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The journey for the electric vehicle (EV) has hardly begun, with a diverse set of obstacles and challenges to overcome, explains Paddy Young, Director European Utility Week.

Still more than 95% of the world’s vehicles run on an internal combustion engine, and there are multiple challenges still to be addressed with the synchronisation of different charging technologies and battery types.

Cross-pollination of ideas across the battery manufacturers, the automobile makers, utilities, state governments and the European Union will be the key to embracing further change.

Electric vehicle market: embracing change

Elon Musk’s level of self-belief is the stuff of legend. Justifiably so, many might say. He heralds from a family who can count amongst them a restaurant-chain owner and pioneering environmentalist for a brother, a model and TV dietician for a mother, and a movie director for a sister.

His own achievements include the creation of a global online payments business, a space exploration company whose avowed purpose is to kick start the colonisation of Mars, and an electronic vehicle business whose cars topped the best-selling electric vehicles list of 2015 and 2016 included amongst them.

Nobody is questioning his acumen, yet many remain skeptical of his ability to pull off perhaps the greatest gamble of his life: to elevate Tesla, his EV business, from a business valued at $60 billion to one valued at $650 billion within just ten years. The gamble comes with his own acceptance that he will not receive a dime for the years worked if he does not meet the target.

The word ‘chutzpah’ seems barely able to describe this magnificent show of confidence.

Yet, Musk clearly knows what he is doing. He knows all too well the direction of the EV trends. Ask whoever you like about projections for growth of the EV market and the answer is universally bullish. In fact every year the figures are being revised upwards.

A growing market

In 2015 OPEC projected $46 million dollars worth of EV sales by 2040. By 2016 they had revised this same figure up to $266 million dollars while Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggested sales figures topping $500 million by 2040.

Europe, China and America lead the pack in terms of sales figures. Europe in particular has put on a spurt recently and now EVs account for almost 40% of total vehicle sales in Norway in 2017. Sales figures of EVs tend to track GDP with the wealthier Scandinavian countries along with Germany, Austria, France, the UK, and the Netherlands topping the charts.

Elsewhere though there are the promising roots of change. On a recent trip to Bratislava, I met with some key stakeholders from the region to discuss their involvement in EUW this year. Andrej Juris, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Západoslovenská distribučná, Patrik Križanský, independent energy expert, Miroslav Kunsh, Chairman, IPESOFT, Florian Kavicky, CEO, IPESOFT, Miroslav Mariáš, state councilor, Ministry of economy of the Slovak republik and Jozef Šupšák, editor in chief, efocus.sk. We spoke about how the country is the largest car manufacturer per capita in Europe and the potential the country has for EV.

Recently the European Commission approved co-funding of the NEXT-E project which aims to set up 252 charging stations in six EU Member States in the Central Europe, including Croatia, Slovenia and Romania. Many of the utilities are also getting heavily involved. CEZ, the state utility of the Czech Republic, is building hundreds of charging points across the country, whilst its own car-making brand, Skoda (now owned by VW) will release its first electronic vehicle by 2020.

Another country in Eastern Europe, Estonia, has also been a pioneering nation for the electric vehicle movement. It was the first to establish a coordinated network of nation-wide charging points. The dramatic fall off of EV sales following the slashing of its subsidies offers some warning to others of the precariousness still of the market.

Whether or not Elon Musk’s gamble pays off will, only time can tell. But, so long as the industry continues to talk and innovate, then we can but hope his ambitions come true and that we can all enjoy the benefits of a cleaner and greener world.

This feature was written by Paddy Young, Director, European Utility Week.

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