In April 2009 the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan T.D., signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create conditions that would assist car makers Renault and Nissan in the distribution of certain of their electric vehicles in the Irish market. In connection with this initiative, the ESB committed to rolling out an electric car charging network across Ireland – albeit on a non-product-exclusive basis. Along with the Memorandum of Understanding, the Irish Government set the ambitious targets of having 2,000 electric cars on the roads by the end of 2011, 6,000 by the end of 2012 and ten per cent of all vehicles on the roads to be electrically-powered by 2020.
On 26 March 2010, the country’s first public electric car charge points were launched by ESB. The charge points are located in Dublin city centre and are the first of 3,500 charge points (2,000 domestic and 1,500 on-street) that the ESB proposes to build.
Under the ESB’s plans, 500 on-street charge points will be installed in Dublin City and County, 135 in Cork, 45 in Limerick, 45 in Galway and 45 in Waterford. The remaining charge points will be located throughout the country with at least one being built in every town with a population of more than 1,500. The plan also includes the building of 30 fast chargers by 2011 which will be located along all major inter urban routes, 60 km apart. Nine of these will be installed by the end of 2010.
In common with any ambitious roll-out of infrastructure prior to the widespread availability of the complementary technology that is to use it (ie. the electric vehicles themselves), it might be queried whether the ESB is acting prematurely. There is the possibility that future technological and market developments may favour charging solutions that are not compatible with the charging assets that are currently being installed by ESB – systems may, for example, converge around the exchange of battery packs at facilities that do not require special grid connections.
It is also worth noting that since electricity consumers contribute significantly to the funding of the development of the electricity distribution system, it will be those consumers that will bear a corresponding share of the financial burden of any electric car charging assets that are “stranded” by adverse future developments.
Nevertheless, as the licensed owner of the Irish electricity distribution system, it is appropriate that the ESB has at least some role in the introduction of an electric vehicle fleet – not least because some technologists have identified such a fleet as presenting a potential solution to the challenge of large-scale dispatchable electricity storage, with accompanying benefits for security of supply and the stability of an electricity system that will in the future feature large amounts of intermittent renewable generation.