Last week, Fred wrote about range anxiety from the point of view of a user of a pure electric car. I thought I’d explore that a little further, although I should point out that my cars are not pure electric, but hybrid, so on the whole, range anxiety doesn’t really come into play. (But it did once in the winter, driving from Devon to Shropshire. I knew I needed petrol but I rejected the service station in Hereford as it was on the wrong side of the road. As I drove north, with the electric power meter showing zero and the petrol gauge wobbling around the wrong side of zero, that was real, buttock-clenching range anxiety. It was dark, cold and pouring with rain, and the only thing I can usefully say is that there are no petrol stations between Hereford and Ludlow; you have been warned.)
There are two sides to the concern about range. The first lies in the vehicles themselves and the distance they can stretch on a full battery charge. That’s improving by leaps and bounds, as new cars come along - although, for the moment, getting realistically passed the three hundred mile range seems like the four minute mile must have done to Roger Bannister: he was confident he would finally do it, but the first time took a huge effort. The second issue is the availability of charging points, which is itself a combination of two things - absolute number and location. In other words, we need not only a good number but also a wide distribution.
The first point - the cars themselves - I’m not going to consider here; that’s a question mostly of battery technology, and we’ve written about that before. The second point, though, the number and availability of charging points, is where I have a nasty feeling the UK is slipping steadily behind many continental European countries, to say nothing of some Asian ones, although of those I can only point at hearsay.
The positive here should be that we are at the beginning of a technology, and don’t have to be hamstrung by past developments. We should theoretically be able to make the technology fit the environment, rather than shoehorn it in.
So: what are the consumers’ requirements for EV charging points? Well, charging takes longer than filling with petrol, so wouldn’t the best solution be to put them where drivers will leave their cars for a period of time? Obviously, that initially means at home, for overnight charging. That’s fine where houses have drives and space, but more difficult to do in fully urban environments. But it’s not only overnight.
Last weekend, I went to a wedding in Yorkshire. The actual ceremony was right in the centre of the city of York, and I know from many experience that York, because of its narrow streets and bars (gates) in the City Walls and tourist popularity can have nightmare traffic and inadequate car parking facilities (maybe because it is so low-lying with a river prone to flood, underground carparks don’t work?) Anyway, some while ago, the authorities established a park and ride scheme, designed to ease the problems in the centre, which by and large it has done. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘there’s bound to be plugs at the park and ride, so I can actually use it.’ But when I checked my phone apps, websites and satnav, nothing showed up, so I continued into the city centre and found a plug in a car park - one of very few.
But isn’t that a wasted opportunity? We should be thinking laterally, not just following the past. Instead of assuming that because conventional cars refuel at petrol stations and service areas, that’s where the plugs should be, the question the infrastructure designers should be asking is: ‘where do people park their cars for long enough to recharge them for the next part of the journey?’ Park and rides, restaurant and hotel car parks, train stations; these are what we should be looking at. Obviously, from a purely practical point of view, motorway service areas need to have chargers, but although some of the oil companies are moving in the right direction, chargers on petrol forecourts are frankly not a particularly appealing prospect. We are at a point where the infrastructure could be tailored to fit the future; it’s an opportunity that really shouldn’t go to waste. And it would have the added (huge) benefit of clearing the city centres of some of that grinding traffic which could be parked outside.
(Just to be absolutely accurate, I was subsequently told that there are in fact a few chargers, hidden away in the corners of some of the York park and rides; well, maybe they are taking a small step in the right direction, but I have a feeling we - the UK - may be letting this opportunity slip away…………..)