Germany’s growing electric-vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure is to be investigated by the country’s antitrust authorities following complaints from consumers.
As the EV market grows in the country, with manufacturers committing to deliver both new and existing models with electric powertrains, there is a need to increase the charging infrastructure. However, the Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office) is concerned over competition problems in the charging sector at this early stage.
There are plans to develop a nationwide charging infrastructure by 2030, with many more publicly accessible charging points at the heart of the idea. However, the process of setting up and operating charging stations is not subject to the comprehensive regulation of electricity networks, leaving the market open to possible manipulation.
Potential competition problems occurring in this sector can, however, be addressed by competition law, according to the Bundeskartellamt. To ensure effective competition, non-discriminatory access to potential locations for charging stations, as well as the specific terms and conditions applying at these locations, are of key importance.
‘In this early market phase we want to identify competition problems in the supply of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in an effort to contribute to the successful expansion of e-mobility,’ states Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt.
‘The development of a nationwide charging infrastructure is a precondition for the successful implementation of e-mobility in Germany. Conditions and prices at publicly-accessible charging facilities are a key factor for consumers when deciding on whether or not to switch to electric vehicles. The market is, of course, still emerging. However, we have already received complaints about prices and conditions at the charging stations.’
There are fears that one supplier could end up with a monopoly as the market for public charging locations is required to expand rapidly to meet demand. This could lead to the dictation of both price and terms that other, smaller suppliers, may find it hard to compete with. This would also lead to higher prices for consumers, dependent upon charging location to keep their vehicles on the road.
Also, as the infrastructure grows, terms and conditions of usage are still being finessed. Any supplier with a monopoly would be in a position to dictate these terms, such as charging times and fines for overuse, which would impact consumers, especially those unable to charge EVs at their place of residence.
The investigation will also cover the various approaches of cities and municipalities to providing suitable locations. The Bundeskartellamt will look at the competitive framework conditions for installing charging stations on motorways, an area where drivers will be ‘beholdent’ to suppliers, especially with lower-range vehicles.
This last point in particular may interest other governments around Europe. In the UK for example, motorway service stations are served by Tesla and Ecotricity. Despite fears over ageing technology connected with the latter as a result of its ‘first mover’ status, the Financial Times reports that ‘contracts between the charging supplier and motorway service station groups mean other infrastructure companies are unable to break into the motorway segment.’
In the course of its inquiry, the Bundeskartellamt will consult with and interview the main market participants in two subsequent phases. The first phase will primarily look at the current status of publicly accessible charging infrastructure and how cities, municipalities and other players plan and provide suitable locations. The second phase will involve more detailed investigations, in particular regarding conditions for access to charging stations for mobility service providers and end customers.
The results and conclusions to be drawn from the inquiry will be summarised and published in a report.