How Germany is preparing for the rise of the electric car

Electric cars and hybrids are a major part of Germany's climate policy. Are government officials and energy sector leaders doing enough? A deeper look.

How Germany is preparing for the rise of the electric car
A photo of an electric car marks the parking spot next to a charging station in Hanover. Photo: DPA

Germany has made significant progress in building charging points for electric cars, but major regional differences still remain.

While cities and metropolitan areas have a comparatively large number of charging stations, there are still many “white spots” in the countryside.

READ ALSO: Germany boosts support for electric cars with cash bonuses and a million charging points

These are the results compiled by the Energy Association BDEW and shared with the DPA and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung.”

Overall, the association describes the expansion of the charging infrastructure as “vigorous” and “dynamic.”

The plans come as American electric car giant Tesla sets out work to build its first European factory outside of Berlin by 2021.

Several German car manufacturers have furthermore announced plans to increase their share of electric cars in the coming years.

READ ALSO: Tesla gets green light for factory site outside of Berlin

How many charging stations does Germany have?

At the end of 2019 there were around 24,000 public charging points in Germany, or almost 50 percent more than in the previous year.

Quick charging stations account for around 15 percent of these ports, according to the BDEW’s register. To compare, there are currently around 220,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the Germany.

This means that, on average, nine e-cars or plug-in hybrids exist for every charging point. 

Eighty percent of charging processes take place at home or at work.

“It is crucially important that the hurdles for building a charging infrastructure are finally removed in the private sector. Politicians should put this high on their agenda for the new year,” BDEW General Manager Kerstin Andreae said.

In the coming years, electric cars are expected to make a breakthrough on the mass market.

READ ALSO: German automakers are the biggest global spenders on electric cars: study

Electric mobility plays a central role in the federal government's climate protection program, which aims to achieve its 2030 climate targets mainly through transportation innovation.

To make this feasible, Germany would need seven to 10 million electric cars by 2030. The federal government has created a “charging infrastructure master plan” to accelerate the expansion of the charging stations. The goal is a nationwide and customer-friendly charging network.

This map shows the number of e-charging stations per community in Germany. Big cities are clearly in the lead. 

Which states have the most charging stations?

According to the BDEW, the best charging opportunities exist in cities like Munich (1103) and Hamburg (1070) – Munich has now surpassed Hamburg for the lead. The largest city, Berlin (974), follows in third place.

Behind them are Stuttgart (405), Düsseldorf (225) and Leipzig (215). More than 75 percent of the public charging points are built and operated by energy companies, according to the BDEW.

In individual federal states, Bavaria is at the top in absolute terms, with 5656 publicly accessible charging points. This is followed by Baden-Württemberg (4094) and the most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (3880).

Hamburg (1417) and the capital Berlin (1093) top the number of publicly accessible charging points per 1000 square kilometers. This is followed by Bremen (286), Baden-Württemberg (115), NRW (114), Hesse (82) and the geographically largest federal state, Bavaria (79).

The fewest charging points per 1000 square kilometers are in the East German states of Saxony-Anhalt (16), Brandenburg (12) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (9).

In mid-December, top officials from the federal government and the energy industry met to discuss progress.

“Our goal is that no one in Germany will say: ‘I'm not buying an electric car because I don't know how and where to charge it,’” said Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU).

All parties agreed that the energy industry should issue guidelines for the operators of charging infrastructure in the coming year. In addition, approval procedures and processes for grid connection are to be accelerated.

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From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla’s giant Berlin car factory

In the green forest outside Berlin, a David and Goliath-style battle is playing out between electric carmaker Tesla and environmental campaigners who want to stop its planned "gigafactory".

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla's giant Berlin car factory
Tesla's gigafactory outside the doors of Berlin. dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Steffen Schorch, driving his trusty German-made car.

The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July.

“Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water,” said the environmental activist, a local representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group.

Announced in November 2019, Tesla’s gigafactory project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark – but was immediately met with opposition from local residents.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters – residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful
environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

Tesla was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber.

READ MORE: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

And now they have focused their attention on water consumption – which could reach up to 3.6 million cubic metres a year, or around 30 percent of the region’s available supply, according to the ZDF public broadcaster.

The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

Local residents and environmentalists are also concerned about the impact on the wetlands, an important source of biodiversity in the region.

Tesla Street

“The water situation is bad, and will get worse,” Heiko Baschin, a spokesman for the neighbourhood association IG Freienbrink, told AFP.

Brandenburg’s environment minister Axel Vogel sought to play down the issue, saying in March that “capacity has not been exceeded for now”.

But the authorities admit that “the impact of droughts is significant” and have set up a working group to examine the issue in the long term.

The gigafactory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares – equivalent to approximately 560 football fields – southwest of the German capital.

Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to “the largest battery factory in the world”,
according to group boss Elon Musk.

In a little over a year and a half, swathes of coniferous forest have already been cleared to make way for vast concrete rectangles on a red earth base, accessed via the already iconic Tesla Strasse (Tesla Street).

German bureaucracy

The new site still has only provisional construction permits, but Tesla has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk.

Final approval depends on an assessment of the project’s environmental impact – including the issue of water.

In theory, if approval is not granted, Tesla will have to dismantle the entire complex at its own expense.

But “pressure is being exerted (on the regulatory authorities), linked to Tesla’s significant investment”, Gruene Liga’s Michael Greschow told AFP.

In early April, Tesla said it was “irritated” by the slow pace of German bureaucracy, calling for exceptions to the rules for projects that help the environment.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier agreed in April that his government “had not done enough” to reduce bureaucracy, lauding the gigafactory as a “very important project”.

Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often held up by bureaucracy criticised as excessive by the business community.

Among the most embarrassing examples are Berlin’s new airport which opened last October after an eight-year delay and Stuttgart’s new train station, which has been under construction since 2010.

Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, raised the possibility in February that the Tesla factory could be delayed beyond its July planned opening for the same reason.

SEE ALSO: Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin