Is the UK ready for electric vehicles? - Call Wiser
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Is the UK infrastructure ready for electric vehicles?

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While manufacturers are doing their bit to allay consumer reservations and boost demand for electric cars in the UK, it seems that charging-infrastructure is lagging behind.

Reporting for the International Business Times last month, Alistair Charlton described the charging issues he faced over three days reviewing BMW’s all-electric i3 car.

The first problem arises fairly quickly for Alistair, as he realises it is impossible to recharge the vehicle at home. This is because the supplied cable does not reach his first floor flat.

Although the idea of running cables from open windows and doorways to parked vehicles is a ridiculous one, this does highlight an important problem for manufacturers and governments to overcome – in that many people in the UK currently lack access to a garage or an appropriate power source to facilitate home charging.

Fortunately however, free-to-use charge ports do exist at a variety of locations in the UK, such as petrol stations and supermarkets, and despite encountering some conflicting (and at times a lack of) information, Alistair is able to locate these using purpose-built websites such as Charge Your Car, Zap-Map and OpenChargeMap.

He goes on to point out that most free-to-use ports in the UK require a subscription and a contactless RFID card to activate charging. However, as the ports are provided by a number of different companies that require their own unique membership card to activate them – drivers of electric cars would be restricted in terms of charging locations or be required to carry multiple cards.

In a bid to simulate a lost-card scenario, Alistair choses to travel without one altogether and relies on customer helplines to remotely activate the charge-ports.

The second issue the reporter encounters, arises when he reaches the nearest recharging point at his local supermarket, where the electric charging ports were installed on disabled parking bays, of which - all barring one - were occupied by the non-electric cars of disabled divers. Moreover, the charger on the one available bay was out-of-order.

After a bay did become available for use, Alistair contacted the provider and was able to get the charging port switched on remotely. However, the telephone operator advised him that he was lucky in this scenario, as not all chargers can be controlled remotely. He added that some chargers do not display a unique ID number, so telephone operators may not always know which charge port to switch on.

Although the type and speed of chargers can also vary from location to location, an hour charging the i3 at the supermarket provided just 20 miles of additional range, an issue, he explains, that will require electric-car drivers to plan trips carefully and that ultimately prevents spontaneity - particularly if trips “can be stumped by a broken charger, an incorrect map, or a supermarket who thinks putting chargers in disabled bays is a good idea.”

Recent developments

Better Range & Better Performance

American electric car manufacturer Tesla has been leading the way in terms of technological developments in the electric vehicle industry. dispite the fact that most electric cars struggle to go beyond 100 miles without needing to be plugged in for several hours, Tesla’s latest Model S sedan has a range of 330 miles from a single charge.

The P85D - Performance All-Wheel Drive version of the Model S is also capable of 155mph and with and with Tesla’s “Ludicrous Speed Upgrade” can do 0-60mph in as little as 2.8 seconds!

Faster charging

Tesla also seems to be leading the way in charging technology and its most recent “Supercharger” can provide 50% of the Model S’s 310 miles of charge in just 20 minutes.

Welcome Break has recently announced that it will be the first service station operator in the UK to introduce the charging points to its motorway network sites, taking the total number of Superchargers in the UK to more than 100 at 29 locations.

Currently the supercharger only works with Tesla vehicles and would require other vehicle manufacturers to partner with the company to adopt the Tesla connector. Whether this will happen or not is yet to be seen, however one Tesla owner has expressed his doubts on the company’s forum.

Cheaper and more accessible charging solutions

Although traditional public charge points cost around £6,000, the London Borough of Hounslow is trialling a new system designed by trailblazing German company Ubitricity, which can be fitted for just £71 (100 Euros).

The technology will be tested by the borough’s hybrid fleet drivers and it is hoped that it will prove a winning greener solution to encourage people to buy more eco-friendly vehicles and in-turn drastically reduce pollution and improve air quality.

The chargers can also be installed within existing lamp posts, providing a solution for residents who do not have access to off-street parking.

If the pilot is a success the council will look at installing power points across the borough to entice more people into buying electric cars and vans – it is also hoped that more boroughs will follow in Hownslow’s footsteps.

Wireless charging

The government has recently announced that it is testing new technology that could allow electric car owners to charge their vehicles as they drive along major A-roads and motorways.

The first trials of their kind and follow the completion of a feasibility study by Highways England into the technology, which is known as “dynamic wireless power transfer”.

The trials will take place on private roads initially and involve installing wireless chargers underneath the roads as well as fitting vehicles with wireless technology and testing equipment.

If the 18 months of testing are deemed successful, trials will be moved onto public highways. It is hoped that such a system would remove the “range anxiety” felt by drivers who worry about running out of power between charging stations.

The ‘Gigafactory’

In an attempt to scale up production of lithium-ion batteries (used in electric vehicles) and Powerwall cells (used to store electricity for domestic consumption) to meet future demand, Tesla has begun constructing a $5(USD) billion factory in Nevada called “Gigafactory”.

The company expects that Gigafactory will reduce the production cost of lithium-ion batteries by 30% and to achieve this, the factory would employ approximately 6,500 people and supply 500,000 Tesla cars per year.

The sheer scale of the Gigafactory is impressive in its own right (see below image) but its production value highlights just how important Tesla is in turning the world away from finite energy. By 2020, when Gigafactory 1 is expected to reach full capacity, the plant will produce 500,000 Tesla vehicles and 35 GWh. To put the power output of 35 GWh into perspective, it’s enough to power 1.17 million homes for a day. The aim of the factory is to mass produce lithium-ion batteries to use in their Tesla cars, significantly reducing the cost of manufacturing electric vehicles.

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Do you think the UK is prepared for electric vehicles? Would you consider buying one? Do you think they will dominate our roads in the future?

Leave your opinion in the comments section below:

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