Power companies like Enel realize one of the biggest fears among electric car drivers is running out of power. For many, the worry of whether they will be able to find a charging station as easily as a petrol station — or if they can get to their destination hassle-free — is an immediate deal breaker when thinking about changing over.
Enel wants to eliminate this — the population’s “range anxiety” — by building an electric highway from Italian northern metropolis Milan all the way to the country’s capital, Rome. Along this route, drivers have the opportunity to recharge their batteries every 60 minutes.
“We know electric users like myself are mainly urban users, but we also want to move around for the weekends or travel around, so we’ve started to build infrastructure all around the country,” Alberto Piglia, head of Enel’s e-mobility unit, explains to CNN’s Supercharged.
“Since last September people can go from Rome to Milan because we installed 30 charging points around the motorway,” Piglia says.
“But we haven’t stopped there because we are continuing to put infrastructure (so that) people are able to move around Italy.”
Charge your vehicle in 20 minutes
Enel has also set itself a huge target across the entirety of country — with plans to build 7,000 recharging points in urban and rural areas by 2020, then another 7,000 by 2022.
Around 1,400 of those will be fast charging stations, Piglia says, which can charge your vehicle in 20 minutes — 6 times faster than usual charging points.
Such infrastructure is necessary, given sales of new electric vehicles have doubled over the last four years in the country.
Piglia says he has already received emails of praise from customers who are able to travel distances in their electric vehicles that they couldn’t before — including one who traveled from the south of Calabria to watch the Formula E race held in Rome in early May.
“He was able to do this thanks to the recharging stations we have placed from Calabria onwards, so we are gradually giving customers the opportunity to move around north to south.
“It’s really big stuff when a customer sends an email saying ‘Thank you very much, I was able to do this thanks to you’.”
Enel is investing between €100 million ($122 million) and €300 million ($366 million) in the project, Piglia says.
“The range difference is basically due to the fact that we have a plan that is flexible,” he says. “So the more electric vehicles with interest the more we will install.”
He also says says having the flexibility allows the company to adapt their plan as markets evolve between now and 2022.
“The more (demand) there is to have high powered, more powerful charging stations compared to the ones that are here today the more we will need to invest.”
Norway to Italy
Enel isn’t the only company that’s investing to create an “electric highway.”
In November last year, energy firm E.ON and Danish e-mobility provider CLEVER announced plans to create a network of ultra-fast charging stations in countries between Norway and Italy.
It received €10 million in funding from the European Commission to install 180 of the fast charging stations across seven countries over the next three years.
“We are talking about a complex project,” Markus Nitschke from E.ON told CNN. “As this is an EU funded project we have to accomplish the plan (by the) end of 2021.”
Together with CLEVER, the first sites are being built in Germany and Denmark and will be placed every 120-180 kilometers.
“For many other sites we are in touch with potential partners, landowners or authorities,” Nitschke says, adding the preparations to meet the 2021 target are “running well.”
Full electric conversion ‘will happen rapidly’
It’s not just the public sphere Enel is investing in though, it’s also partnered with several automakers to bundle private charging stations with the sale of electric vehicles.
Piglia says several factors are involved when it comes to achieving full electric conversion among drivers: the infrastructure, cost, the range of an electric vehicle and how much pleasure people actually get in actually driving them.
“(Full conversion) will happen more rapidly than we actually we think,” he says, especially with the help of Formula E.
“It’s helped put emotion into electric vehicles.”