Social innovation might hold the key to accelerating the electric vehicle revolution

9 October 2020

Social innovation might hold the key to accelerating the electric vehicle revolution

By: Jed J. Cohen, Senior Expert for energy economics at the Energy Institute at Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria, @JedCohenEcon

To most people the ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma is nothing more than vaguely defined wordplay with no practical relevance. To SMARTEES’ scientists working on the problem of electric mobility uptake this common turn of phrase characterizes the major hurdle to large-scale electric vehicle adoption to perfection.

Drivers used to the convenience of traditional fueling are unlikely to go electric en masse until widespread, user friendly fast charging infrastructure exists. Companies looking to invest in charge points await a consistent flow of e-mobility users that would make new charging infrastructure profitable. One will not happen without the other, and breaking this stalemate would require expensive, large-scale investment in charging infrastructure or subsidies from public actors.

Social innovation may be the key to cracking this ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum. SMARTEES researchers recently published a peer-reviewed paper describing novel business models for community-financed, or shared, charge points. These social innovations would allow for the build-up of charging infrastructure to happen simultaneously with the adoption of electric vehicles.  Additionally, the concepts can empower households without the capital, or an appropriate parking space, to install a nearby charge point and enjoy the speed and convenience of private fast charging. The paper analyzes these concepts with survey data from over 3,000 Austrian households and elaborates on the potential grid and energy justice benefits that could be brought about by diffusion of these new business models.

A pillar of SMARTEES is to study and disseminate socially innovative solutions for sustainable urban mobility. With the ever-increasing share of low-carbon generation sources in the European electricity mix, increasing electric vehicle use from its current 1% market share[1] offers immense potential for Europeans to reduce GHG emissions, air and noise pollution.  The new business models suggested in this work might just be the means to unlocking this potential and accelerating the e-mobility revolution.

[1] ICCT (2017). European vehicle market statistics pocketbook 2017/18. Technical report, International Council on Clean Transportation

The potential for community financed electric vehicle charging infrastructure. (Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 88. 102541.) by "Azarova, V., Cohen, J., Kollman, A., and J. Reichl (2020)"


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 763912. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the SMARTEES project. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of the European Union.