Taiwan’s EV Infrastructure Stuck in Neutral

Ever-cautious regulators aim to minimize risk, even if it comes at the expense of market opportunities.

Last year, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) announced plans to accelerate the integration of public charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). These plans are integral to a comprehensive strategy to achieve a 100% market share for emission-neutral passenger cars and motorcycles in Taiwan by 2040. 

To encourage electrification, the MOTC is allocating more than NT$1 billion to projects bolstering EV adoption through the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program. The ministry’s strategy includes installing 4,000 units of slow-charging stations and 400 units of fast-charging stations across Taiwan. Local governments and agencies under the MOTC will receive subsidies of up to NT$85,000 for each slow-charging connector installed and up to NT$210,000 for fast-charging installations. 

Among Taiwanese consumers, EVs are slowly becoming increasingly popular. At the end of June 2023, the MOTC reported 46,919 registered electric sedans (the most popular car type in Taiwan), more than double the 22,915 units reported a year earlier. Last year’s Taipei Auto Show also showed signs of a proliferating EV industry that’s expanding beyond the luxury segment, making electric cars more accessible to the average consumer. 

But despite these encouraging developments, EV adoption is dragging its feet in Taiwan. Between 2022 and 2023, the share of EVs grew from 4.5% of the total auto market to 6% – glacially slow progress toward a not-so-distant deadline.  

Noting this trend, Rahil Ansari, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Group Taiwan and managing director of Audi Taiwan, points to “range anxiety” as one of several reasons for drivers’ hesitancy toward EVs. “Taiwanese culture is very conservative and more risk averse. People want to have that security and a feeling of safety that they won’t run out of battery and have enough opportunities to charge.”  

Taiwan stretches approximately 394 km from north to south. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the range of most currently available EVs varies from 175 to over 480 km on one charge. With larger batteries and improved access to charging stations, most Taiwanese drivers don’t need to worry more about depleting their EV’s battery than they would about running out of gas. 

The growing complexity of networks of EV manufacturers and charging station operators is also complicating consumers’ appreciation of going electric. Charge point operators (CPOs) such as Fortune Electric, CHEM, HD Renewable Energy, Noodoe, SEEC, and YES Charging offer integrated services through their individual phone apps. This diversity forces drivers to download and use multiple apps for their day-to-day EV charging needs. 

To help overcome this challenge, some car brands are centralizing charging services. Volkswagen’s Ansari says both the Volkswagen and Audi apps enable users in Taiwan to charge at more than 500 locations. “We are one of the first and leading [brands] to offer this,” he says.   

Some CPOs have set up exclusive partnerships with specific EV manufacturers, making it difficult or even impossible for other manufacturers to establish an open and seamless charging system network. If the goal is to electrify Taiwan, liberalizing EV charging systems is imperative, Ansari says. “We don’t say it’s a one-brand ecosystem, and we encourage [other consumers] to utilize our facilities,” he says.  

Volkswagen’s Electrify Taiwan initiative aims to help the average consumer make the switch to electric as anxiety-free as possible.

Noodoe, a Taiwanese company providing high-reliability EV charging software and stations for private homes and hotels, is one group that has worked with Audi to bring EV charging right to the customer’s doorstep – or, more accurately, their parking space.  

“Our goal is to become the Windows system of the EV charging industry,” said Noodoe Founder and Chairman John Wang in an interview with Digi-Times. Noodoe’s EV operating system is an “open platform” that works with all kinds of EV charging facility providers. 

CPO software systems like Noodoe’s are the brains of chargers, responsible for processing payments, power distribution at peak demand periods, and helping customers find the nearest charging station.  

Another challenge of EV adoption and modern driving is cybersecurity. Today’s cars contain about 100 million lines of software code – a significant cybersecurity risk that threatens vehicle safety and consumer privacy.  

In Taiwan, the MOTC and relevant authorities have yet to fully align with UN regulations on cybersecurity (R155) and software updates (R156). However, there’s been increasing cooperation and commitment to preventing breaches in cybersecurity.  

In May 2023, the MOTC announced the signing of three memorandums of understanding on EV development, one of which was with RAC Electric Vehicles, a Taiwanese manufacturer specializing in public EV buses. Since then, several major brands have signed trial orders or MOUs with major U.S. businesses, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs.  

Regulatory barriers 

With a harmonized system for ease of use and specific measures to fortify cybersecurity in place, consumers would be more willing to switch to electric if they could install their own personal slow-charging wall box for at-home use.  

“Nothing compares to the convenience of charging your EV at home in your own parking space,” says Fan Ping-fu, Head of Government Affairs at Tesla Taiwan. Tesla has been a major catalyst in Taiwan’s EV adoption and a provider of EV knowledge and expertise for the region.   

In Taiwan, installing an EV charger at home is easier said than done. “If you’re a tenant in a building, you then basically need the entire community’s permission to be in a position to set up a wall box,” says Volkswagen’s Ansari.  

Obstacles persist due to rejections from the building management committee or homeowner association, often stemming from concerns about EV safety that Fan posits hold no merit. 

Fan further notes that while the Ministry of Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency has regulations in the building construction rules mandating new buildings to allocate spaces for home-charging infrastructure, details such as the adequacy of reserved space to equip all parking spots with EV chargers remain unclear. This lack of specificity has led to power reservations in some new buildings that only support charging capabilities for a portion of the parking spaces, limiting the future expansion of EV charging needs, he says. 

There’s a noticeable misalignment with the government’s goal of 100% EV sales by 2040 when it comes to the involvement of building developers who aren’t considering future EV lifestyles.  

“For existing buildings, most face limitations or high costs for power capacity upgrades to convert existing parking spaces into one with an EV charger,” says Fan, adding that this is deterring both residents and management committees. He suggests that government intervention through policies or subsidies to gradually assist in upgrading existing buildings, similar to practices in Hong Kong, would help Taiwan’s transition. 

Powering up 

EVs are part of Taiwan’s push for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Although studies show that driving an EV is better for the climate than a conventional petrol car in 95% of the world, the real climate potential for EVs won’t be reached in Taiwan until it greens its energy supply. As of 2023, a staggering 83% of the country’s total energy mix came from fossil fuels. Coal represented more than 40% of the total energy mix. 

Another issue is energy sufficiency. “There are expected to be 519,000 EVs on the road in 2030, consuming about 1.2 billion kilowatt hours each year,” Edwin Liu, president of the Industrial Technology Research Institute, said during an industry seminar in 2022. “With EV sales growing rapidly, Taiwan should build a resilient power grid given that the vehicles are likely to create a massive demand for electricity.” 

For the state-owned Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), Taiwan’s sole electricity entity, energy distribution and management continue to prove challenging. Challenge Industrial Co. (CIC), a leading company in Taiwan’s power and electronic metering industries, offers ideas for improvement. 

“Crucially, the installation process necessitates power system upgrades (i.e. increasing the electrical capacity of the circuits), particularly in residential areas,” says CIC, which has successfully implemented approximately 800 EV chargers across Taiwan.  

In September 2022, Taipower announced its Grid Resilience Strengthening Construction Plan, aiming to decentralize Taiwan’s grid after three island-wide blackouts had occurred earlier in the year. The plan includes the deployment of microgrids to replace major grids for electricity supply, Taipower’s Acting Chairman Tseng Wen-sheng told media at the time.  

Microgrids offer enhanced resilience, efficiency, and flexibility in electricity distribution. They also improve reliability by operating independently during grid failures, reduce energy losses, facilitate customized energy solutions, and lower costs. Taipower’s total microgrid investment of NT$565 million would come in installments over 10 years, Tseng said. However, not much has been reported on the plan’s current progress. 

Another significant challenge is that dedicated circuits and meters for EV charging lack unified installation standards and processes in Taiwan, says CIC. “We encourage streamlining the application processes for these installations to facilitate wider adoption of safe, metered EV charging solutions for residences.” 

AmCham Taiwan committees also identified this lack of streamlining as a priority issue in the 2023 Taiwan White Paper, noting that Taipower requires all private charging facilities to be approved before installation and inspected after installation is completed.  

According to the White Paper, “Taipower’s lack of standardized documentation and requirements for private charging installations, as well as an inefficient inspection process, have contributed to the slowdown of EV adoption.” AmCham’s 2024 White Paper will hopefully reveal improvements on this front.

Charging, Fast and Slow 

The decision to use slow or fast charging for EVs hinges on factors such as charging time needs, driving habits, and the availability of infrastructure. Slow charging, which is less complex, suits situations where a parked EV can be charged over extended periods, such as overnight at home, or during the day in office, hotel, or parking lot settings. Fast charging systems, essential for rapidly replenishing EV batteries along highways or in densely populated urban areas, require significant electrical infrastructure upgrades to handle the higher power levels. 

For a connector to be considered “fast charging,” power outputs must range between 50 kW and 350 kW. While many EVs can use fast charging systems, they are not needed to operate any commercial vehicle currently on the market. The luxury of a fast charger is even reflected in the capacity of specific models – the Tesla Model S Plaid accepts up to 250 kW, the Porsche Taycan supports up to 270 kW, and the Lucid Air is designed for fast charging rates of up to 300 kW.  

A search on the online EV charging station map Electromaps shows that 40 registered areas across Taiwan have access to fast-charging stations with outputs of 50 kW to 100 kW – none of the 40 locations exceeds these charge powers.