This article was written by Fred Piechoczek. All views and opinions are strictly his own.
Lord Copper has introduced a number of ideas on the subject of electric cars, which is of importance to us more widely than just with respect to the metals markets.
This article is about range anxiety, the real concern that would-be electric car users have of running out of juice and having to be trucked to the next charging point. I would like to give my perspective as a fully electric Tesla driver for the last five years, and then give it a twist.
Yes, I have suffered range anxiety. Starting a one hundred and eighty mile trip in Germany in the winter, I saw that I had used almost 20% of my battery charge after just twenty miles. The car’s batteries take time to reach optimum performance in very cold weather, taking fifteen minutes to warm up. As I cruised through snowy pine forests at sub-zero temperatures, I was also climbing into the hills, so that gravity played its role in further draining the juice. My destination, still one hundred and sixty miles away in Holland, looked unattainable at this rate of battery discharge.
Of course, once the battery was warm I found I had lost just ten miles of range during the warm up, and then coming down the other side of the hills, gravity gave back the latent energy stored during the climb. The electricity consumption fell and the miles sailed by. I did this trip a few times before becoming brave enough not to stop for extra charging on the way.
Charging at Home and Away
The reality of using the electric Tesla is very different from the above example. First of all, you charge at home at night (at a cost of less the two pence per mile on night electricity), so you always leave home with a full charge and a range of more than two hundred miles. This range easily covers regular use. The theoretical calculation is that, fully used every day, home charging could give almost one hundred thousand miles a year.
For longer journeys away from home, Tesla has a supercharger network covering main routes throughout Europe from northern Norway to southern Spain. The superchargers I use have eight to twenty charging stalls, so there has always been an empty stall available. The satellite navigation system calculates charging points and charging times when planning the route. Directed to a supercharger, you simply plug in and go for lunch or coffee. The car tells you how long you will need to charge and also sends a message to the phone when it is ready to continue the trip. Arguably, stopping for lunch during a thirty or forty minute charge should reduce travel anxiety, and it is certainly more civilised than filling at a motorway service station.
Superchargers in Europe are often in hotel car parks just off the motorway, a step up from the typical motorway service station. The Tesla charging is quick and has just become quicker with the Model 3, doubling the maximum rate of charge. Apart from planning charging stops for a trip, the system also monitors your charge and range and would warn you and point you to the nearest charger if you were to run low. The final point about charging is that you can charge from any electricity supply down to the domestic socket, albeit very slowly, so there are ways out of an extreme situation. The car recognises the power of the connection and charges accordingly. The charging cable can be equipped with the relevant plugs to match differing sources of supply – car charger, industrial and domestic sockets.
A Thought Experiment
Now let us try a thought experiment. Imagine we all drove electric cars, and someone invented the internal combustion engine. Range anxiety would raise its head. The petrol vehicle cannot refuel at home. Every time we need fuel we have to locate a petrol station. What if there is a queue at the petrol pump? This last is one of the most frequent queries I get about charging. I have never queued for electricity, but many is the time I have queued for petrol.
And of course, it is the case that petrol/diesel drivers face constant range issues. Not having the ability to fuel at home means fuel stops have to be planned in, always take time and are often inconvenient. Indeed, I have travelled with the eminent Lord Copper himself, where a less favourable route was chosen by reason of knowing the location of a petrol station. My own most extreme example of range anxiety with a petrol engine happened one Sunday in Austria. I probably had fuel to reach my destination (and a petrol station), but the next long tunnel challenged my range, so I turned around to search for an open petrol station through several villages off the main road. At times the country roads in France have created anxiety with, again on a Sunday, automated pumps that required locally issued cards. The point is that we have learned to overcome these anxieties, and have the belief that we can always go and get a can of petrol. How many of us have fetched a jerrycan and added petrol to our tank? Certainly not on the motorway.
Whence the Electricity?
Another subject that often arises is the power infrastructure to support a rise in electric vehicles. Herein lies a hidden benefit. Electricity generation has always faced the issue of peak hour usage, requiring the capacity to meet this level of demand, while then suffering the cost of shutting down generation for the remainder of the twenty four hour day. There is an opportunity to exploit this inefficiency by charging our electric cars at home at night. On my current tariff my night rate is just one fifth of my day rate, so the incentive is strong.
Ask the Chinese
Anyway, the Chinese build more new electricity generation capacity every year than the UK’s entire annual generation. I am sure they would be happy to build a few power plants if we ask them nicely. The French and Germans will happily run them for us, while we sip our afternoon tea.