The latest sector inquiry, which was launched in November 2021 (see AFCA’s press release of 16 November 2021), examined the public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EV) in Austria from a competition point of view. This means public charge points that offer electric power as an alternative form of fuel.
The Austrian Federal Government has committed itself to markedly reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of its climate and energy strategy. This strategy is based on several European Union initiatives, which should be implemented by 2030 or 2050. Since a significant portion of total greenhouse gas emissions is due to road transport, this type of target can only be reached if the number of petrol and diesel cars is reduced accordingly.
There is a move towards electric vehicles at the current time. To support this transformation, one of the biggest challenge in transitioning from fossil fuel to electric cars needs to be tackled: building up an efficient and secure charging infrastructure across the whole country and increasing grid capacity.
Focus of the sector inquiry
The sector inquiry only looked into the public charging infrastructure. Private charge points have not been taken into account.
Extensive market analysis with 68% response rate
The results of the sector inquiry are based on interviews with market participants, academic studies, relevant publications and in-depth discussions with stakeholders such as companies, interest groups, institutions and authorities.
In the course of this extensive market survey, the AFCA sent requests for information to 260 participants in the electric mobility market in May 2022, with 68% responding to these requests. The respondents were all companies that are included as charge point operators in E‑Control’s relevant register. At the time of the market survey being sent out, the register listed 13,441 public charge points in Austria. Responses to the requests covered 11,573 of these, which equates to around 86% of all public charge points in Austria.
The Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC) also asked its members for their opinions on electric mobility issues; the AFCA was involved and informed of the findings. One of the key answers given was that the majority of EV drivers use private charge points. About one third of EV drivers in towns and cities depend on public charge points. It is expected that this dependency will increase as the number of electric vehicles grows.
Country comparison: Austria, Germany and Netherlands
With e-mobility developments being an issue for all Member States of the European Union, one section of the survey was dedicated to a comparison of Austria’s legal situation with the situation in Germany and the Netherlands. These two countries were selected because of their leading role in the field of electric charging infrastructure within the EU. To cover the charging needs of the Austrian population, some 30,000 charge points would have to be rolled out by 2030.
With the EV transformation ongoing, the AFCA wanted to gain an early overview of the current state of the market and its players in order to be able to tackle potential future competition issues. The results of AFCA’s survey and its recommendations can also be used as a basis for a political and regulatory debate about the market’s further development. The AFCA conducted this sector inquiry to point out potential competition challenges in relation to the EV charging sector and thereby help to put in place the infrastructure that Austria needs.
Conclusions from a competition perspective
Market position of energy providers – risk of distortions of competition
At present, the public charging infrastructure is mostly delivered by public energy providers, which are operating under private law. Since these energy providers are directly owned by municipalities, which are also in charge of allocating spaces for the installation of charge points, non-discriminatory access to these spaces for all charge point operators is critically important. To ensure long-term competition, decision-makers need to make sure that a diverse range of providers can operate at local level.
Energy companies providing both domestic energy in a liberalised market and publicly accessible charge points dominate the public charge point market, which might lead to anti-competitive conduct. In cases where EV drivers are dependent on certain providers due to local monopolies, a bundling or coupling of charge cards and domestic energy could result in competition being distorted. The AFCA will closely monitor the market in this regard and look into any reasonable concerns regarding suspected breaches of cartel law.
Charging tariffs not transparent
The evaluation of the market survey revealed barriers to properly functioning competition in the market for EV charge points. Accordingly, there is little transparency surrounding charging tariffs, making gaining an overview or comparisons difficult.
The payment options suggested in the proposal for a Regulation (COM(2021) 559 final) should guarantee diversity, which should ensure that there is lively competition with no barriers to market entry.
This also includes ad hoc payment methods, availability of which should be mandatory. These are important aspects in terms of enabling consumers to compare offerings and make a choice. At the same time, this should boost competition for consumers.
The AFCA has compiled a number of recommendations for competition, which should reflect non-discrimination and help ensure fair competition in Austria in this important area:
- Transparency in relation to prices, energy provision and charging time
Transparency is essential for consumers and must be guaranteed. Consumers should be able to understand where the energy for a charging infrastructure comes from and how it is billed. Charging options should be available according to consumers’ individual needs. This concerns both ad hoc charging options or payment measured in kilowatt-hours (for example by displaying prices in kWh). To reach this goal, providers need to engage in fair competition. The same applies to roaming costs. As with the mobile phone market, roaming costs are transparent if consumers are informed of any related costs while at the charge point and before using the charging service.
- Federal grants and non-discrimination
A policy of federal grants appears to be a suitable means of achieving the planned goals at this time. Given the tendency for concentration on the market, the award of grants should take account of the need for sufficient competition among existing and new market participants. In relation to non-discrimination, action should be taken to counter any distortions of competition in terms of providers.
- Promotion of local competition
The AFCA recommends that lawmakers work on a strategy to promote small and micro charge point operators as a way of boosting local competition. In this context it is important to draw up specific parameters for competition, to enable non-discriminatory access to navigation services and comparison platforms, and to promote innovative projects and business models at local level.
- Guaranteeing a choice of providers at municipal level
The recommendation for municipalities is to ensure a diverse local mix of providers of public charge points, particularly with regard to the allocation of municipal spaces for charge points. A local mix is conducive to competition, in relation to prices and quality, which benefits consumers.
- Avoiding regional concentration
From a competition perspective, it is recommended that (provincial) energy providers engage more strongly in active and relevant competition in relation to public charge points beyond their provincial borders.
- Increased compliance with cartel law
Dominant companies offering product bundles that combine charging cards with domestic energy, for example, might distort competition. When designing these products, energy providers should apply pre-emptive, strict compliance measures to avoid even the semblance of suspicion that cartel law is being breached.
- Roll-out of fast-charging points
To ensure the goal of greater EV ranges and a wider range of offers, rolling out fast-charging points along the main transport routes such as motorways should be a priority. Of particular importance for EV drivers who depend on fast-charging points along those routes are fair prices at service areas with charge points.
- Standardised billing
The Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying (BEV) should issue a regulation on the calibration of electric tariff devices to measure electrical energy at charge points. This should guarantee that customers will soon be able to opt for usage-based billing of electricity at any publicly accessible charge point.
- Tariff and price monitoring
The AFCA welcomes the approach suggested by E-Control and the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK) to require tariffs for ad hoc charging to be included in E-Control’s register of charge points. Additionally, an evaluation should be carried out in future as to whether dynamic pricing and price discrimination pose a risk to consumers. Currently, the AFCA does not see such a risk with the commonly used fixed-price cards.
- Competition of regulatory approaches
If pro-competition measures do not have the desired effect and market concentration intensifies, an option of last resort might be to completely overhaul the electricity charging business and enable free competition for publicly accessible charging facilities on the basis of competing offers from charge point operators. This would be in line with the approach suggested by the German Monopolies Commission in its 7th Sector Report Energy. Alternatively, the charging infrastructure could be opened up to different energy providers. This would make the market comparable with that for domestic energy, with competition likely to lead to individual switching options similar to those currently available in the domestic energy market.
“Fair and diverse competition makes electric mobility more attractive for consumers. It makes electric mobility more transparent and more readily available, and it comes with more options and lower prices,” explains interim Director General Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch.
Roaming and tariff calculator
The proposed European Regulation also deals with roaming services, which appear particularly relevant to competition. Roaming enables consumers to enjoy cross-border electric mobility, similar to the benefits of roaming in the mobile phone market. However, given the lack of transparency there is a risk that consumers will not have access to full comparability. It therefore seems expedient to fully include roaming costs in any charging tariff calculator planned for the future.
“E-Control has always held the view that price transparency and comparability are key for a functioning market. They allow customers to make sound decisions. E-Control therefore decided to expand its services. In addition to our tariff calculator for domestic energy, we are soon going to offer a charging tariff calculator alongside our charge point register. Customers will be able to get price and contract information for different charging options according to their own driving and charging habits,” reveals Wolfgang Urbantschitsch, Executive Director of E-Control Austria.
The report on AFCA’s sector inquiry into EV charging infrastructure can be downloaded (in German) from the following link. An English version will be provided at a later date.