In Madrid on February 15, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a proposal of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition which regulates the incentive program for efficient and sustainable mobility (MOVES Program). Unlike the previous two iterations and despite a plea from SEDIGAS, the Spanish natural gas association, for greater recognition of the role of renewable gas in reducing transport-related emissions, most natural gas vehicles have been excluded from the incentive scheme.
Royal Decree 72/2019 states: “Although plans to promote the demand for alternative energy vehicles, such as the MOVEA and MOVALT Plans, have encouraged the acquisition of LPG and NG light vehicles, the market situation, with a price equalization of these technologies with traditional combustion vehicles, coupled with a better use of public resources, means that in the present MOVES plan natural gas vehicle acquisition is not supported. However, it is recognised that these vehicles have a significant role in the transition period to a zero emissions fleet, especially with regard to pollution in cities.”
In one sense, this can be seen as a compliment for the natural gas vehicle industry in Spain, which the government says now stands on an equal footing with conventional players. But that is on price alone; Spain has about 14,300 natural gas vehicles compared to more than 27 million vehicles overall – from that perspective equalization is an unhelpful description. It fails to recognise that while great progress has been made, natural gas for transportation is still finding its feet in Spain. Furthermore, incentives are not about making vehicles cheaper, they are about building market mass and supporting fuel alternatives to drive down emissions.
The Decree says vehicles M1, N1, M2 and M3 powered by Natural Gas are excluded from the aid. Class N2 (light trucks or lorries) and N3 (trucks) vehicles powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), including bi-fuel and dual-fuel vehicles, are still eligible for support. However, the amount of funding set aside for that support has been drastically reduced.
Deeply Regrettable, says GASNAM
The Iberian Association of Natural Gas for Mobility (GASNAM) has expressed deep regret about the reduction by more than 80% of the aid that the MOVES Plan envisages for mobility with natural gas and considers that this measure represents an important disincentive for transport professionals who opt for the only real and efficient alternative for sustainable mobility.
In 2018, the MOVEA and MOVALT plans financed all types of natural gas vehicles with an allocation of more than 11 million euros, of which close to 10 million were destined for trucks, buses and vans. These plans were a sign of clear support from the Government to the professional transport sector for its ability to contribute to the improvement of air quality and the reduction of environmental impact.
GASNAM says the MOVES 2019 Plan will allocate between 0.9 and 2.2 million Euros for heavy duty natural gas vehicles, at best, leaving out the cars and vans that use this alternative fuel. This measure represents a drastic reduction in aid and significant damage to the professional passenger and freight transport sector, especially to the heavy goods vehicle which, at present, does not have a ‘sufficiently developed’ electrical alternative, as the ministry itself acknowledges in its press release. To replace 100 litres of diesel it would be necessary to use 3.5 tonnes of lithium batteries, which would make the operation of this type of transport impossible.
The effectiveness of a sustainable mobility plan requires support for those sectors that are capable of producing the greatest environmental benefit. Professional transport, due to its high utilization, represents a high percentage of fuel consumption and consequently of emissions.
Natural gas is an alternative fuel, as established by the European Commission in EC directive 94/2014 due to its ability to reduce emissions affecting health and can be of renewable origin so that when used in a vehicle the CO2 balance is equal to zero or even negative. It therefore is a solution to decarbonize the economy.
In addition, GASNAM notes, this fuel makes it possible to maintain competitiveness in all areas of professional transport that requires great autonomy, refuelling quickly and without the penalties on the payload involved in batteries.
The professional transport of passengers and goods is key to decarbonizing transport and improving air quality in cities and, therefore, aid schemes that seek environmental benefits must allocate the necessary funds so that the self-employed and entrepreneurs who are committed to sustainable transport have the incentives that allow them to opt for alternative fuels without losing performance.