The future of electric vehicles according to experts in the energy sector

Renault Zoé is currently the best-selling electric vehicle in the European Union (15% market share) and leader in France (with 70% of market share). Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Since Tesla started to commercialize its first electric vehicle (EV) in the mid-2000s, companies such as BYD from China, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, and BMW have developed and started to sell EVs. According to the latest global EV outlook by the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2016 a record number of 750,000 EVs were sold worldwide, almost half of them in China. In France almost 31,000 new EVs were put on the road in 2017. In Germany the numbers were slightly smaller but in a very similar range. Globally, the sales of EVs are expected to keep rising in the years to come.

In that context, the recent Energy Market Barometers conducted by Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) for France in December 2017 and for Germany by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in November 2017, asked experts about the challenges they expect on the electricity sector when e-mobility is on the rise.

Neither German nor French experts think that major investments are needed in either country for the transmission grid (high-voltage electricity grid) or total production capacity. But things look different for electricity distribution: Experts from both countries expect that a share of about 10% of electric vehicles in the car fleet would require major investments in the low voltage grids. Charging an EV typically means a doubling of electricity demand of a small household. The existing distribution grid may not be able to accommodate the extra load when vehicles are charged in parallel to the conventional usage.

To alleviate the stress EVs may impose on electricity supply, charging activities could be coordinated so that they take place outside of peak hours and preferably when surplus of renewable power is available. A coordinated charging of electric vehicles or the use of their batteries as storage systems could provide an economic value to the energy system, e.g., as a grid-balancing service. Many uncertainties remain regarding who could shape such a market and experts’ opinions are quite divided.

Both German and French experts foresee an important role for distribution grid operators. This emerging market could be an opportunity for grid operators to broaden their skills and activities in data management for instance. Results are slightly different across countries when it comes to the role of start-ups, conventional utilities, car manufacturers, and electricity traders, with German experts seeing a larger role of the former two compared to their French counterparts.

These differences might reflect different potentials in either country, but also the uncertainties surrounding this emerging market and the high hopes that many sectors have in benefiting from a market which is expected to become quite promising in the future.

German and French experts also agree that multiple barriers to adoption still have to be overcome before EVs can really challenge diesel and petrol cars. Experts agree that improvements are mostly needed in the EV technology, specifically a decrease in the price per vehicle, and an increase in the driving range. But also an improvement in the charging infrastructure seems to be due.

Interestingly, German experts appear to be more pessimistic than their French colleagues. The former generally believe that barriers to a broader diffusion of EVs are more severe than the latter. This might reflect the fact that official statements made by the German car industry regarding technological performance are considered less trustworthy than before the Volkswagen scandal.

Finally, experts were also asked to express their opinion about the possibility of a ban on petrol and diesel cars in the years to come. Here French and German experts are quite divided. While the majority of French experts think that diesel and petrol cars will be banned in certain cities in France, only few German experts believe a ban on the city level will be implemented in Germany. If at all, such a ban would be implemented at the national level instead. But those who do not believe in a ban or judge the issue to be completely open unite a share of 60 percent of all respondents in Germany.

Arguably, the results for France suggest that the recent announcement made by the city of Paris to ban diesel and petrol cars have made an impact. Multiple cities in the periphery (such as Grenoble, Lille, Lyon or Toulouse) have also made moves in the same direction by introducing traffic restriction (Crit’air label) when there are peaks in air pollution.


The energy market barometers conducted in December 2017 among about 250 experts from industry, science and public administration in France and Germany asked about the challenges e-mobility may raise for the electricity sector. The results for France can be found here and for Germany here.

The data visualizations were done by Diane Frances.