The move away from internal combustion engines (ICEs) toward electric vehicles (EVs) is gaining governmental support in many nations. This summer, both Britain and France proposed making the sale of petrol or diesel-only cars illegal by 2040. The Morgan Stanley bank expects that f50 percent of the world’s vehicles – more than a billion – will be battery-powered by 2050. Owning and operating EVs will be no more expensive than ICE-powered cars thanks to falling battery costs.
How reliable is the charging infrastructure?
Based on driver surveys, there are considerable worries in the consumer market regarding just where and how long EV charging will take. Charging concerns rank just behind operating costs as the greatest barriers to going electric. Buyers need to be informed and reassured that the charging infrastructure will be able to support EVs before the “electric revolution” can get properly underway.
As noted above, cheaper high-capacity EV batteries are helping a great deal. The latest EV models routinely achieve ranges of 190 km or more. The new LEAF unveiled by Nissan on September 6th can reach up to 400 km between charges. The Model S from Tesla, launched in 2012, ranges up to 500 km. The company’s newer Model 3, intended for affordable mass market sales, achieves similar ranges.
With more and more consumer EV experience, it’s becoming clear that public charging facilities are not as critical as they might appear. Between the ability to charge vehicles in the home and the limited amount of daily driving most motorists actually do, mid-day charging will not often be required. The overwhelming majority of European drivers (80 percent of them) cover less than 100 km on a normal day. In Britain, the average daily distance driven is under 40 km. Even in America with its wide-open roads and vast distances, most drivers average roughly 70 km a day.
Network of supercharger stations to be built
Investments in charging infrastructure are coming from many sources: carmakers, governments, and energy providers. Improving charging times is a significant way for carmakers to distinguish their products from competitors. Tesla, for instance, is building a global network of 10,000 145KW “supercharger” stations. These facilities are capable of bringing an EV battery up to 80 percent charge in less than an hour. (Fast charging is currently limited by technology and cannot charge batteries completely.)
Other carmakers are getting into the game with similar charging networks. While the equipment is expensive, the drive to make EV charging competitive with ordinary fuel pump use is important. Nissan is already operating 4,000 fast charging stations around the world, and an automotive consortium comprising Daimler, Volkswagen, BMW, and Ford has announced its intention to install 400 public 350KW charging points in Europe. These will be capable of delivering a healthy charge (75 percent) to small vehicles in less than five minutes and a large vehicle in 12.
London to build 1,500 charge points
There are also national and local government initiatives to provide roadside charging resources to motorists who lack home charging facilities. London has committed to building 1,500 public charging points by 2020. The city is currently experimenting with delivering low-cost roadside charging by doubling up streetlights to serve as charging-points.
There are also extensive plans in the works for charging infrastructure provided by dedicated charging services. Chargepoint, a California-based firm that already operates more stations around the world than any other company, is aiming at workplace charging. According to Tom McGhie from HGV jobs provider Easy as HGV, employers could offer free charging to their workers for just a few thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and a modest electricity payment. Commercial ventures like Chargepoint are ideally positioned to deliver away-from-home charging as this niche has been somewhat neglected by carmakers and governments.
If anything slows the spread of EVs, it seems unlikely that the charging infrastructure will be a significant factor. In some thinkers’ opinions, future car parks will bristle with charging points and it will be liquid fuel dispensers that become hard to find. Range anxiety is likely to fade into the memories of older motorists along with “topping up the tank” at petrol stations.