roll out the infrastructure, why not be smart about it and use it to support the power networks?’

Ageing grid

Sweden exported 10% of its energy output in 2018. However, its grid is ageing and struggling to ship the commodity to where it is most needed, especially with demand in cities growing quicker than expected. It can take up to ten years to build new cables, meaning Stockholm is not expected to be able to significantly boost power usage until 2030, according to grid management company Ellevio.

Therefore, the need for bi-directional charging would offer some respite from the problems. While not solving the capacity issue, it will feed power back and smooth out any spikes in demand that could take energy away from other systems.

Falling behind

Sweden’s plans to boost its EV share is inspired by neighbouring Norway, which is the leading market for electric vehicles in Europe. Norway had more than ten times the number of electric vehicles registered in May than Sweden and has managed this by offering incentives and tax breaks for drivers to adopt the technology.

Sweden's total EV sales of 6,694 through May are tiny on a European scale. This represents about a fifth of sales in the country during the month but is some way behind the 54% market share that EVs took in Norway during the same period. Last year, EV sales accounted for 31% of the new car market in Norway.