• Government wants electric cars
• Charging becoming more standardised
• EV city living
• Planning longer EV journeys
• UK charging landscape evolves
If the TV ads are anything to go by, the electric vehicle (EV) is not only here to stay, but is our future. Certainly, the UK Government is committed to greener motoring – which has to be a good thing – and its prevailing thinking is that electrification is the way forward.
Currently, around one in 20 cars sold in the UK is fully electric and just about every vehicle manufacturer (VM) is aiming to introduce electric cars throughout their range in the next five years. Understandably, there is nervousness about going electric, but what are the practicalities of living with an electric car for its most essential requirement: charging?
There are three main types of EV charging – rapid, fast, and slow. These equate to the power output and thus the charging speeds, available at any charging point. Power is measured in kilowatts (kW) and a rapid charge will be anywhere between 100(kW) and 40(kW), a fast charge will be between about 22 (kW) and 7(kW) and a slow charge anything below that.
A significant progress point with electric cars over the past few years is that the charging connectors have become, to all intents and purposes, standardised. The Type 2/CCS charging connector is becoming the standard so, going forward, just about every new car sold will carry one of these units. Therefore, whether you run a Tesla or a Renault Zoe, the connector looks the same. Some, like the current generation Nissan Leaf, also have an alternative, fast charge connector.
For city living the electric car has much to be said for it. There is no car tax and in London, the car is not subject to the congestion charge and parking in many areas is at favourable rates. The big savings should come in terms of what you pay to ‘fill up your car’ compared to cars with a conventional engine.
Like conventional cars, however, the cost of ‘filling up’ depends on the car itself and also where you choose to recharge, but your cost per mile might well be between 30 and 40% less.
For general, day to day use, charging your electric car at home is often the most convenient and cost-effective solution – especially if you use off-peak electricity. Off-street parking isn’t available to everyone, however, and for those without a driveway or somewhere obvious to install a home charging point, on-street electric car charging offers a solution. Numbers of urban street charging points are steadily increasing, but even with this, it is still common to find someone has beaten you to it and, in a residential street, this could mean a long wait.
City driving is when electric cars really come into their own. Slow speed motoring, with regular braking (which helps regenerate energy, as Formula 1 cars have done for some years) is likely to give you the longest range.
So, what it’s like when you want to go on a longer journey? How convenient – or otherwise – is it to live with an electric car?
Conventional cars with an internal combustion engine tend to have a sweet spot when running somewhere between 50 and 70 mph during motorway-type travelling, which is when they are usually at their most fuel efficient. When you drive electric, however, the faster you go, the more charge is required, so the quicker the battery runs down. Therefore, despite the official range figures that VMs quote, if you undertake a longer distance, higher speed journey, it is easy to find that your range only extends to about two thirds of the quoted figures (especially if you are either cooling or heating inside the car as you go).
Rapid charging points, where you can charge your car to 80% of full capacity in 20-30 minutes have appeared in motorway and other major service stations over the last few years and these usually have enough bays to make them reasonably accessible. Tesla is the manufacturer that has the most comprehensive network of charging ‘hubs’ called ‘Tesla Superchargers’ – but these are naturally geared only towards Tesla owners. Charging hubs, however, are the way things are moving.
Many companies, ranging from relatively new names like Gridmaster, to established fuel companies like BP, are in the process of building hubs at various locations around the UK. A look at a UK charging points map on somewhere like Zap-map.com will give a good overview of where you might charge your car, and shows that there is charging pretty much throughout the UK, although in more remote country locations charging points can be few and far between. If you are planning a journey you might well find that ‘Destination Charging’ – i.e., setting a final destination with a charging point is essential – as well as planning charging stops along your way. If all else fails, having a lead in your car boot, which can hook you up to a domestic supply, is a good emergency measure.
“It is still a bit of an adventure, which can either be something that puts you off an electric car, or that you embrace and simply plan for,” says Jonathan Shine, country manager for a pan-European car rental company that only deals in electric cars.
The fact is, that at the moment you will have to plan, though the technology in many new cars not only alerts you to the fact that you will need to recharge in a certain number of miles, but also tells you where the nearest charging point is and whether it is available or not.
The landscape for electric cars is evolving, and though not yet suited to everyone, as time moves on, they will present an increasingly viable option for more and more motorists.