The Hazards of Charging up in Public Places
If, like me, you charge up your vehicle in public places, I am sure you will be familiar with what I am about to describe. I do my public charging at motorway service areas here in the UK. These are always busy. The car park is always nearly full, and there is a constant stream of people moving towards and away from the main doors, which lead to and from the restaurants, shops, and other public facilities.
The Ecotricity chargers are very prominent, not tucked out of the way in some obscure corner, so anyone charging up is very much on public exhibition. There are various looks one might get from the passers-by. Some look vaguely curious. Some look, but avert their eyes, as if they did not want to be seen to be interested. Some look vaguely hostile; the sort of reaction you might get while drinking orange juice in a public house — you know the way it is, as if daring to be different is being openly critical of them. In both cases, I am just doing what I need to do, and want to do, which is, in this case, to get on with plugging in my car and charging up so that I can then join all the others walking towards the doors and enjoy the rest facilities.
Inevitably, however, there always seems to be one, whose curious looks increase, coupled with hesitant walking towards where I am. I wonder which question they will ask first, I ask myself.
“How long does it take to charge up?”
I usually answer this one with a question of my own.
“How long are you staying for?”
“Oh, about 20 min, or half an hour, I suppose, just to have a break and a cup of tea.”
“Well, that is about how long it takes to charge up. As soon as I get here, I just plug my car into the charger, here, go for a break for about 20 min or so, and when I get back, it’s charged up, and ready to go.”
“Oh, that’s not too bad, is it?”
“No, and I don’t have to fuel up afterwards as something additional, as you might be doing if your fuel is low.”
“And how much does it cost to charge up, then?”
I spare them the complexities of explaining the different rates according to whether you are an Ecotricity customer or not, and try to explain it in a way that they can best relate to.
“You would be lucky on the motorway to get more than 50 mpg, and as a gallon is about 5L and a litre is about £1.20 on average, to do 50 miles will cost you at least £6. For me to charge up to add 50 miles of range, that costs me only £1.”
While I am on the subject of costs, I usually choose this moment to mention other cost advantages, just to drive home the point.
“The VED (Vehicle Excise Duty, or ‘Road Tax’, as we often call it) is nil, insurance is about the same as for a similar size of ICE car, and as for servicing,” (pregnant pause here), “I have to have the motor coolant changed every 20 years, and every year, I have to get the pollen filter changed. Because of regenerative braking, the brake pads last forever. There is no oil and filter, no air filter, clutch, exhaust, spark plugs, timing belt, etc., etc., to replace, and no expensive engine and gearbox to wear out.”
“Um, very cheap then, but I’ve heard the batteries don’t last long, and cost a fortune to replace.”
“Well, they last a lot longer than people expected. Now that we have some EVs that have actually done big mileages, the estimates have been revised, a lot. For example, there is a Nissan Leaf taxi in the UK that has done over 100,000 miles with no significant loss of battery performance. The batteries don’t go ‘dud’, in any case, but just very gradually reduce in capacity. A battery is said to be ‘spent’ when the capacity has fallen to 80% or less, but whether the owner considers it ‘spent’ depends on how much they are bothered by having 80% of the original range.
As for the price of replacement, batteries are less than half of the original price now and could fall even more, so by the time you need a replacement, it might be very cheap. Also, your ‘spent’ battery, having 80% capacity, has a resale value, as it can typically be used for grid storage or home power storage.”
Now, generally, by this time, people are probably wishing they had never asked, and, for the sake of this story, I am beginning to amalgamate several different people into one, as no one asks all of these questions, but I will continue as if this is the one person in existence who has an absolutely insatiable appetite for information about EVs, and charging.
“So, are they reliable?”
“Yes, very reliable. Where an engine and gearbox have thousands of moving parts to break down or wear out, all you have with these is a battery, a motor, or motors, and a control system for charging up the battery and powering the motor. Apart from that, it’s just like any other car with brakes, wheel bearings, tyres, and usually some kind of simple reduction gear between the motor and the wheels. Electric motors are extraordinarily reliable, and with all the complexity done away with, you can expect an electric vehicle to be super-reliable.”
“How far will it go on a single charge?”
“That depends on a lot of variables. This car that I am driving, a Peugeot Ion, was one of the first of the current batch of electric vehicles, and also one of the smallest that you could still call a proper car, rather than a golf cart, and it only has a range of about 60 to 70 miles, depending on how you drive it. It’s also one of the cheapest to buy, and more expensive ones have a range of anything up to 335 miles. New vehicles coming out now typically have double the battery capacity and will do from 150 up to 300 miles, again mainly depending on how much you pay. Even my car, with a relatively short range, will cover most of the journeys I make simply from a charge done at home. I only have to use the charger, as here, for longer journeys. So, although it’s more convenient to have a longer range for these longer journeys, most of the time it’s not very relevant and the amount of money I’m saving, and the amount of pollution I’m no longer causing, are much more important.”
Charging Bigger Battery Packs
“If I bought a car with a much bigger battery capacity, would that mean that it would take a lot longer to charge up?”
“Not really. The way to think of it is that this car has a 16 kWh battery pack, but if it had a 32 kWh battery pack, charging it could be like charging two 16 kWh battery packs at the same time, and so, need not take any longer. The charging station here is a sophisticated device, as is the charging controller in the car, and the two communicate with each other to determine the optimum charging current at any given time. A bigger battery pack will accept a bigger charging current, and the only limitation really is the maximum current the charging station is able to supply. Theoretically, the battery could be charged up much faster than it actually is, but the rate is conservatively controlled to protect the battery from any damage that could be caused by charging too quickly at too high a current. According to Dale Vince, the fellow who put all of these chargers into these service areas, he will be installing chargers next year with 7 times the capacity of these, which could add a 100 miles of range in only 5 mins, so charging up an EV would then be much like filling up a petrol or diesel car, and much cleaner and more pleasant to do.”
“So, what sort of price do EVs come at?”
“This one is one of the cheapest, and you could probably get one for about £3000 now, but they are a bit rare. In the UK the most common second-hand EVs are the Nissan Leaf, which you can get for around £5,000 right up to £16,000 depending on how new they are and how many miles they’ve covered. There is a new Leaf coming out in February, but that is about £24,000 new, has twice the battery capacity, will do at least 150 miles on a full charge, and has autonomous driving features that will park the car for you and keep you safer on the road. I bet there will be plenty of the older Leaf coming onto the second-hand market then. You can get a Renault Zoe cheaper, but they have their batteries on lease, so you are having to pay £50 to £70 per month for the battery, but you can get a replacement, or even an upgraded battery, without having to pay up-front. Then, you have the more expensive band, such as the BMW i3, a Tesla, etc., where prices are from around £18,000 upwards. It’s best to look on Autotrader or similar sites and enter a fuel type of “electric.” There are hundreds for sale at a huge range of prices.”
Green or Not?
“I’ve heard people say that EVs create just as much pollution as any other car: it’s just emitted in manufacture, and at power stations.”
“That is pure fossil-fuel propaganda. In the UK, if you use a mixture of the power sources available, an EV will emit half the CO2 of an ICE car over a 15-year period, and that does not include nitrous oxide and particulates, which make an EV even better. This Ecotricity charger is supplied with 100% renewable energy, and most EV drivers will charge up at home with 100% renewable electricity, so you are looking at close to zero emissions. I also read some propaganda about EVs producing more particulates because they are “heavier,” but that is also nonsense. My little Ion is way lighter than the average ICE car, and particulates come from the brake pads, which EVs don’t use very much because of regenerative braking. EVs are the future, and even now are much nicer to drive than an ICE car.”
“So, do you think you will be buying one?”
“Yes, I’ll definitely be looking into it.”
They go back to whatever they were doing before, and having done my bit to spread the word about green energy and EVs, I finish getting my car plugged in so that its batteries will be getting charged while I recharge my own “batteries” by a visit to the rest facilities and a nice cup of tea.