What's this tidal wave of electric car pessimism really about, anyhow?

17-08-2018 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Millions of people in this country wont buy an electric car (EVs) and there are two very big reasons why. But that could be about to change, but only for one of them.

So what's the problem with electric cars, especially as there are some really good-looking ones out there now with impressive performance figures when it comes to speed and range?

OK, there are some important environmental negatives to consider about electric cars and these focus on the dangerous substances that have to be mined to manufacture their batteries and the fact that recycling the batteries really is not happening on the large scale it should.

But none of those are the real reasons why millions of people wont buy them. So what's it all about? Chatting to a pal of mine in the pub the other day he made it as crystal clear as the pint of London Pride he was holding….he wouldn't be able to charge it. And this is a problem that millions of people have.

Here's the thing. My mate lives in a long street of about 250 terraced houses in East London. And the only parking available is on the street and most days he has more chance of meeting Nicole Kidman for dinner than parking outside his house.

Add to that there are over 300 cars living in the same street and the proposed five public charging points at the end of the street just wouldn't cut it. And lets face it, the chances of having five EV charging points at the end of every street in this country is nil.

So owning an electric car is likely to become a socially elitist thing only feasible for people who have a house with their own driveway; hardly the environmental breakthrough we all wish for when it comes to halting the increasing pollution of the air we breathe by internal combustion engines.

This whole electric car charging palaver is exacerbated by the tedious length of time it takes to top up the battery. Like it or not, filling up the fuel tank of a petrol or diesel powered car is a lot quicker and easier.

Here in the UK there is about 1600 public rapid charging points which can recharge an electric car in about 30 minutes. Compare this to the number of petrol pumps across the whole country at approx 52,000 and its easy to see why electric cars can be a pain to operate, that is unless you have your own driveway of course.

 Top-selling light-duty plug-in electric vehicle global markets by country or region as of December 2017. By Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

But help could be at hand regarding the speed with which EVs could be charged.

But that doesn't solve the second negative I-don't-want-and-EV reason and that is the great connector compatibility conundrum about which connectors link to which charging system. But more on that point later.

Regarding rapid charging, news has broken from several sources about technology breakthroughs that could dramatically speed up the whole battery-charging fiasco. Chemists from the University of Glasgow have developed what they refer to as a flow battery system that could charge an EV in seconds.

In a similar vein a team at Cambridge University a few months ago revealed how to achieve rapid EV battery charging by using niobium tungsten oxides which could find applications as varied as charging electric cars through to large-scale storage systems on the grid.

The University of Glasgow's experiment is based on the design of a nano-scale battery molecules which could provide power for cars in the form of either electricity or hydrogen gas. According to the study, when a concentrated liquid containing the nano-molecules is made, the amount of energy it can store increases tenfold and the energy can be released as either electricity or hydrogen gas, allowing for flexibility in its use.

So in simple terms this means electric car batteries could be recharged in about the same time it would take to fill up a petrol car.

It's only fair to say though that these technical breakthroughs, albeit extremely interesting and in the long term undoubtedly of value in perpetuating the widespread adoption of EVs, are someway off from becoming the norm. However, more immediate work to help force feed EVs with power in the shortest time possible is happening in a number of areas.

The Swiss company ABB says it has created the world's fastest electric vehicle charger. Called the Terra High Power DC fast charger it can "pump" 150 kilometres of range in under ten minutes into most EVs.

Europe has two rapid charging networks. One is Ionity, which is supported by BMW, Mercedes, Ford, and Volkswagen, and the other is Ultra-E, which is supported by Allego, Audi, BMW, Magna and Renault. OK, so is all good news for EV owners? Yes and no. Great to have faster charging but a resounding no when it comes to the connector compatibility conundrum I mentioned earlier.

The transport policy and research organisation, the RAC Foundation, makes it's feeling on the subject very clear. It says in its recent study that the UK electric-vehicle charging infrastructure and its failings threaten to thwart the mass adoption of EV technology.

It found that 12% of public charging points where not functioning and also points out that the lack of standardisation of connectors and charging protocols has resulted in a bewildering array of types of charge points, connectors and tariffs with the result that many drivers are confused and many potential EV owners are totally put off the idea.

The connector conclusion from the RAC Foundation is hardly surprising. Take a look at the number of connectors that drivers have to consider. And remember as yet there are no adapters that suit all of them.

Slow charge connectors include; 3-pin 3kW AC, Type 1 3kW AC, Type 2 3kW AC and the Commando 3kW AC.

Fast charge connectors are the Type 2 7-22kW AC, Type 1 7kW AC and the Commando 7-22kW AC.

And finally the rapid chargers include the, CHAdeMo 50kW DC, CCS 50kW DC, the Type 2 43kW AC and last but not least the Tesla Type 2 120kW DC.

So its easy see why motorists are not enamoured with the idea of opening that can of compatibility worms when it comes to committing themselves to EV ownership.


Read More: Fast battery charge ‘holy grail’ moves into sight


By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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