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The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing


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César Martín-Gómez

Professor and researcher of the University of Navarra School of Architecture

Can electric cars be parked in public and private subway parking lots? A recent initiative by the German city of Kulmbach has banned electric vehicle users from leaving their cars in these spaces. And there is a reason for this.

In Spain, in Europe, there are tens of thousands of car park parking spaces associated with existing buildings. It is to be expected that a high percentage of them will be occupied in the coming years by electric vehicles. However, these spaces were designed to meet the fire protection requirements of combustion vehicles, not electric vehicles.

Although both manufacturers of electric vehicles and installers of charging points claim that these systems are very safe - and this is true - there are no perfect, infallible systems. Fires in electric motors have to be extinguished using different procedures to those of thermal motors, with all that this implies in terms of affecting the entire space of car park, and the physical structure of the building itself.

So is the measure implemented in Kulmbach excessive? Or put another way: what will happen when the number of electric vehicles in our cities increases by a factor of 100 or 1000? Purely statistically, accidents will multiply proportionally.

In this framework, almost a year ago - in plenary session of the Executive Council confinement - a study was presented at School of Architecture of the University of Navarra that already provided measures to improve the safety of electric vehicles in subway parking lots.

These included passive measures (such as increasing the distance between combustion and electric vehicles); active measures (including the installation of thermographic cameras); maintenance actions to prevent this subject of accidents (supervising the charging processes), and regulatory guidelines referring to the convenience of adapting the criteria of the US fire protection rules and regulations to the Spanish casuistry.

This study, which obviously requires additional research , does not propose complex or expensive measures. Quite the contrary: it details changes that we are in time to implement, in view of the momentum that this sector is going to experience and that may lead to the creation of new jobs work, as we have just learned after the recent news of the Government Consortium with group Volkswagen and Iberdrola to build an electric car battery plant in Spain.

It is evident that the electric mobility has a high added value for the automotive sector. Therefore, from the experience of more than twenty years of work and research in area of installations in buildings, we believe that new uses must involve new cross-cutting architectural responses that address multiple perspectives.

Citizens have the right, almost the duty, to use increasingly less polluting vehicles, whether hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel cell (the alternative that, personally, most convinces me, but that would be topic for another reflection).

Similarly, architects have a duty and responsibility, along with legislators, to ensure safety in buildings. Now is the time to develop safety plans for these new uses, before thousands, tens of thousands of charging points are installed inside buildings. If the competent authorities have any doubts about the relevance of doing so or not, let them ask the fire departments of our country about this issue. I am sure they have a lot to contribute.

After all, the implementation of electric vehicles is as urgent to contribute to the decarbonization of our cities as it is to maintain and improve the safety levels of citizens.

New technologies require implementing security with new measures. The old ones are not enough. The left hand proposes new things, the right hand must act accordingly.

Read the article in Las Provincias.