Most of the discussion around electric vehicles is about the cars themselves. Do they have enough range? How fast can they charge? How much do they cost? Are they reliable and with a long life? But the EVs currently available are not the problem with the electrification of transportation. The real issue is charging infrastructure. And as EVs get more popular, that’s only going to get worse.
Although the main reason people give for not switching to electric is the high price, the second and third biggest fears are charging related. In fact, the vehicles are almost there in terms of cost. There has been a lot of talk about Tesla promising a $25,000 car by 2023/4, but we’re very nearly at that level already. In the UK, the MG5 EV – a station wagon – recently arrived. This has a base list price of £24,495 ($33,000) but can already by purchased from some dealers for £21,000 ($28,000), which implies that a $25,000 mainstream EV will arrive sooner than 2023.
The MG5 EV lasts for 214 WLTP miles, which is well below the benchmark set by the Tesla Model 3 Long Range and budget competitors like the Renault Zoe. It’s also not the most exciting of designs, to say the least. But the MG5 EV presages what will happen to EV pricing very soon, because it’s Chinese made and there are much cheaper cars than this already on sale in China. In fact, the best-selling EV in China in November was the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, which only costs $4,200.
On the other hand, charging infrastructure, in virtually every country, is much further behind. It’s growing fast, with the UK government claiming there were five times as many chargers in July 2020 as there were in 2015. But plug-in electric vehicle ownership is growing much faster. Battery electric vehicle purchases were up 168.7% in the year-to-date for October 2020 in the UK, and plug-in hybrids up 91.5%. So demand for charging points, already inadequately fulfilled, is going to outstrip supply even further if nothing comes along to provide more charging capacity.
British startup Co Charger is offering one way that might help alleviate some of the problem. The company’s research has shown that public charging can only go some way towards alleviating the fears have about EV ownerships, because someone with home charging ability is four times as likely to own an electric vehicle as someone without. There are around 300,000 domestic chargers in the UK, compared to 36,470 public charging connections at 13,256 different locations (according to Zap-Map).
Co Charger’s answer to this problem is to take advantage of the sharing economy – a bit like AirBnB, but more about the area around where you live rather than a holiday destination. The idea is that if you have a home charger, you can offer it via the Co Charger system for hire. You set the price and timeslots it will be available, so you can take account of your electricity costs and charger installation expense, as well as when you need to use it yourself. Those looking for a charge near their home can search the local area and book a slot. It’s a similar system to the way people are now renting out underutilized driveway space.
One of the frequent misconceptions you come across if you spend a lot of time debating EVs on social media is that they need to be charged every day, like a mobile phone. In fact, it’s likely to be less frequently than once every week, or even fortnightly. So while it’s convenient to have your own home charging, you can get away without it so long as you have reliable charging nearby, which is what Co Charger is aiming to provide. The company only has a few hundred people signed up so far, but hasn’t been around very long, and is targeting 7,000 users by the end of October.
Another related problem is accessibility, which was highlighted recently be a survey from UK charging location specialist Zap-Map. In a poll of 2,200 EV drivers, Zap-Map, one third of those with disabilities found they had difficulty locating a charger to meet their specific needs and challenges. Charging stations aren’t any less accessible than a petrol pump in this respect, however. The problems revolve around the heavy cables being hard to disconnect from the station or car and difficult to put back, too.
There’s clearly a lot of work to be done to make sure charging infrastructure keeps up with the exploding interest in electric vehicles. I’ve focused on the UK, but the points made are equally true in most other countries. There is Government funding going into improving infrastructure, currently £500 ($672) million in the UK. But this is all going into public charging. Home charging is what will get more people comfortable about adopting EVs, and charger sharing could be a big help in making that possible for the many people who won’t have access to that in their own places of residence.