It was a surprise to read the comments made by Carlos Ghosn earlier this week as quoted in the FT. Ghosn is the MD of Nissan and probably the most outspoken supporter of electric cars there is. Revealing that the company is five years behind on its EV sales targets he puts much of the blame on the lack of public charging points:
“I don’t think the main issue today is the cost of the car. The main issue is infrastructure. It is normal. I would not buy a gasoline car if there were no gasoline stations.”
But while drivers of petrol and diesel cars cannot do without road-side fuelling stations, the majority of potential EV owners could, thanks to home charging. Given that approximately two-thirds (17 million) of British households have off-street parking this creates as big a potential mass market as anyone could wish for.
Home charging, and perhaps workplace charging, is the way to go for at least two, really important points:
- The cars are parked for long periods of time and can thus be safely charged on a slow charger which is much better for the batteries than quick or certainly rapid charging. This will protect the residual value of the cars, which is seen as a huge barrier to their uptake.
- The cars would be charged at night which is (a) cheaper (if people are on Economy 7 tariffs), (b) balances demand on the grid and (c) uses lower-carbon electricity.
Electric cars don’t need to, and arguably should not, be charged at public charging points unless of course potential users do not have access to off-street parking. But where that is case there is a strong argument to be made that these people shouldn’t be using electric cars in the first place, certainly not at this point in time, but non-plug-in hybrids which bring significant fuel, greenhouse gas and air pollution savings at a lower price than their pure-electric counterparts.
If they do need to be charged at places other than the point of origin (home) or destination (often work or the shops) – and the argument for some public charging infrastructure does have merit – putting slow on-street charging points in the ground simply doesn’t make sense. In some cases these have been installed in short-stay parking spaces. No comment.
Rapid chargers (30 kW or more) make sense on paper: they can recharge batteries up to 80% in 30 minutes or so. But even 30 minutes is not insignificant if the aim is purely to charge your car. Of course you don’t need to fully charge the vehicle; a ‘top-up’ would be fine. But even here quick chargers (7 kW) are more advisable as they cost less to install than rapid chargers, don’t cause nearly as many problems for the local grid in terms of power drawn, and won’t damage the batteries if used frequently.
Surely people who make electric cars should be talking up the practicality of their vehicles, not making excuses as to why they can’t shift them?
Here are some things to consider when pondering the practicality of an electric car:
- Have access to off-street parking, preferably a garage, where you can install a safe home-charging system?
- Is your daily journey less than the real-world range of an electric car which depending on how you drive is probably around 75 miles? The vast majority of daily trips in this country are well within that.
- Can you plan your trip to maximise the utility of your car? If and when you need to make a longer trip, hire a car. It will pay off because of the fuel savings you get from a fully electric vehicle.
- Can get an economy 7 tariff and charge at night (perhaps get a timer) because this is the cheapest time to do so? And by the way you’re doing something for the environment and air quality.