For Electric Vehicle adoption to work, we need to rethink our travel habits.
The average person drives less than 40 miles a day, well within the 200 to 300 miles of most current electric vehicle models. Still, electric vehicles make up less than 16 percent of new vehicle sales.
As electric vehicle technology has advanced, range anxiety — worrying about running out of battery before reaching a destination — has given way to concerns about where and when to charge. This obstacle could prevent people from switching from petrol and diesel to electricity.
There is no doubt that the world needs more charging stations to accommodate growth in electric vehicle sales and drive the transition away from gasoline. If the escalating climate crisis doesn’t stop that, soaring gas prices should. But it will take more than infrastructure to free people from dependence on fossil fuels. We need to rethink the car culture in this country, learn to see the charging cable as a liberator rather than an obstacle, and fundamentally change some of our ingrained travel habits.
“Right now the thinking is, ‘Build stations, we’ve got to build stations,’” John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, a transportation energy research group, “But once they’re built, how are we going to deal with human behavior?”
According to the latest figures from Zap-Map, there are about 30,412 public charging points across the country. Most can give you a range of 25 miles in about an hour. 5497 Rapid chargers can do the job in 10 minutes or less. (These are rough estimates—they can vary widely based on charger, car, battery condition, etc.) By comparison, there are about 8378 petrol stations.
There are many parallel efforts to properly connect the country. Standardised hardware and payment options to allow everyone to use and charge anytime, anywhere is one way to tackle an obstacle . Some charging companies are starting to collaborate in a battle for range.
Experts estimate that between 100,000 and 1 million public fast-charging stations are needed if we are to achieve the goal of banning sales new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030.
Some people barely need a public charger. About 60 percent of Brits who park in their driveway or garage can plug their car in at home every night and go to work with a full charge the next morning. These costs are barely visible on the electricity bill and are roughly equivalent to running a refrigerator overnight.
The situation is more complicated for the other 40 percent of drivers who cannot reliably use on-street parking. Some commuters may be able to charge while at work. Maybe you have a few places near your block of flats or property where Electric Vehicles can be plugged in. God help you if you need to charge on the side of the road in a dense city.
“In places like Manhattan or London, I know what a pain it is to find a parking spot,” Jeremy Michalek, a mechanical engineering professor and co-founder of the Vehicle Electrification Group at Carnegie Mellon University. “If you add the obstacle that some of those spots have chargers and some of them don’t, it just makes it even more of a nightmare.”
A charging company called Ubitricity is tackling that obstacle by installing charging plugs on lamp posts. The company operates thousands of chargers and has installed 5000 of them on lamp posts across the UK.
Whether charging stations are needed to boost sales of electric vehicles, or whether sales will drive new charger installations, is seen as a central conundrum for the industry. But really, it’s a peanut butter and jelly problem, said Shazan Siddiqi, a technical analyst at market research firm IDTechEx. The two must go hand in hand.
Siddiqi sees Tesla’s strategy as a prime example of this dynamic. The top-earning electric vehicle company tackles any charging obstacles by operating a global network of more than 30,000 public chargers, including nearly 660 Superchargers in the UK, and plans to install an additional 20,000 globally a year. “They realized that the only way they could sell a car was to have the supporting infrastructure, they lead the way and let the world know that when you buy from us, you don’t have to worry about charging because we have a lot and they’re reliable and they’re everywhere.”
It’s important that charging stations be placed front and centre, with prominent signs indicating their location, Eichberger said. They need to focus not on current owners, but potential buyers.
“It does communicate the existence of Electric Vehicle charging to non-Electric Vehicle drivers,” he said. “Now, when you buy an electric car, your car tells you where all the charging stations are. If you’re hesitant, if you don’t know where the chargers are, would you be willing to buy an electric car?
Not only infrastructure must adapt to a post-petroleum future. We also need to rewire our brains.
After decades of refueling you might imagine rolling into a charging station at 2 percent and twiddling your thumbs as the battery icon fills up. Charging an electric car is more of a thing you do while you’re doing other things.
Most Electric Vehicle drivers charge mostly at home, “grazing” at public chargers every few days while at a shopping centre or supermarket. “They don’t stand around waiting three or four hours for their car to reach 100 percent,” Siddiqi said.
Eichberger likens it to charging your smartphone: “You go to the airport and you’re at 60 percent, you’re looking for an outlet, right? That 60 percent is gonna last you, but you want that top-off,” he said. “We believe that most people, if there’s a charger available when they get to a location, they’re going to plug in.”
If you can charge at home overnight it’s much more convenient and cheaper to charge than fuel up at the petrol station.
Of course, it can get a little tricky on weekend trips or long trips. We’re used to driving until our fuel tanks are empty and our bladders full, then checking road signs for a place to park. Electric vehicle owners need to plan ahead and find charging stations near their route and within battery range using Apps.
Of course there are apps. Tesla’s Trip Planner automatically guides you through a nationwide network of Supercharger stations, complete with charging times.
Whether Electric Vehicle drivers need to keep themselves busy for 10 minutes or an hour, charging providers can give them a place to kill time, access Wi-Fi, and spend those sweet, sweet fuel savings.
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