How, when and where a car can be charged, and how long it will take, depending on the sometimes bewildering variety of options, are naturally sources of apprehension for drivers considering the switch to an electric vehicle (EV). Not to mention the cost.
To understand fully, it’s important to begin with some of the finer details of EV charging. In a world where fast and rapid have very different meanings, it’s important to note “charging points range from slow or ‘trickle’ (3kW-5kW), to fast chargers (anything from 7kW to 22kW), to rapid (25-99kW) or ultra-rapid 100kW+. The difference in power delivery means your vehicle can be recharged anything between 12 hours down to 20 minutes”.
According to charging information website Zap-Map.com, there are more 30,000 connectors on over 17,000 devices in the UK today. In comparison, there are 8,385 conventional fuel outlets selling petrol and diesel.
The current understanding around charging points perpetuates two myths; there are not enough of them, and only drivers with a private driveway or garage, on which a 3kW or 7kW charging point can be installed, are sufficiently covered.
But what happens for the millions of residents without a driveway? Look at any new build listing outside of London and the developers proudly declare the property comes with its own parking space. Is that somewhere one can put a charging point? Does the electricity supply even go that far? Not in all cases. And what about the apartment dwellers, who are most likely to be the urbanites for whom an EV could be most advantageous?
Car makers and pro-EV commentators advocate the use of the increasing number of workplace charging points, i.e. charging during the day and parking on the street as usual at night. However, this model isn’t sustainable if uptake of EVs increases significantly, leaving employees vying for the limited number of charging points, or playing musical cars.
Some companies, such as Chargepoint, have come in with solutions to help workplaces and businesses, which are viable ‘destination’ charging places, such as hairdressers and cafes, where 22kW fast chargers are predominantly used. Chargepoint supplies and installs the charging equipment and gives the owner a software interface, enabling the business to become part of a larger network, take payment and control the availability of its points. Since some newer chargers have digital displays, businesses can also earn advertising revenues from their chargers.
On the residential side, local authorities are teaming up with companies such as CityEV, which converts standard lampposts into fast 7kW charging points. Brighton and Hove City Council has partnered to create the Electric Blue initiative, pulling together CityEV, Siemens, Schneider and ElectrAssure to form a local network for Brighton residents of 207 lamppost chargers as well as four rapid charging hubs for taxis.
Doug Watson of CityEV says “People without driveways need an alternative if we’re going to reach zero carbon. It’s imperative that we make it simple.” The CityEV smartbox on the lamppost takes mobile payment via the app or a credit card. Watson explains that residents living in terraced streets can’t be left just with slow charging points, stressing the need for a mix of slow, fast, rapid and ultra-fast.
Tom Callow, of BP Chargemaster, echoes these sentiments: “A blended approach is key. We say ‘different speeds for different needs’.”
No surprises then, that in listening to the experts, London Mayor Sadiq Khan opened London’t first rapid charging hub at the start of the year. The first of five planned hubs, the six ultra-fast chargers offer a 20-minute top-up –coincidentally, the maximum period of the free parking allowance. This kind of hub is useful for taxi drivers, along with other fleet vehicles relying on getting around the city efficiently and cleanly.
Callow explains: “The issue in London [specifically] is a land issue. It’s so expensive. Car parks are the most convenient locations to install charging points, as there’s a match in requirements, such as available space, average dwell-time, et cetera.”
When asked how these spaces will work when demand outstrips supply, Callow points to The Grove Hotel in Watford, which has a human valet service to move your vehicle once it’s finished charging and place the next guest’s EV on charge. However, he doesn’t believe this would be widespread, since such a service requires additional space for the vehicle to be moved to. Currently, the disincentive to abandoning one’s car for hours on end while connected to the charge point unnecessarily is a hefty ‘overstay fee’.
In China, hubs have proven very successful. Unlike potentially dangerous forecourt charging – forced by regulation rolled out this year – purpose-built hubs create a safer, more convenient waiting environment, with business meetings, charging points and lounge areas. What’s more, by the time they’ve arrived, the 2014 EU Directive on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure will have ensured that continued friction, such as different networks operating with different Radio Frequency Identification (RFID, or contactless) cards on different tariffs, will be a distant memory.
Our latest EV network experience, testing the 280-mile Kia e-Niro between the North-East and Midlands, demonstrated persistent shortfalls in the network – namely, not enough of the correct “type” of connector and not enough in operation (somewhat ironically, forcing us to find a working one in Coventry city centre).
It seems such changes can’t come soon enough.
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