EU policy-makers seek to make electric transport a 'priority'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Electric vehicles should be “a high priority”, the European Commission says in a discussion paper that maps out its vision for a single energy union based on improved power and gas connections and the free flow of fuel across the European Union.

Cables are used to charge up a Renault Zoe new electric car at a Renault automobile dealership in La Teste, Southwestern France in this file photo taken on March 26, 2013. REUTERS/ Regis Duvignau

Some business interests, including major utilities, such as E.ON, as well as environmental groups, have been pushing for more focus on electric vehicles.

“Electrification of transport should be a high priority, with full integration of electric vehicles in urban mobility policies and in the electricity grid,” the Commission memo seen by Reuters says.

Attempts to increase the share of biofuels to reduce emissions from transport have foundered after research showed the early biofuels could be worse for the planet than conventional transport fuel.

More sophisticated biofuels, which do not cause rainforest clearance or fight with food supply, are still far more expensive than conventional fuel.

Advocates of electric vehicles say that, provided the electricity is from renewable sources, they are a better solution to decarbonise transport, which accounts for about a third of EU fuel use. Currently the transport sector is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuel.

A group of organizations, including Eurelectric, which represents EU utilities, and environment campaign group Transport & Environment, make the case for including electric transport in discussion of improved cross-border energy links in a letter sent to all the EU commissioners, dated Feb. 1.

Reducing dependence on imported fossil fuel from nations such as Russia is one of the main drivers of the latest EU push for a single energy union, which will be the subject of talks bringing together EU energy ministers and commissioners in Riga on Friday.

The debate will be followed by formal publication of the Commission’s energy union strategy at the end of the month.

Many member states provide tax incentives to encourage electric and hybrid vehicles, although for private cars the share of the overall vehicle market is still very small and hybrids, rather than pure electric plug-in vehicles that require grid infrastructure, have dominated.

Toyota Motor Europe, which leads the European hybrid market, said its sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles rose to over 178,000 in 2014, up 13 percent versus 2013.

The Commission does not comment on unpublished documents.

Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Susan Thomas