Oh No! Not More Slow Chargers – PLEASE!

There is a lot of discussion right now about public charging points. The government, in its EV strategy document, made the point that a “charge point on every corner” was not necessary nor cost effective. It was announce recently that Source East, as part of the Plugged in PLaces initiative, will be installing 1,200 public charging points in the East of England by March 2013. On the surface this sounds great news but is it really such good news?

There seems to be a huge thrust in the regions covered by Plugged in Places to make good use of the government grants available to install charging points. In fact, I hear, almost daily at the moment, that some scheme or other is installing charging posts often in there hundreds or even thousands. Although they are installing a handful of fast chargers (about 6 or 7 if I read it right) the vast majority are 13A slow charging points or 32A rapid charging points. The fastest these slow chargers can charge a car is at about 10 miles per hour of charging and 30 miles per hour charging for the rapid charging points . Yes, they are often of benefit where a car is going to be left plugged in for many hours but these kinds of points are completely useless for long journeys.

There is an argument for slow charging only where cars are left for long periods. Hotels are the obvious example as are workplaces. You could argue that restaurants, shopping centres and town centre car parks are also places where cars are often left for hours at a time but this is more tenuous. The other rational for on-street parking posts is in locations where there is a significant number of dwellings without off-street parking. In places such as that the only option for residents might be charging on the street. However, this is rather negated by the general trend that is emerging at on-street charging points of limiting charging to or parking to 3 hours… barely long enough to 1/3 charge most of the current breed of EVs (electric vehicles).

The amounts of money being spent on this slow charging infrastructure is huge. In the Source East project alone over £7m is being spent and nearly all of it on slow charging points.

This whole situation is very upsetting to me. As a EV owner myself (Nissan Leaf) I know that the vast majority of my charging will be done at home overnight. I accept that for many that don’t have off-street parking this is not possible and other solutions must be developed for them. However, even for them, once I leave my home in the morning it is unlikely that I will need to charge again that day until I return home again. So I completely fail to see the need for all these slow charging points that are being installed. I do accept that on the odd occasion I might do a few more miles than normal or drive that bit further and need a quick top up of just a few miles to get me home but so far in 3+ months that has happened just twice and even then that could have been avoided if I had ensure my car was fully charged before leaving home!

So, you can see that with the exception of specific locations such as hotels, workplaces, restaurants, shopping centres and places where on-street charging is the only option, slow charging points are rarely needed.

The vast majority of people I speak to about EVs mention that the 100 mile range would be an issue for them. I have to agree that at first I thought it might be for me too. however, we all drive much less than we imagine and in over 3000 miles I have never “run out” nor even get close to it. It is true that with a 100 mile range that longer trips are difficult. There are few places in the country where I can “fast charge” and most of those are currently located in Nissan dealers and only available during their opening hours. Fast charging can charge my Nissan Leaf in 30 mins and if there were a UK network of fast chargers then it would turn my Nissan Leaf into a car that could be used sensibly for most journeys that I might want to make.

So why aren’t Source East and the other Plugged in Places locations installing useful fast chargers instead of hundreds or thousands of slow ones that will be largely unused? The barriers are 2-fold: standards and price.

The fast charger ports on the current breed of EVs require a special kind of fast charger. It is called CHAdeMO and it can charge a Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi i-Miev to 80% inside 30 mins and fully charge inside 45 mins. However, they cost over £25k and often a lot more when installation costs are included. Compare that with a slow charging point that can cost as little £100 for a simple installation at a restaurant or hotel up to just a few thousand for a street post. Clearly you can get a lot more slow chargers than fast chargers for a given budget and there lies the first big problem. There is a lot more political capital to be made out of installing £1,200 slow chargers rather than just a few fast chargers in spite of the slow chargers not really being needed and in spite of the fast chargers making a huge difference to the usability of EVs. Big number look good.

There is a second barrier to the installation of fast chargers that is that in this early stage of take up there is no real charging standards. There are several different standards for both slow and fast charging which really means there is no standard at all and so there is a reluctance to spend large sums on any charging infrastructure that might later turn out not to be the standard finally adopted by the industry. This is a real problem in these early stages. The first few EV models have CHAdeMO sockets and require an expensive CHAdeMO charger to fast charge. however, it is looking increasing likely that a different standard may well prevail in the long term and that is 3-phase AC charging. The two systems are incompatible and the current batch of EVs cannot use 3-phase AC charging. In fact, right now, there are no production EVs that use it. So what should we do? We need the fast chargers to make EVs viable for longer journeys and to change the public perception of EVs as city only runarounds and yet they cost £25k upwards and might only be around for this first phase of EV take up (say 10 years). Tell an company CEO that he must make a £25k investment in technology that will have a limited lifespan and probably not be used much in these early years and he will probably laugh.

Now to the real sad point of all this. I realise that this is an over-simplification of the numbers but it does highlight the point… £7m to install 1,200 charge points is about £5,800 per charge point (not unreasonable). As I have said, most of these will probably never be used or hardly ever used over the next 5-10 years. Why not consider the alternative: only install a few of these slow charging point in strategic locations where they will most likely be used and spend the rest on installing a fast charge network providing the greatest benefit to owners of the existing models? Let’s assume that those strategic posts take up £1m of the £7m (170 posts throughout the region) that would leave £6m for fast chargers – enough for 150 fast chargers at an average of £40k each. Why is this sad? Because we would only need a network of about 75 fast chargers, strategically located throughout the country, to provide a nationwide fast charge network allowing the current generation of EVs the travel throughout the country… the Source East project alone could fund a national CHAdeMO fast charger network and provide a useable slow charge network locally and save the government £3m!!! That is why it is sad.

I have use Source East as an example of what is happening through the 7 Plugged in Places regions. The same is happening in the other 6 regions and it is a criminal waste of public money. Not only that, but a national fast charge network has the potential to completely answer one of the biggest barriers to EV take up namely that they cannot be used for long journeys. If my proposed strategy was employed all of the plugged in Places regions then not only would we have an excellent national CHAdeMO fast charger network serving the current models of EVs but we would still have a excellent local network of slow chargers and there would be so much cash saved that the fast chat the CHAdeMO chargers might have a limited lifespan is negated completely because they could just be replaced when new standards evolved.

So, should I be happy that so many charging points are being installed? On the one hand yes, I am happy that something is being done but in all honestly I am appalled at how it is being done with so much wasted money being spent on slow charging infrastructure and so little money being spent on developing what EV drivers really want and need… a fast charge network for the UK.

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There is a charity called Zero Carbon World that is encouraging the installation of charging points throughout the UK. They are donor funded and provide the hardware to install a 32A, 16A and 13A charging station free of charge to any business that is prepared to pay for installation. This is a great opportunity for any business to install a EV charging station offering charging to your customers as an added-value service.

I believe that this is the best and natural way to provide slow charging infrastructure. Business-led initiatives like this will ensure that the slow charging infrastructure does get installed but without any public money being spent at all. Slow charging points can be installed anywhere there is a suitable power supply and are cheap to install. We do not need this huge public expenditure. The slow charging network will grow organically and it will naturally be installed where it can most benefit EV owners.

Public money should be spend on the high-capital area of national fast charging infrastructure where private businesses cannot financiall justify such huge investments but where there is the greatest benefit to EV owners now and encouraging the take up of EVs in the future.

If you would like a free EV charging station at your business or would like more information on Zero Carbon World go to www.zerocarbonworld.org/

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