Kristian Ruby is currently the secretary general at Eurelectric, the federation for the European electricity industry. He’s the highest representative of the electric industry in Europe.
Kristian joined Eurelectric in 2017 and has a had impressive career based in the world of sustainability. He went to Eurelectric after working at WindEurope, where he was the policy director.
Before this, Kristian was chief advisor/manager at Operate A/S where he worked in the company’s sustainability group managing a team of consultants working with climate, environment, food and bio resources. Operate advises some of Denmark’s biggest corporations and a number of ministries and government agencies.
EDs: What is Eurelectric?
Eurelectric is the umbrella association of the European electricity industry. That means that we are the association of the national associations that each represent the industry at a national level.
We cover the entire value chain, meaning the production of electricity, the transport of electricity, not the transmission but the distribution, the trading activities, the retail and recently also all the activities related to adjacent markets.
We are about introducing electricity as a replacement for fossil fuels in a whole range of sectors.
EDs: What is your role at Eurelectric?
I’m the secretary general. So in a sense, I’m the highest representative of the industry in Europe. I joined Eurelectric in 2017 coming from WindEurope, where I was the policy director.
Since then I’ve been leading the association with changing presidents and in that endeavour try to crystallise our green mission. This is to accelerate the energy transition and to ensure that we as the electricity industry can act as a partner for other industries or sectors that want to accelerate their transition as well.
EDs: Could you explain why the sustainability side is so important to your work now at Eurelectric, please?
I started my career in climate change. In a sense, I spent my first seven years after graduating in ministries of environment, climate action, energy and later the European Commission, the Cabinet of the Climate Commissioner.
What was driving me was the passion to see what we can do to mitigate the adverse impacts of our civilisation on the planet. Over the last decade, the science is becoming indisputable that something needs to be done about emissions in order to improve.
This is perhaps the most important sustainability challenge that we’re facing as mankind. It is interrelated with a whole range of other sustainability challenges that we’re also facing at the same time.
We have a number of interrelated sustainability crises that require a coordinated answer. We’re seeing that investors businesses across the board are beginning to open their eyes and see that you have to deal with the sustainability issues in order to have sustainable business going forward.
EDs: What are your views on the emobility transition and particularly Eurelectric’s role in that transition?
I remember some of the first meetings I had with representatives of the sector five, six years ago. There was still a lot of scepticism and cynical remarks about electric cars, especially range issues at the time.
The leaders of the sector had seen, however, that electrification was necessary and a huge opportunity for the electricity industry. I was clear personally, that it was the mission to focus the association much more on harvesting the business potential but also the sustainability potential of electrification, not least of transport.
I think that we’ve seen if not a revolution, a turbo evolution over the last five years in immobility. There was still a big discussion at the time about the role of combustion engines and over those five years, everything has changed. I think you will hardly see a major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) dispute the fact that electric vehicles will take the entire passenger car segment.
We have seen numbers rise from minuscule shares five years ago to 10 percent in 2020 and close to 20 percent in 2021. We’re seeing now the exponential curve emerge for the introduction of electric vehicles in the passenger car segment.
EDs: What about heavier transport?
In heavier transport we’re seeing the same. Electric buses now constitute six percent of overall sales in Europe. In the heavy truck segment, it’s a bit different.
There are still, let’s say different technology approaches between the OEMs, but my personal view is that electricity continues to surprise with its agility, with its efficiency and with its ability to power even extremely heavy industrial machinery, including heavy trucks.
EDs: What has Eurelectric been doing in this?
After we defined our mission to advance the green transition with the help of electrification, we went in and analysed from the top what was needed in terms of overall electrification to go net zero in all the sub-sectors.
Then we studied in detail what was needed in terms of transport policies to advance this agenda. We’ve been vocal on all the transport in the European Union, always taking the high ground for electrification, whether it’s building requirements, charging infrastructure rollout, grid reinforcements and standards for charging, data standards and so on.
Last year we published an interesting report about the role of car fleets in the transition to electric. We found that 20 percent of all cars are parts of corporate fleets or government fleets which account for 40 percent of the kilometres that are driven and 50 percent of the emissions.
This means that if you do targeted regulation of the fleets, you tackle the problem of emissions head-on while helping companies make the transition. That’s a little bit about what we’re doing in electric transport.
EDs: When do you think the first legacy European automaker, say perhaps Volkswagen, Peugeot or Citroen, will say we’re only making electric vehicles and we’re going to stop making combustion engine vehicles?
That’s about now. Hyundai, if I remember correctly, announced this a few weeks ago. The strategy for the big OEMs, and here I would especially highlight Volkswagen, have been crystal clear and have gone hardcore electric.
Of course, they’re seeing a transition. They still need to make sure that the customers transition with them, that the charging infrastructure goes up with it.
If we look 10 years into the future, we will be in a process, and perhaps even before, of the biggest auto manufacturers actively dismantling their production lines for combustion engine vehicles.
EDs: What is the role of charging infrastructure and perhaps specifically smart charging?
The first thing to say here is that here we are facing a gargantuan, let’s say logistical challenge. If we look 10 years back, we had 2000 charging points in Europe. We have over the last 10 years increased that to 200,000.
By 2030, we’re going to need somewhere between four and six million public charging points. The vast majority of charging will be destination charging. We need visible public charging infrastructure and we need to see that up-scaling happen at light speed.
EDs: What about the distribution of charge points in Europe?
We’re seeing too much of a concentration. We have a big share of the overall charging points concentrated in only four markets in Europe with Germany, France and the Netherlands being the biggest ones.
There are a lot of markets where there’s hardly a single charging point. For this rollout and this revolution to continue its pace, we need to see change in that space.
EDs: What about smart charging?
In terms of the smart charging component, we know it’s a critical requirement to succeed because we have an ageing infrastructure on the distribution grids.
The electric grids that transport the electricity the last mile to the house,
We did a big overview study last year on the electric grids that transport the electricity the last mile to the house and found that some 30 percent of distribution grids across Europe are more than 40 years old.
This means they need to be modernised, they need to be reinforced. We need to digitise wherever we can but we also need to be smart about the fact that we’re adding in the passenger car segment. This will probably be some 10 percent of load to the system when all cars go electric.
We need to make sure that that charging happens outside peak hours. We should also make sure where possible that that charging is aligned with the availability of clean electrons. We need to make a link between clean power generation and the charging of cars.
EDs: Do you think those green electrons from renewable energy will flow fast enough to power the rise of demand from emobility and other sectors?
They have to, it’s a bound task. As societies, we’ve agreed that we want to go net zero by 2050. The UK has done that and Europe has made its own climate law for the remaining 27 members. We’ve decided to reduce emissions by 55 percent by 2030.
To see this we need to get that build out done at light-speed pace because we are looking at sort of wartime pace in ramping up of certain technologies and deployment of certain technologies.
I often quote the figure that we need to add another 500 gigawatts of renewables to the grid by 2030. This is roughly half of the existing capacity that we have in total today.
We’re talking about unprecedented increases in everything and we’re spending way too much time waiting for permissions to build. We need to be smart about this and we need to find new ways of doing this.
EDs: What are your thoughts on the subject of range anxiety?
This is a subject that sticks with people. Even if we have those significant uptake rates now, which are looking promising, many normal customers still have this standard set of sort of concerns about the price of vehicles and their range.
We need to be clear that this year is the year where the total cost of ownership tips in favour of an electric car. That means even if it’s a bit more expensive when you buy it, you’re going to save more money and it’s going to be a better economic deal over the time you own the car because running costs are so much lower.
What’s important to say here is that range anxiety is going to be a big thing in the future. We’re seeing ranges of new electric cars coming up for the most advanced models up to 1,000 kilometres. Fuel producers are seeing that charging cars is a profitable business and that gradual change and the availability is going to tip in the next 10 years.
We’re going to have charging points everywhere and less and less we’re going to have traditional fuelling stations for passenger cars. What people need to worry about is getting the right electric car for their next purchase.
EDs: Are you finding amongst European policymakers that there is anxiety around whether the charging infrastructure can keep up with the pace of change?
We’re seeing a keen focus on that and we’re welcoming this because it’s something we’ve continuously raised. Europe is about providing a choice for consumers.
The truth is that there was not a real choice between a combustion engine car and an electric car because not enough was done to provide the infrastructure for electric cars and not enough was done to have a diversity of different car models.
We brought forward the point on the charging infrastructure to policymakers. In 2019, we launched a concept that we called the ‘right to plug’. We did that with the big OEMs, the big car OEMs and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), saying that any citizen in Europe should have the right to plug in their car so that they can actually use it and make that choice.
Then people have the choice to pollute the planet going forward or to drive clean electric vehicle. They took this seriously and inscribed the right to plug, not necessarily as a legal right, but as a concept into the legislation.
We’re seeing now some significantly improved building requirements with parking lots being either pre-cabled or having a charger. Even when you renovate an existing building, you need to look at pre-cabling and charging infrastructure, so that we can have that smooth transition to the clean, climate-friendly electric transport paradigm.
EDs: Can you tell us about the E-vision event (8-9 February) and what you hope to achieve with it?
E-vision is our brand in the electric vehicle space and what we’re trying to do with this is to bring forward cutting edge thought leadership on what the transition requires.
One of the things we’ve been looking into is that exact issue I was mentioning before about grids. Customers might have a range anxiety, some people in the power sector and some policymakers have grid anxiety, so the question is will the grid be able to cope with all this?
What we are trying to see is whether we can fit 100 million cars onto the existing grid and how we can future-proof the infrastructure well beyond 2030.
That should not become a sleeping pillow this just allows us to defer any investments. We need to make the necessary investments but the grids are ready for the transition. The grids can stand and support the mass market electromobility, which is a great message.
Another thing we’re looking at is what happens in the heavier segments. What’s happening with trucks is the next front. We need to see the deployment curves take the same exponential angle.