The European Commission's recently unveiled plan for cleaner fuels and lowered dependency on imported oil is counting on huge gains from natural gas and electric vehicles. While there are about one million natural gas-powered vehicles on European roads today, the number is expected to increase ten-fold by 2020. EVs are close behind, with millions expected to roll out during that same time period.

German company Mennekes, a maker of electric vehicle charger couplers, forecasts that there will be about eight million charging stations in Europe by 2020, and about 10 percent will be public chargers. For EVs to be widely accepted, the continent needs a uniform charging solution. But, until now, there have been two main types of charging points in Europe, meaning that a car traveling from country to country might not be able to recharge once it crosses the border.

On January 24, the Commission in Brussels approved a common European charging connector system. Mennekes' "Type 2" was declared a common standard for charging ports in Europe. It appears the decision was influenced by what's been going on in the market. In Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, the most widely used plug by far is Type 2, which now has official backing. You can read Mennekes' pamphlet on the plug here (PDF).

European carmakers are in agreement with US manufacturers that the way the Society of Automotive Engineers' combo standard, which integrates DC fast chargers with Level 2, is the right way to go. Neither groups is supporting the Japanese CHAdeMO fast charger, which is already available in vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i. At this stage, the SAE's combo standard just doesn't exist in Europe and, so, Mennekes' Type 2 is being adopted.

For Europe, the great unknown is how many charging stations will be installed in each country by 2020. The European Commission says that by that year, France should have 97,000 public charging stations, Germany should get 150,000, Italy needs 125,000 and the UK target is 122,000. It's not clear how these numbers were calculated and if they're realistic projections.