Great to see you! Now, where can I plug in my EV?

One day in summer, I visited the south coast with family, a drive of about 100 miles or almost two hours. During the more idle moments of conversation, I started to think about which existing EVs might be able to tackle the journey in one hit. At Heathrow, we have use of Nissan Leaf pool cars that have a quoted range of about 100 miles, but the reality is nearer 70 or possibly 80 at a push.

They’re very nice to drive with smooth, silent power delivery and are quick off the mark too. But more than ever in an EV, you’re aware of how driving style, ancillaries running and conditions influence range – even the driver’s display warns you – and probably why EVs still have some way to go to shatter the “range anxiety” moniker that is often justifiably labelled.

There is some good news though, with more sophisticated DC chargers available. We have one airside at Heathrow, provided by Freemantle. It’s engineered for a peak 50KWh supply, but charges the Leaf so quickly you can literally watch the percentage capacity increase. Putting aside the issues of energy consumption and grid capacity for a moment, if several of these were proliferating every single motorway service station, suddenly long journeys would be a breeze. Plug the car in using the supplied leads and by the time you’d popped to the WC and collected your coffee, your car would be almost fully charged.

Ecotricity’s UK fast-charging network has expanded to most motorway services in England.

And yet, upon arrival on the south coast that day, another issue struck me: getting home again. Unless you have a Tesla, with up to 300 miles of range, you’ve got to plug in again to guarantee the return trip. This raises an interesting social twist in the EV tale, namely the social, publicly acceptable challenge of asking your hosts for a power hook-up.

You can picture the awkward situations. Arriving to see your friends’ new baby, and before picking up the infant for that first cuddle, you’ve dragged the heavy charging lead out of the boot and find yourself wagging the plug at the new father. How about that family argument you sought to defuse? It would be hard to wipe the slate clean when, on arrival, your EV’s battery level is down to 15% and you badly need some juice. And can you imagine what it would be like at a wedding? That dream sunny countryside church and nearby barn reception make for wonderful memories; yes, those memories of that couple who had to unplug the lights from the generator to ensure their EV could get them home.

You get the idea. The social side of charging has yet to find its way, but there is hope. Electric charging models still have time to evolve, and this could make those power lead conversations a lot less sticky. The idea of federating charging provision would be a good start; you can plug in straight away at your parents house during a visit, but the car knows you’re drawing the power, where from and reimburses your parent’s electricity account the following day. Or perhaps if you live in a busy, public area, you could allow a company to install a charging point for all to use and take a small cut of the point’s revenue.

Buffering is another innovative approach to meet demand. During periods of low power usage, such as overnight, electricity is captured in batteries or capacitors ready to support peak demand. The same approach can be used to allow renewables to support the grid too; in Britain, solar or wind would never fully satisfy future EV demand, but it could certainly top it up using the buffering methodology.

Buffering is an option to shorten charge times and make more use of renewable energy.

The innovation potential here is in the abstraction of each component of the EV charging service. Provision of each with different business models and technology connectivity will create lots of new exciting business opportunities.

Add this approach to the variety of car ownership models expected in the future, and perhaps you can help yourself when driving to your nieces birthday party. Until then, you’ll have to ask your Mum to plug in your EV the next time you see her.


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