You know, the more I hear about the charging infrastructure that is being built in the UK by the Plugged in Places schemes the more I despair. It seems to me that the Plugged in Places projects are being run by people that have never owned an EV (Electric vehicle) in their life. Nor have they properly consulted those that have.
Ask anyone what is needed and you will get pretty much the same answer from almost everyone you meet… cars with longer range, faster charging, more places to charge. So, Plugged in Places is supporting the last of these by providing government backed funding for the installation of charging stations. There are already hundreds of charging stations in most of the Plugged in Places locations funded, at least in part, by tax payer’s money… our money.
Sure, more charging stations must be a good thing right? After all, the more places there are to charge the more we can use our EVs and the more people will buy EVs in the future right?
Well, as usual… it isn’t that simple.
The first generation of EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-Miev, have two ways to charge… the slow way and the fast way.
The slow way uses normal 240V AC power from the grid and so it is easy and cheap to provide a charging station to charge the slow way.
The fast way uses 3-phase power and requires an expensive charging unit and so it is expensive to provide a charging station to charge the fast way.
Now, this is where it gets more involved… Plugged in Places are installing mostly slow charging stations. They are generally posts that contain a 13A socket or more increasingly a 32A Mennekes socket. These are relatively cheap to install and so a lot of them can be installed around urban areas and this is precisely what Plugged in Places has done. They have installed hundreds of these slow charging posts. Now this is the rub… charging with a slow charging post adds just 10-15 miles for each hour of charging.
Given that most people charge up their EV at home overnight it seems rather unnecessary to have a lot of slow charging stations in cities. Most people will charge up overnight and drive from their home either to work or just around the home area. If driving to work they will almost certainly have the power to drive home again or they will charge at work. If staying at home they will drive to local shops, schools etc and still have plenty of power to get home again. Slow charging is just not necessary in the vast majority of cases.
I have no idea who Plugged in Places imagine are going to use all these slow charging posts? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the vast majority of them are never, and I mean never, used.
Now I am not saying that slow charging is not necessary. There are times and places where it is highly appropriate. Places where the car is going to be parked for many hours at a time or overnight. Places such as workplaces, hotels and B&Bs. Large shopping centres perhaps (where all-day shopping is common), places of entertainment such as theme parks, parking at beaches and railway stations. In fact, anywhere where the car will generally be parked for 5 hours or more.
Unfortunately what is happening is the complete opposite. Slow charging posts are being installed almost exclusively where people Don’t stay for long. Normal car parks and street parking are the worst examples. Not only are their locations not appropriate for slow charging but they more often than not impose parking time restrictions typically of 2 hours. With slow charging at 10A (typical of todays EVs) a 2 hour charge will add less than 20 miles to the range. Not particularly useful. Not only that but they are at locations where a typical EV driver wouldn’t need to charge at all because they will almost always have left home with sufficient power to get back home again.
If you are going to have slow charging at all then to have any kind of parking limit makes the charging station of very limited use.
This is a ridiculous situation that really should stop. I believe that all the Plugged in Places projects should stop installing slow charging stations immediately and take stock. They should be asking themselves are they installing them in places where they will be used? I think that in a lot of cases the answer to that is no. They should only install slow charging stations in places that are likely to result in them being used and that primarily means where they are left parks for 5+ hours at a time.
There is a second good reason to have on-street slow charging and that is to provide a charging facility to people that have to park overnight on the street (i.e. if they have no off-street private parking). The problem is that many of these slow charging have parking restrictions (as mentioned above) or have timing limits on them with a limit of 2 hours charging in any one go. They clearly have not been installed with on-street overnight parking in mind. What the solution to on-street overnight charging actually is I don’t know.
This brings me on to the fast way of charging and that is using fast chargers. The current generation of EVs such as the Nissan Leaf use DC fast chargers that use the CHAdeMO standard. These chargers can cost many times that of a slow charging station and so very few of them have been installed. The real tragedy is that it is fast chargers that EV drivers need to extend the range of their car so it can be used for longer trips. A fast charger will charge a Nissan Leaf to 80% in under 30 mins and to full in under an hour and so with a network of fast chargers strategically positioned on the motorway network and major routes it would be easily possible to drive a Nissan Leaf anywhere nationwide without it taking very much longer over the time it would take in an ICE (Internal Combustion Engined car). However, there are precious few elsewhere and given the huge benefit that fast chargers bring to EV ownership this is a major shortcoming.
If the government is serious about encouraging EV take up it has to make EV use as close to ICE use as possible and that means being able to use your EV for all trips that you could do in your ICE. That is only possible with fast charging.
One reason I have heard as to why the installation of fast chargers is not as rapid as they should be is that there are multiple standards for EV fast charging. This first generation uses CHAdeMO but there are other EVs due to be launched next year which use a different standard. Why should anyone install an expensive CHAdeMO charger when the more accepted standard might turn out to be something else. This is actually no argument at all. It is quite possible to install a CHAdeMO charging unit that also has the capability to include other standards such as the IEC 62196-2 standard which has been adopted by the government. That way both the current and future generations can be catered for. This seems the more sensible option rather than waiting to install at all.
So, come on all you Plugged in Places projects… stop installing slow charging posts in places where no one will use them and start installing a few fast charging units in sensible places on main routes and motorways and release the EV owner from a life of local driving and show that EVs can be a viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars. Slow posts won’t do that no matter how many you install… fast charging units will.