© ap

English
11/05/2013

A test of Vienna’s car charging stations

Electric cars are still uncommon on Austria’s roads. One of the problems is charging stations. futurezone tested the charging station infrastructure in Vienna.

There are already pioneers who are driving through Vienna with electric cars. At the Wipark garage on Gonzagagasse in Vienna’s first district, there are three electric cars and one electric moped charging at the stations. The two private Smarts that are parked there have been there for a few hours, because their batteries are nearly full. They connect to a “Type 2” plug for charging. With this type of car, the cable is plugged into the side.

The Type 2 plug was recently standardized. This means that all electric cars that are built will support this charging plug standard. “It is good for us when the plugs are standardized, because standardization provides investment security. We will install more Type 2 plugs in the future,” explained Jürgen Halasz, e-mobility expert at Wien Energie.

Test drive

Halasz joined futurezone for a test drive to take a closer look at the charging station network in the city. Wien Energie currently operates about 150 charging stations in Vienna, primarily in parking garages. There are to be a total of 440 charging stations for electric cars by November 2014. At least according to Wien Energie’s optimistic plan.

When we reached the modern and sleek charging station on Brahmsplatz in the fourth district with our test vehicle, a Nissan Leaf, the space for charging electric cars is blocked by another car. The cable is too short to charge the car from the next space. When the battery of an electric car is nearly empty, this could be a problem. “When a car really runs out of electricity, you usually have to have it towed. So you should make sure that doesn’t happen,” Halasz said. There are “exact projection tools” in the vehicle for this, he said.

Inexact projections

But the projection tool in the test vehicle is anything but “exact.” The original range projection of 136 kilometers fell to 97 kilometers in just a few blocks. And the display shows a further reduction of 35 kilometers when the air conditioner is turned on. This means that the car can reach the limit of its range sooner than predicted.

There are specially designed quick charging stations to help with this. So we take the half empty car there, as we don’t want to wait for long. We arrive at the first quick charging station set up in Austria for electric cars. It is in the Wipark garage on Beethovenplatz in the first district.

Quick charging

A Type 2 plug, which is more difficult and complicated to connect. It requires quite a bit of force. The station also hums loudly while the car is being charged. It works with direct current. This type of charging is expensive, because alternating current has to be converted into direct current. According to Halasz, the quick charging station cost around EUR 100,000 to set up. But the half empty car is back at 97 percent in just 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes that were just enough to drop off a letter at the post office nearby.

But these fast charging stations are rare in Vienna. There is one at the Park-&-Ride garage in Siebenhirten, otherwise, customers have to use the “accelerated charging” through the Type 2 plug. This is also available at a supermarket in the 21st district, and is to be offered at further supermarkets in the future. “I can get about 30 percent of a charge in 30 minutes, while I buy dinner,” Halasz said. “That is enough for 40 to 50 kilometers. Enough to get home.”

Wallbox

At home, there is of course a Wallbox in the garage. A full charge takes between six and eight hours at 3.7 kilowatts. This is no problem when the car is parked overnight. Cars are charged at the normal electricity rate. In an apartment house, a separate power meter is installed in the garage so that power consumption can be billed exactly. The Wallbox is currently optimized for the Renault Zoe vehicles, but can also be used to charge other electric cars.

Unlike with the Wallbox, the public charging stations charge a different price. Charging from a standard plug at 3.7 kilowatts costs EUR 0.78 per hour there, while charging with the Type 2 plug at up to 11 kilowatts costs EUR 2.35 per hour. Unlike at home, this is billed through the electric car charging card from Wien Energie. This is (currently) needed to charge cars at Wien Energie stations.

But there will soon be other options. Work is already under way by other Austrian operators to set up charging infrastructure, for example in Carinthia and Lower Austria, and also to set up a “roaming” system so that stations in other provinces and countries can be used. This will soon eliminate a major hurdle, and will make electric cars truly attractive.

Fourteen different electric cars

A total of 14 electric cars, either hybrid or fully electric, are to be introduced on the Austrian market in 2014. Renault, Nissan and BMW are on board. Charging station operators like Wien Energie hope that the work they have put into (and will continue putting into) setting up public infrastructure will soon pay off. “This gives us planning security, and we hope that the charging stations will pay for themselves,” Halasz said. By then, there will also be apps that show where the closest charging stations are, and that can find out how many of them have available spaces.

“There will certainly be several thousand electric cars in Austria by 2020. The advantages are clear,” Halasz said. Current problems like inaccurate range projections will likely also be solved by then, he said.