A little while ago I was engaged in a discussion on the old question of EV-range vs. more rapid chargers. Is the answer to getting people into EVs increasing their range, or is it improving the network of rapid chargers so that people with short-range EVs can get where they want to go?
It’s a difficult and nuanced question. The price of batteries has fallen significantly over the past few years, and will continue to fall, but they remain a substantial component of the cost of an EV. Renting the batteries, a lá Renult — and more recently Nissan and Smart — is of course another alternative.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that a better rapid charging network will improve take-up of EVs, as will increasing car’s range without increasing prices as battery costs fall. And I think that despite the limitations of urban, lower range EVs (like the iMiEV), the pleasure of driving them will sometimes encourage people to test their limits. Sometimes almost too far.
Personally, I have a bit of a history with Russian (fuel) roulette. A degree of notoriety obtained by sliding into a petrol station in a Morris 1000 just as the fuel pump informed me that there was no longer any fuel in the tank to draw through. The frantic clatter from the electric contacts rising to a wail of despair, and the engine cutting out as I coasted up to petrol pump.
I’ve not always been so lucky, unfortunately. On one journey, I ran out of fuel as my ethics at the time suggested not filling up at one particular brand of fuel supplier; my motorbike fell some mile short of the pumps and a very long, hot walk in full bike gear taught me that sometimes, just sometimes my ethics should give way to practicality.
And famously I brought the M4 to a standstill after my MZ motorcycle decided to shake it’s carburettor free, resulting in astonishingly rapid fuel usage and me, embarrassingly, stood in the M4 bus lane looking like a very special kind of numpty. And so, when it came to the EV, there had to come a point where we’d spin that wheel and see how the ball landed.
This weekend was the chosen one. Not, you understand, because we like living on the edge. Nor does driving along in single figure temperatures with no heating on hugely appeal, but because we’d said we’d try and take our shiny EV on a ridiculously inappropriate journey. As long time readers are no doubt aware, I drove our family’s iMiEV back from the northern reaches of Liverpool – it’s real world 60 mile range breaking the journey up into a few neat chunks. We’ve also taken it to my sister’s house, over near Oxford, so we’re not strangers to long distance journeys in an EV intended for urban usage.
However, looking at the topographics of this journey, it was certainly pushing our car further than we had previously. We decided to take the car down to Dorset, to Crafty Camping (a delightful eco-glamping place), who were very enthusiastic about the idea of having an EV visit and charge. Unfortunately, in the days before our visit, we discovered the Electric Highway rapid charger on the route we intended to take was broken. We waited, but sadly, it wasn’t fixed in time.
Now, at this point, what we should perhaps have done is packed our stuff into the Morris Minor, and headed down that way. However, we decided instead to ask the lovely folks at F.J Chalke Nissan in Wincanton who very kindly agreed to let us use their rapid charger, potentially in both directions. Unfortunately, this was topographically worse, there were more and bigger hills, but pride comes before a fall and we piled into the car, and I returned to driving like a saint.
Leaving Wincanton I made a navigational error, and we ended up tromping the wrong way down the A303, adding 8 miles to our route, and two massive hills. As we clambered up and down the slopes of the Dorset countryside, the range guessometer fell and fell, and the battery gauge flicked into the incessant flash of alternating it’s final square and charge now icon.
So of course, we did what you can’t do in an ICE car. We pulled into a pub, offered a couple of quid to them to charge, and plugged in. A little while later we headed off, refreshed and ready, and pulled into the campsite carpark with range to spare. Impressively, leaving Wincanton on the way home, I got it wrong again, and so we popped into a carpark in Bath to charge up whilst we went to Sainsbury’s (who have no charger, sadly), and bought our week’s shopping.
I can’t say that it was the most enjoyable drive I’ve ever done. But on the other hand, as we commented sat eating a delicious meal at the Alexandra Hotel in Lyme Regis (who, incidentally, provide EV charging) it’s much nicer to spend money on really good food rather than petrol.
And so at the end of the day, after a weekend away taking the iMiEV places it was definitely not intended to go (but that it handled with aplomb, and was an absolute pleasure to throw around country lanes), I think I stand by my opinion. We do need cars with increased range, but we also need a better charging network. The answer to going further in ICE vehicles was not to build an infinitely sized petrol tank so as you can drive from one end of the country to the other without filling up (although the minute 8 gallon petrol tank on the Minor is dwarfed by modern ones); nor was it to put petrol stations on every corner. The same is, I suspect, true of charging. More, and more reliable points are needed, but they alone won’t be enough.
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