It is possible to travel by electric car, but it is better to be well prepared

Paris (AFP) – Going on holiday in an electric car is possible: a 900-kilometer journey between France and Belgium shows that the charging stations are there, but that it is imperative to prepare your trip to avoid running out of fuel, both networks remain embryonic compared to traditional gas stations.

The journey made by an AFP team illustrates the enormous economic and industrial challenge that Europe faces as it wants to ban the sale of petrol or diesel vehicles within 13 years.

From Paris, there is no problem in traffic jams in the Paris area: the battery can last for hours at this speed.

But when it arrives on the highway, the electric reveals one of its most important flaws: autonomy goes from 250 kilometers to less than 100, in a much shorter time than it takes to cover them.

Electric car: charging stations in EU countries Sylvie HUSSON AFP

After a first recharge, we arrive with the meter at zero to the Verdun area (Meuse).

For ten euros, the battery is charged to 80%, the last 20% is slower.

It is important to predict its route according to the car and the outdoor temperature, the battery discharges faster in winter.

To reach Belgium it will be necessary to charge four times, for about thirty minutes at each break.

“Roaming charging is essential in people’s minds to switch to electric,” emphasizes Cécile Goubet, from Avere, the organization of professional electric cars.

Tesla charging stations for electric cars in Châteauvillain, northern France, in September 2019
Tesla charging stations for electric cars in Châteauvillain, northern France, in September 2019 DENIS CHARLET AFP / Archive

Tesla had understood this well by launching charging stations at its own expense in parallel with its sedans, stations which today have up to 40 individual terminals each, much more than competing stations.

small roads

When you leave the motorway to go to Belgium, via the department roads, consumption decreases, as does the fear of collapse.

Many medium-power chargers are available in front of town halls, at retailers or in front of supermarkets.

To reach Belgium it will be necessary to charge four times, for about thirty minutes at each break
To reach Belgium it will be necessary to charge four times, for about thirty minutes at each break PHILIPPE HUGUEN AFP / Archive

Night falls as Brussels approaches: You now need to find a hotel or accommodation to recharge your batteries, just to set off with 100% independence.

The offer is still limited to quite upscale hotels or a few Airbnbs.

At the Nazareth rest stop, near Ghent, the Dutch, encouraged by the performance of their network of terminals, stop for a first quick charge on their way to France.

“The problem is that between Belgium and Spain there is France,” jokes Frank Berg, 55, who travels to Spain with his wife Olga.

France late

Compared to the Netherlands or Germany, the French fast charging network is still very incomplete.

Following the failure of the Corri-Door network, launched in 2015 by subsidiaries of EDF and Engie, operators such as Ionity, TotalEnergies or FastNed are taking over.

A TotalEnergies fast charging station in La Défense, near Paris, in May 2021
A TotalEnergies fast charging station in La Défense, near Paris, in May 2021 AFP / Archive

By decree, all French motorway areas must be equipped before the end of the year.

After years of hesitation, “there is a lot of enthusiasm around this business model”, confirms Florian Nägele, from McKinsey. National and European giants should consolidate in the coming years, the sector expert predicts.

Isabelle Inder, 34, is also taking the trip to Champagne with her partner Antalaya. They recently chose a small SUV from the Chinese brand MG, which has about 300 km of autonomy “to protect the environment”, and to go for a walk with their large dog.

“We recharge in small bumps every time we stop. It’s not that complicated, nor is it bad to take a break every hour and a half,” Isabelle explains. “You need to plan your trip, but sometimes apps are not up to date and the terminal is not working.”

We have the bitter experience of this on the Lille-Paris motorway: While there are still 60 kilometers left, a charging station is closed due to work, we miss an exit to the next, and we are almost at the zero point of a station .. how fast charging does not work.

300,000 slow terminals (+ 30% over a year) and 50,000 fast (also + 30%) were installed in Europe in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and France in particular have doubled their efforts in recent months.

Charging stations for electric cars in Europe
Charging stations for electric cars in Europe AFP

But this 30% increase over a year is still insufficient in light of the expected explosion in the electric car market.

It would take a network of 6.8 million chargers by 2030, or an installation of 14,000 chargers a week, to meet the needs, according to the European Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

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