An exemplary neighbor

The Netherlands began to expand electric mobility ten years ago. Thanks to tax reductions, Dutch citizens are getting involved in this development.

If you had to define an ideal environment for electric mobility, your final result would certainly have strong similarities with the Netherlands. This environment would be a region with short distances between major cities, so that the vehicles’ range wouldn’t matter. It would have a well-developed infrastructure, few hills or none at all, and a progressive and environment-conscious population. In recent years, this mix of topography and social responsibility has in fact made the Netherlands a pioneer in the field of electric mobility, without attracting much attention from the rest of the world.

About 128,000 electric vehicles are currently registered in this country of canals and windmills, compared to just over 56,000 in Germany. Plans call for the Netherlands to increase the number of its electric vehicles to 200,000 by 2020 — and that’s an entirely realistic target. The only European country that exceeds these numbers is Norway. But by contrast to Norway, where the success of electric mobility developed out of a grassroots movement, the Netherlands has followed a different path — one that is rather more official.

As early as 2008, when electric mobility was not yet an issue in the rest of Europe, an expert commission developed a plan of action for electric mobility. One year later it became a government policy, underpinned by concrete targets for sales of electric vehicles and the parallel creation of a charging infrastructure.

By contrast to Norway, where the success of electric mobility developed out of a grassroots movement, the Netherlands has followed a different path — one that is rather more official.

Of course Dutch people are only human. For them as for the Norwegians, tangible material benefits played a crucial role in this development, in addition to the need to counter climate change. Specifically, the material benefits take the form of tax advantages. “Here in the Netherlands, when we buy a car we pay not only the value-added tax but also a kind of luxury tax. As a result, buying a new car in the Netherlands is very expensive,” explains Jan Wouters, Manager Green Mobility at the Royal Dutch Touring Club.
The luxury tax, which is due when the vehicle is bought, is based on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions.

“For electric cars, there’s no luxury tax. Nor is there a motor vehicle tax, which is much higher in the Netherlands than in Germany,” Wouters adds. Today most of the electric vehicles in the Netherlands are company cars. That’s because most of the taxes on the private use of company cars, which are also very high for conventionally powered models, are waived for electric vehicles. Soon however, these tax advantages will apply only to a new-car price up to a maximum of €50,000.

For electric cars, there’s no luxury tax. Nor is there a motor vehicle tax, which is much higher here than in Germany

Jan Wouters, Manager Green Mobility at the Royal Dutch Touring Club

In addition to the tax advantages, Dutch drivers of electric cars enjoy the benefits of a comprehensive charging infrastructure, so there’s no longer any excuse for not buying an electric car. The average distance between two charging stations is 11 kilometers, and Dutch drivers can recharge their cars at more than 30,000 public charging stations. There are 670 quick-charging stations at 176 locations, as well as 75,000 private charging points.

The average distance between two charging stations is 11 kilometers.

To make sure that charging opportunities are actually set up where they are needed, municipalities can use the “Anders Laden” (alternative charging) online platform. Here they can receive expert advice, for example on how to easily integrate charging points into the existing street facilities without impairing the aesthetics.

In addition, in the Netherlands people are trying out technologies that are still in the early stages of development in other countries. For example, the city government of Amsterdam is investigating how electric vehicles can reinforce the city’s power grid. For this purpose, the charging specialist New Motion has installed the first set of V2G (Vehicle to Grid) charging stations. Here the electric cars that are being charged can also feed electricity from their batteries into the electricity grid. In this way the power system can be stabilized during peak consumption periods and parked electric vehicles become a buffer promoting grid security. There are currently only a few models on the market that can manage the bidirectional charging that is needed for this technology, but that doesn’t matter. What ultimately counts is the technical edge that the Netherlands is securing by means of these projects.

The city government of Amsterdam is investigating how electric vehicles can reinforce the city’s power grid.

The charging specialists in the city of Arnhem have developed an especially unusual technology. A charging station that went into operation in Arnhem last summer stores electricity that is generated in the daytime by the braking energy of trolleybuses. While the trolleybuses stand in the depot overnight, the full grid capacity of these electric vehicles can be used.

The overall charging infrastructure of the Netherlands is being continuously expanded. For fast recharging, the ultra-stations from Fastned already offer charging powers up to 350 kW. At these ultra-stations, it takes only minutes to recharge vehicles that are compatible with the system. In Germany, the company is building one such station in Limburg. However, as yet there are no vehicle models that are designed to work with this power.

After the electrification of cars, commercial vehicles in the Netherlands are now also being electrically powered. “Most importantly, urban logistics are being electrified. That includes garbage trucks with hydrogen drives and small trucks powered by plug-in hybrid engines that operate in the cities,” says Wouters as he explains the next steps being taken toward green mobility. At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the planners have already gone one step further. They are working to reach an ambitious target: becoming the world’s most sustainable airport. To this end, electric buses have been exclusively used to transport passengers since the end of last year, and a fleet of electric taxis also silently handles the traffic outside the terminals.

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, electric buses have been exclusively used to transport passengers since the end of last year.

Moreover, in the Netherlands electric mobility is not limited to road traffic. Today more than 11,000 boats glide silently along the canals, because they’re driven by electric motors. Of course enterprising companies have realized that a new area of business is developing here. For example, the Bellmarine company has manufactured more than 3,000 electric boat systems for commercial and recreational vessels to date. The first waterways reserved exclusively for electric boats have been set up in recent years. In 2017, the Watertaxi Rotterdam company put Europe’s first electrically driven water taxi in operation in Rotterdam. And starting in 2020, the only shipping companies that will be allowed to operate on the canals will be those that have switched their entire fleet to electric drive.

And yet, the success of Dutch electric mobility is currently still overshadowed by a huge cloud of carbon dioxide. That’s because only a small part of the electricity required by the electric vehicles’ comes from renewable sources of energy. Ironically, in this country of windmills the power of the wind and the sun are barely used.

  • So long, combustion engines!

In the years ahead, the Dutch government in The Hague plans to reduce road traffic emissions in the Netherlands to zero. Starting in 2035, only new vehicles producing zero emissions will be registered. The last cars with combustion engines should have disappeared from the streets by 2050.

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