Which model for EV charging services in the European Union? Technological coexistence as a lever for a EU-wide transition toward electromobility


  • Anne GUILLEMOT CIRED/Ecole des Ponts ParisTech
  • Gilles CRAGUE CIRED/Ecole des Ponts ParisTech




Over the last fifteen years, the European Union (EU) has made growing efforts to phase out petrol-based automobility and has actively supported the development of alternative fuel options, with the aim to decarbonize the transport sector and address climate change. Notably, the EU has placed a strong emphasis on advancing electric vehicles (EVs) and electromobility. Pursuing a transition toward electromobility at the EU scale is about building a new, comprehensive socio-technical system, entailing a broad range of technological and non-technical innovations, together with a new institutional framework. Key components include the development of EV charging infrastructure and services, involving a variety of stakeholders, and entailing new user practices as regards “refueling”. Such a far-reaching transformation is assumed to be uncertain and open-ended, because different actors may disagree about the most desirable innovations, whether it concerns technologies, market organisation or business models, and they may seek to shape the transformation according to their own (conflicting) interests. Besides, resistance to change may emerge at multiple levels.

Starting from the observation that various technological approaches have gained prominence across the EU to provide EV-charging services, this paper intends to understand what would be the best approach to effectively support a EU-wide transition toward electromobility. We depart from previous approaches that viewed the EU as a collection of national settings with varying approaches to EV charging infrastructure and services, and which focused on efforts to reduce variety across borders through standardization and harmonization. Rather, we observe the momentum and debates unfolding in pan-European arenas, involving businesses and policymakers working toward establishing a consistent, EU-wide charging offer right from the outset.

Based on a longitudinal, qualitative investigation spanning from 2011 to 2019, we delve into the rationale and expectations that fueled the development of an ambitious technological approach: the electromobility hub solution. We also provide an interpretation of why a comprehensive, single-technology approach could not be universally imposed, and technological variety has prevailed instead, including contractless payment solutions and peer-to-peer roaming. Our analysis relies on an interpretive framework gathering insights from various strands of literature interested in technological development and transitions. We investigate the contextual structures, whether sectoral or geographical, that account for the different technological approaches and the prevailing status quo. Leaning on the concept of institutional work, we introduce the concept of 'institutional journey' to frame the process through which various technologies gain legitimacy, depending on a set of actors, actions, and the technology fit-or-stretch with regard to user practices and established institutions within the automobile sector. Our study demonstrates that the coexistence of various technological approaches is both a key characteristic and a driver of EU-wide transition toward electromobility, fostering the engagement of users, businesses, and policymakers alike.

This paper makes a significant contribution to the research on sustainability transitions at the European Union scale, an issue that has thus far been largely overlooked by the research community.


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