Friday, December 9, 2011

Harmonizing Electric Vehicle Standards in the EU and US

by Michael Slana

Attending Professor Torsten H. Fransson's lecture on Implementing Clean Energy Goals in the EU, I was reminded of a public workshop I observed last spring while working in Brussels. The workshop was hosted by the US Department of Energy's Advisor on eVehicle Technologies, Keith Hardy, and his EU counterparts, and attended by a number of industry leaders. They discussed US-EU technical cooperation on electric vehicles and continuing efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to meet the climate, clean energy and oil dependency challenge through the use of innovative technologies.

The below video interview of Keith Hardy, hosted by the State Department's US-European Media Hub, explains some of the main talking points of the eVehicle workshop:

I found this workshop very interesting, particularly since I was not aware beforehand of any substantial US-EU cooperation in the area of electric vehicles. Those present emphasized that US-EU agreement on regulations and standards in general makes life much easier for manufacturers on both ends of the Atlantic, and in the electric vehicle context in particular this concurrence has the added bonus of speeding the development and adoption of electric vehicle technology in America and Europe. As Bloomberg quoted EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht as saying last June on this topic, agreement on joint rules will help the world's two largest economies “avoid moving into different directions and risk creating new market barriers.”

Another interesting point, emphasized at the conference and in reports on the subject, is that officials in both the US and EU agree on the benefits of sharing technology when it doesn’t adversely impact market competition. For instance, Mr. Hardy showed at the conference a standardized “smart meter” developed jointly in the US and EU that can be used in electric vehicles in all markets. This collaborative development would help accelerate the adoption and proliferation of electric vehicles, which in turn helps realize the general goal of both the US and EU to reduce dependence on petroleum.

Fortunately, the message I took from the workshop is that we don't really need to worry about harmonizing electric vehicle standards between the US and EU, given the degree of close cooperation that has already taken place. However, there was concern at the lack of agreement between the US and EU on one hand, and certain other countries (most importantly China) on the other. Part of this disconnect comes from the fact that while the government is the sole body behind creating standards in China, in the US and EU standards are followed voluntarily, and companies, rather than governments, take the lead in developing them (because, after all, it makes more sense to leave the development of industry standards to the experts, the manufacturers).

Overall, I feel that efforts to harmonize electric vehicle standards between the US and EU serve as a great example of the importance of the transatlantic relationship beyond the more commonly referenced policy areas, such as trade and security relations. And it is a collaboration that may well have a major impact on Americans and Europeans in speeding the adoption of electric vehicles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Slana is a political science graduate student in the Civic Leadership Program at the University of Illinois. He completed his bachelor’s degree with a major in political science and a minor in history. During his freshman, sophomore, and junior years he interned for Champaign County State Senator Michael Frerichs, with responsibilities including constituent service and correspondence. In spring 2009 Michael studied in Austria as a participant in the Vienna Diplomatic Program, where he developed a strong interest in European and Transatlantic politics. During his junior year Michael began contributing to research on the impact of natural disasters on societal stability through a class at the Cline Center, and has continued this work first as an hourly research employee and later as part of a graduate assistantship. To fulfill his Civic Leadership Program residency requirement, Michael completed an internship in spring 2011 with the US State Department’s Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.


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