Electric Cars – the good, the bad and the downright ugly

George Barnes. Energy and Sustainability Consultant, JRP Solutions

Posted on 13 July 2021.

A person with a beardDescription automatically generated with medium confidenceI recently made a 644 mile round trip from South Wales to the Lake District and back in an electric car with a relatively large 64kWh of battery life. It was certainly an experience from which I learned a lot about electric cars, the charging infrastructure and how I need to adapt my own travel habits.  Here are the realities of taking your mid-range electric car on anything but a mid-range trip!

Good stuff

So, first things first, the good stuff. The car itself was comfortable, handled like a charm and was surprisingly pokey.  There is the benefit, of course, of friendlier fuel for the planet and your wallet. 

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Charging off-peak at home, when the grid intensity is at its lowest is an absolute win, with often very low associated electricity generation emissions and next to no associated monetary costs (check your local grid intensity values for the best time to charge, good sources are either the national grid ESO app or www.carbonintensity.org). Even better if you are the proud owner of a solar PV array! No associated refuelling emissions and “free” charging.

To fully charge using a domestic 7kW charger during super off-peak and off-peak hours takes around nine hours and costs roughly £5-7.  These costs rise to between £10 and £15 if using a 50kW rapid charger whilst on the road (80% charge in just over an hour).  By contrast, the cost is circa £60 for a full tank of fossil fuel.

The fully charged battery was enough to do a good 220-230 miles of motorway driving, (when sticking to 70mph, like a limpet to a rock) which was over half the 322 miles. This means, if well planned, a trip from South Wales to the Lake District can be done in two charges and in around 7 hours. That’s basically the same time it usually takes in a petrol alternative when factoring in comfort breaks.

But this is only the case if all charges are working, and they are not occupied…. that is a big IF and a large AND, as I found out! 

Bad stuff

With the electric vehicle market in its relative infancy, there are many charging companies vying for a piece of the infrastructure pie. That’s great; we are rising to the challenge and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition.  What’s not so great is that each of them requires a specific app or account to charge using their stations, whether that is Ecotricity, Genie (Engie), or Podpoint, to name a few. The first problem with this is unless you know this in advance these take a while to register for or download/sign up to, adding cumulative minutes to journey times, which may seem trivial but adds up when tired, fed up, and 6-hours into your drive already.

The second problem is that these charging points aren’t always in the best area for signal and downloading apps can be tiring and troublesome, if it is possible at all. And last, but by no means least, these apps just sometimes simply don’t work, which leaves you in a very tight squeeze, especially if battery time is low and you are scrabbling around for a local charger within the radius of your ebbing battery life.

Why then, hasn’t an alternative emerged, offering simple card tap payments? It has! In the form of “Polar” charging stations (other chargers are available). However, of the 8 charging points used during the trip, only one station had such a charger. Once pinpointed on the map these were very much exploited on both north and south legs of the journey.

You may have noticed the odd ‘token’ electric charger during your travels. The pride and joy of a brand-new service station, the little tucked away special charging points for EV’ers at the supermarket, the small huddle unexpectedly in the public car park. These are exactly that, the singular pride and joy, small groups, difficult to find.

The problem here is that locating a good charging point isn’t a given. On multiple times during this single trip we were left waiting for over twenty minutes for a charger, often involved in automotive Mexican stand-offs for the next available plug. When coupled with an hour charging time at a minimum, these minutes really add up.

The downright ugly

A close-up of a machineDescription automatically generated with low confidenceI can accept the relative lack of chargers. It’s an emerging technology and that’s to be expected, I don’t expect a river of tears on that front. I can accept the fiddly non-intuitive charging approach, we’re getting there, it’s a work in progress. What I think is downright poor is the lack of working state of these chargers. Out of the eight charging points visited we found two non-functioning with a further two offering only limited functionality. That’s a quarter not working. How would the world function if a quarter of all petrol or diesel pumps didn’t work? How would we get anywhere if we couldn’t refuel a quarter of the world's trains or planes? If the technologies not quite there for full-scale fast chargers just yet, fine that’s understandable. But at least maintain the technology that does exist! That is not too much to ask.

On balance

First and foremost I must say I would never own an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine….. not as cool as it sounds) vehicle again. The obvious plusses, for me, massively outweigh the negatives. Planet friendlier – check, cheaper running costs – check, smoother ride – check, enjoyment factor – check! The relative infrastructure problems would however make me question my mode of travel on longer journeys. This particular experience was not enough to put me off long-range electric vehicle travel using the current charging network, but it would make me think twice. This is not terrible news for me as I am a lover of the train (where else can you be expected absolutely nothing of for a few hours?) but rail transport certainly has its barriers. That’s a story for another article I believe.

In closing, let’s finish as we started, with the pinnacle question. Is a long-range electric car journey practical? The short answer, under current circumstances, if you are on a time-sensitive schedule, no. If, however you are well prepared, plan your route, and can enjoy a nice leisurely lunch along the way for an hour and a half, then yes, absolutely. BUT plan ahead or you will end up like me, depending on undependable chargers, floundering in low signal areas for an elusive bar of 3g, and wasting a whole lot of precious time.

 

If you would like to speak to one of JRP’s specialists to explore how we can help you to reduce your organisation’s environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions, please email George.richards@jrpsolutions.com or call 0800 6127 567.