Home Tech Electric Vehicles Charging Points in Focus: What about the roadside parker?

Charging Points in Focus: What about the roadside parker?

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Even though I don’t now own an electric car, I still have positive memories of my eighteen months with a Nissan Leaf. In almost all respects I actually enjoy the experience of driving an electric car more than in internal-combustion-engined vehicle. It’s just so smooth and effortless; and even the Leaf gave the impression of vivid acceleration and effortless performance. I can only imagine the experience of piloting a Tesla or one of the forthcoming Porsche electric cars.

  Is it a car, is it a toytown trolley bus? But this makeshift charging arrangement for electric cars is a non-starter. A massive investment in road-side charging stations will be necessary as countries move steadily from carbon fuels to electricity. This enterprising arrangement was snapped last week in Paris by David Young and published on John Shingleton
Is it a car, is it a toytown trolley bus? But this makeshift charging arrangement for electric cars is a non-starter. A massive investment in road-side charging stations will be necessary as countries move steadily from carbon fuels to electricity. This enterprising arrangement was snapped last week in Paris by David Young and published on John Shingleton’s The Rolling Road blog.

The big conundrum, though — as I wrote last July — is recharging the batteries and, of course, battery technology itself. The 2015 Leaf’s 85-mile range was derisory, and even the 150-mile range of more modern designs is still inadequate for most purposes. Unless you resign yourself to owning an electric car just for zipping around town, it’s more sensible to buy a petrol or diesel vehicle so you can tackle longer distances, even on occasion. Even if the call for longer distances is seldom, it is frustrating to know that a 200-mile journey in an electric car is fraught with ifs and buts.

Sure, most cars — including the Leaf — can be rapid charged to 80% of capacity within around 30 minutes. All things being well, this works; but the danger of not being able to find a charging station that is working and vacant is a constant worry. And the range advertised on the tin is never the real range. There always has to be a reserve. In the Leaf I was never happy travelling more than 30 or 35 miles from home unless there was a sure-fire charging opportunity at the other end of the journey. After 50 miles there is a constant nagging worry that it might not be possible to find a charging station before the juice runs out at 80 or 85 miles.

FlashBattery

  The fast-charging facility on Nissan Leafs and many other EVs ensures an 80% battery top-up in 30 minutes. But there is still angst about range and the possibility of finding a working charger than is vacant
The fast-charging facility on Nissan Leafs and many other EVs ensures an 80% battery top-up in 30 minutes. But there is still angst about range and the possibility of finding a working charger than is vacant

Recently there are signs of potential developments in battery technology. Mercedes is already dabbling with super-fast charging, investing in an Israeli start-up called StoreDot which is developing FlashBattery, a replacement for lithium Ion technology that could offer up to 300 miles on one charge. This is in direct contrast to the unsuccessful B-Class Mercedes Electric Drive car.

When I was in the market for a new car some six months ago I was offered a new B-Class EV at a ridiculously (and suspiciously low) price — by a Mercedes main dealer. The snag was that it didn’t offer even the sort of fast 30-minute charge of the humble Leaf. No, it would have been necessary to spend four hours over a leisurely Whopper and shake at every service station before continuing the journey. That, I thought, was a dealbreaker and I went out and bought a petrol-engined car instead.

However, with a more respectable range of, say, 250 miles and rapid charging in around ten minutes, the potential for electric traction would soon be fulfilled. This has to happen if governments around the world are able to ban the IC engine by 2030 or 2040. I am sure it will happen, but even then there are imponderables.

How do we charge the millions of cars that are parked by the roadside in front of their owners’ houses? Cables across the pavement or slung from upstairs windows and balconies aren’t the answer — see the accompanying photograph from Paris. It seems to me that the only solution is induction charging embedded in road surfaces or the installation of millions of charging pods along every urban street.

Whatever the solution, the infrastructure cost is potentially crippling. And, despite the current economy of driving an electric car, we will soon be paying through the nose. Once EVs become the norm, governments will need to tax them to the hilt in order to achieve the same income as they now gain from IC fuels, not to mention the need to recover infrastructure costs. In the end, the consumer pays. 

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13 COMMENTS

  1. This is an interesting topic and your posts on it have been informative, thanks. I’ve been thinking of replacing my ageing Skoda Fabia with a Nissan Leaf on lease hire. It would primarily be for my commute which is a steady 15 mile motorway trip each way. My employer uses a number of Leafs (Leaves?!) so we have charging points at work.

    I do wonder however whether a small plug-in hybrid car is the way forward. Having a tiny petrol engine to top up on longer trips seems the best compromise until that infrastructure you mention is in place.

    One thing I will never do again is buy a diesel car. Diesel is killing us and needs to be eliminated soon, in my opinion. I’m disgusted by the lack of concrete action over the emissions scandal, but don’t want to stray into political comment too much!

    It’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the next 10 years or so.

    Cheers,
    Don

    • Don, I can thoroughly recommend the Leaf. It is the only electric car I have driven for a long period but it performed admirably and was an absolute delight. It isn’t a luxury car, certainly not what you would expect for its list price. But you can pick up second-hand examples for very good money. A neighbour bought a one-year-old leaf with 3,000 miles on the clock for £11,000, well under half the cost new. Even now, electric cars tend to depreciate faster than IC.

      It all boils down to how far you drive. Your 15-mile commute is ideal for an electric car. And you would probably find it coping with 90% of your other journeys. The only snag is longer journeys. I was never happy relying on charging at motorway service stations after a couple of bad experiences and, frankly, the Leaf is best regarded as an exclusive short-distance vehicle. For round trips of up to 60 miles it is perfect.

      Hybrids are a good alternative but most of them have a very limited battery range of around 20 miles. They are also expensive. The BMW i3 Range Extender model with its 600 cc charger motor is an oddity and it will extend range as it says. But the petrol tank holds only 9 liters (from memory) and a long trip would involve frequent top ups. As I remember from reading tests, the charger engine isn’t sufficient to keep up with the power of normal driving. It’s just useful for topping up the battery.

      If I had a regular commute of up to 30 miles I would certaibky have an electric car. Apart from anything else, at the moment it is still possible to use domestic electricity which works out much cheaper than the highly-taxed IC fuels.

      Mike

      • In 1910 a round trip in a contemporary electric vehicle of between 60 and 80 miles was perfectly plausible mileage for one charge.

        Fast forward to 2017, and Mike states that a round trip of 60 miles is about perfect for a battery car.

        I think that Don will be wasting the next ten years if he is waiting for anything better, the technology has bumped up against one of those inconvenient facts, something to do with quarts and pint pots.

        • I didn’t say 60 miles was ideal. It clearly isn’t — and that’s the problem. The real range of electric cars is approximately 20 miles less than the advertised range since at 20 miles in reserve you have to seriously start looking for a charging point. Much angst attaches to this as I well know. People don’t think about this when signing up for an electric vehicle. They see 90 miles or 120 miles and in their mind’s eye this equates to a journey of 90/120 from home. Nothing could be further from the reality. And even rapid charging, the sort you get at motorway service stations, gives only 80% of that range. Much needs to be done.

  2. There is another related problem that everyone seems to ignore: the electric generation and distribution is not built to cope with mass deployments of electric vehicles.

    Fast charging a car takes a huge current draw, and if everyone in the street is doing it (and worse, doing it at similar times), basic things such as the cabling and substation infrastructure will not have enough capacity. And all the energy currently being distributed in the form of petrol will need to be replaced by bringing in new power stations and distribution.

    I think that electric cars are the future and a good thing, but I suspect that any mass roll out will be necessarily a lot slower than you might expect or hope for.

    • Why does moving the point of pollution out of sight make for a "good thing"?

      For a start, the generated power now has to begin an energy sapping journey along miles of copper and switchgear, merrily losing its energy as it goes.

      Secondly, in order to swap petrol/oil for electricity one would have to use a different fuel to those… How about the most polluting and dangerous substance within our gravitational field, uranium and its waste product (bomb fuel) plutonium? Yes, let’s give that to the politicians to manage… good idea.

      Not for this old git I am afraid.

      StephenJ

      • Of course you make a very good point here, Stephen. The green lobby is hoist on it’s own petard when it comes to electric vehicles. Since all that electricity has to be generated somewhere, to power all the vehicles on the road would need more than a few wind farms. If dirty fuels are now politically incorrect, the only alternative seems to be the even more incorrect nuclear generation. Frying pans and fires spring to mind.

      • It is not about moving it out of site, but moving it to somewhere that the pollution can be better dealt with. Aside from the potential use of “green” generating sources (wind, water, etc), in principle an electric power plant should be able to use economies of scale to reduce emissions.

        The catch, of course, is that by moving the generation further from the point of consumption you also have to deal with things like power loss in the distribution system. And while a large power station ought to be able to scrub emissions well, without proper laws commercial interest seems doomed to make that unlikely.

        There are also going to be downsides from the battery technology being used. I have not seen a good analysis, for example, of the practical effects or costs of high volume battery production and recycling in the event of electric cars going mainstream.

  3. Mike, I’m a little confused. We don’t have curbside gasoline fill-up now. If we can achieve a ten minute charging time (roughly equivalent to filling a gas tank), why exactly do we need so much infrastructure? Why wouldn’t we simply add electric charging station at existing gas stations. That is model being followed by long-haul trucking as they add compressed natural gas as a substitute for diesel.

    • Rudy, you are quite right in this. It’s a chicken and egg situation. If we can get down to 10 minutes charging time I agree there might be no need for kerbside charging. On the other hand, even ten minutes is a lot longer than filling up with fuel and, given the shorter range, we would need charging farms never mind filling stations. On the positive side, electricity is available everywhere whereas fuel must be stored safely at one location (the filling station). I could image charging points in all car parks, for instance. As ever, a solution will be found and it could be one that we haven’t even thought about.

  4. I saw an electric car parked charging at a street charging point about two weeks ago with a parking ticket on the windscreen. A mixed message from those who govern us?

    William

    • Thanks, Keith, I’ll have a look. As Mark Moore (below) says, a big problem is the lack of infrastructure to support mass charging of vehicles. As it happens I know a thing of two about that. I acquired my Leaf as part of a national survey to find out the effects of a cluster of vehicles situated within the catchment area of one electricity sub station. My neighbours and I were selected for one of the trials and we each got a Leaf (at a very advantageous lease cost). Right from the beginning the scheme fell on stony ground. Our local sub-station had to be rebuilt to cope with the demand and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the other locations had the same problems. National Grid was one of the sponsors of this experiment and I suspect some of their findings are based on our particular experience.

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