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Malta will improve its EV infrastructure. Here is why this is more important than you think.

130 new electric car charging pillars across the country & 362 charging points.

Malta’s largest upgrade to its electric car infrastructure to date.

Lack of infrastructure hindered EVs' potential in the past and is still slowing today's uptake worldwide.

The Maltese government has made a commitment to making Malta carbon neutral by the end of 2050. The switch towards electric vehicles (EVs) will play a key role in achieving this goal. The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, Miriam Dalli, stated that she is committed to almost tripling the number of public charging pillars and charging points, in what can be seen as Malta’s largest upgrade to its electric car infrastructure to date. This is an important step in the national strategy towards the switch to electric. But why is this important?

Subsidising purchases of EVs will only do so much to get the country to move away from fossil fuel-powered cars. Not having the adequate infrastructure to support the shift may negate other efforts that are also taking place, including the EV subsidies. In fact, some American studies argue that insufficient infrastructure doomed the first electric cars.

EVs were a big threat to their petrol-powered counterparts in the early 1900s. In fact, electric cars almost equalled their competitors in numbers. Thomas Edison once said, "I believe that ultimately, the electric motor will be universally used for trucking in all large cities and that the electric automobile will be the family carriage of the future. All trucking must come to electricity.” Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, also wrote to a friend saying, “Within a year, I hope, we shall begin the manufacture of an electric automobile.”

Ads aimed at the affluent part of society promoted EVs’ cleanliness, ease of use and lack of exhaust. Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove an electric car and so did the First Lady at that time. However, it was internal combustion engines that ultimately won the day. The common narrative for the demise of EVs in the early 20th century was their limited range and higher cost relative to petrol-powered cars. However, a 2021 paper from the University of Lund considered various reasons for the petrol surge that occurred in 1900-1910 and suggested that it was the lack of infrastructure that hindered EVs' potential.

Cost is an unlikely factor, as petrol-powered cars and their electric counterparts were similarly priced. EVs, however, needed smooth roads, which reduced the jostling of heavy batteries, as well as ample electricity to run. These were abundant in cities, but less so in the outskirts. In areas without such capacity, petrol took the upper hand as the infrastructure for these cars already existed, mainly because most rural stores already stocked petrol for farm equipment.

As areas with a lack of infrastructure outweighed those with the capabilities to support electric vehicles, petrol-based vehicles could be mass produced. This meant that they became considerably cheaper and affordable, so much so that even drivers in developed areas chose to move away from electric vehicles. By the 1920s, EVs were a dying breed.

The Lund study also used a statistical model to predict how automotive history might have differed if the power grid and development of paved roads had developed faster. It found that if the amount of electricity America produced by 1922 had been available in 1902, 71% of car models in 1920 would have been EVs.

Now, 100 years later, the world has gone full circle. Edison wasn’t wrong when he imagined that the cars of the future would be electric. He was just a hundred years too early. Ford Motor Company announced that it would be 100% electric in Europe by 2030 and General Motors announced that it would no longer produce petroleum-powered cars by 2035. They join Volkswagen and Volvo, the latter of which were the first to move, announcing their plans to phase out fossil fuels back in 2017.

However, the infrastructure problem persists worldwide. The quantity and speed of charging stations still limits the purchase of EVs. This problem is global with governments across the world keen to make sure not to repeat past mistakes.

Malta has also joined this movement. Soon, there should be 130 new electric car charging pillars across the country, and together with the modernisation of existing charging pillars, there will be over 360 charging points. All these new public chargers will support ad-hoc and cross-border charging. Furthermore, all of this can be managed via an app Charge My Ride, compatible with both iOS and Android OS mobile phones. The app only requires a simple registration process and is designed to be user-friendly.

Improving infrastructure to support EVs is just as important as getting people to buy them in the first place. It is a chain that is as strong as its weakest link. These changes should be the positive first steps towards a greener and cleaner Malta.

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