Below is the voiceover script from my latest You Tube video about life with an electric car, a Nissan Leaf 30KWh I call ‘Torchy’. You can watch the video here:
Before thinking about where we are going, let’s have a think about where we are-or at least where I think we are-and to be clear I’m talking about the situation in the UK. To be really clear because I know people can look at these videos several months, or years, after they are first posted, I’m thinking out loud on 23 February 2017.
The current situation is there are EVs on the market, now perhaps I should qualify that and say affordable EVs, that can go maybe 180-200 miles on one charge. To be accurate, at the moment it’s only really the new Renault Zoe that can do that sort of range, and it has a 40 kWh battery. Nissan keep promising the new Leaf, and frankly I hope its battery will be larger than 40 kWh. BMW have just introduced the i3 with a 34 kWh battery which allegedly can do 130 miles or so, and the new Hyundai Ionic has a 28 kWh battery and can perhaps do 150 miles. Torchy(my Leaf) has a 30 kWh battery and in the summer I can pretty much guarantee 120+ mile range (in winter, with lower outside air temperatures, the range is 85-100 miles. That’s with a 10 mile buffer. The temperature affects the battery efficiency, it’s not because I use the heater more!) Now here’s the thing, the 30 kWh battery in my Leaf only provides a usable 26.4 kWh, and I suspect the new BMW battery doesn’t provide a usable 34 kWh, whilst Hyundai probably are quoting usable 28 kWh. So we’re seeing something of a lack of standardisation, in other words to a certain extent we’re comparing apples and pears, rather than apples and apples. That aside, I simply don’t understand why BMW bothered with a 34 kWh battery. I’m not a fan of range extenders, or indeed of plug-in hybrids, but if you did buy a BMW i3 REX I suspect you’d get the same sort of range as you would in the new Zoe. That begs the question, why bother with the complexity of a range extender unit? Not to mention the cost of a range extender unit, and the associated servicing costs. It’s tempting to think the likes of Mercedes, Hyundai, Volkswagen and to a certain extent Toyota, are playing catch up, and want to get some EVs out there quickly. In the case of Volkswagen, obviously they’re having to do it because of the lawsuit in the US. Interestingly they are also investing heavily in creating a charging infrastructure in the US, but to be honest I think it’s only because their arm is being twisted right up their back. So leaving Volkswagen aside for the moment, most of the other makers are introducing vehicles that will be obsolete quite probably in the next six months. Possibly they’re being smart and when the larger batteries become available they will be retrofittable at a sensible, or heavily subsidised, price. To be honest I rather doubt that. Call me cynical, but I just can’t see it. In the case of Mercedes, I simply don’t know what they’re playing at. You can apparently get a fully electric B250 for under £20K, but it’s next to useless because you can’t fit it with an internal faster charger, nor can you equip it so it can accept a rapid charge. Nice car, but pretty useless. Just possibly, and I’m being very generous here, major manufacturers are experimenting with EVs, prior to seriously introducing them, or more likely they are simply producing compliance vehicles. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Chevy Bolt, or the Tesla model 3. The UK will probably not be getting the Bolt, and the Tesla when it eventually arrives will be knocking on £40K. Not affordable for most people. Ford have made noises about introducing a 100 mile range EV for the same price as the petrol or diesel equivalent vehicle, but with the advances in battery technology and the falling cost of manufacturing batteries, why bother with a 100 mile-range vehicle? They are on the right track, though. What seems to be missing right now is an affordable EV. Both China and India produce some rather quirky but cheap, basic EVs, and maybe if they up the quality a bit they will make a killing, so to speak.
The other side of the equation is the charging infrastructure. Over the 12 months that I’ve owned, or rather leased, Torchy, there have been quite dramatic improvements in the charging infrastructure. That said, I understand there are several parts of the UK where public chargers are as common as hens teeth. Certainly in my area, the south of the UK, there are plenty of charging options. Leaving aside the motorway charging infrastructure which is dominated by Ecotricity, and I strongly suspect they have negotiated a monopoly for themselves, at least for the foreseeable future, which of course stifles price competition, off the motorway we have a real mix of accessibility and pricing. I sometimes use a rapid charger here in Andover which is situated in an Esso garage. There is no parking fee, but it seems to charge at a slower rate than say the Ecotricity chargers, so if I want to get anywhere near full charge I’m there for close to 1 hour. They charge a £1 connection fee, and 30p per kilowatt-hour. In Bournemouth, at the rapid Charger in Westbourne which is operated by CYC, there is a flat fee of £4 per hour for the first hour, then it jumps to something like £12 for the next and subsequent hours. The flat fee seems very reasonable, and I can also sympathise with the dramatic price hike after one hour, because they want to prevent people plugging their car in and leaving it for several hours. It’s worth noting the local council monitor the site by CCTV, and provided your car is plugged in there is no parking fee. That begs the question what would happen if the charger was occupied, and you pulled into the second charging bay and waited at your car for the charger to become available? In other places charges are situated in public car parks, and the car park operators expect you to pay a parking fee. You might think this is fair enough given that the car might be there for over an hour, and whilst it’s charging the owner can nip off and do some shopping. I on the other hand tend to think that you don’t pay for parking when you’re putting petrol in your ice car, and we’ve all seen cars abandoned at the pump whilst the drivers do a weekly shop in the convenience store. I think perhaps there has to be a happy medium, a common sense solution-which I fully realise is asking a lot in this country. To sum up, the charging situation is improving all the time, and you can see the beginnings of a consolidation. As I mentioned in the video, certainly Shell, and I reckon other petrol retailers, will begin to see the value of having charging facilities on their forecourts. I’m a little surprised that not more supermarkets have caught on. Would it change my shopping habits? It might. I tend to do a weekly shop, and if there was a 7 kWh charging post available at a sensible price, I think I might well use that supermarket in preference to another which did not have a charging post. My home charging setup is not ideal, so if I could combine charging with a shopping trip that would suit me very well, and might even tempt me to buy a takeaway coffee so I could take on more of a charge.
If my home charging situation is not ideal, at least I can charge at home. I know many people are put off buying or leasing an EV because they do not have off-road parking, or allocated parking spaces. There are two possible solutions to this, the first is for an enterprising company to install 3 kWh charging posts along the length of residential streets. Apart from any planning considerations, the problem with 3 kWh charging posts will come when the standard EV battery is approaching the 60 kWh size. Right now, with the current EVs, a 3 kWh post would virtually give you an overnight 100% charge. Double the capacity of the battery and that might well not be the case. I can see one major advance will occur when batteries can accept a charge at a faster rate. To a certain extent this is already happening, look at the Tesla Superchargers. Imagine the scenario where the battery capacity was such that say, a 70% charge, would give you 120+ miles range. Now imagine a battery that could charge to 70% in seven or eight minutes, and a charger that could deliver that rate of charge, and there is the real possibility of central urban rapid charging facilities where either on the way to work or coming home, people can stop off for under 10 minutes and charge their cars. Given that most daily commutes are under 30 miles, that seven or eight minutes could well give you 3 to 4 days driving. Now it’s becoming more feasible for people who live in apartments, or do not have off-road or allocated parking, to own an EV.