By on June 11, 2019

With Europe and China promoting aggressive emission mandates, including proposals to eventually prohibit the sale of internal combustion vehicles, electric cars look to be a shoe-in. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change recently recommended moving up the country’s 2040 deadline to end the sale of gasoline or diesel cars to 2035 as part of a wider target to cut the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

Unfortunately, battery electric vehicles still represent less than 1 percent of the region’s new car sales. While EV sales rose 63 percent in April vs the previous year, the adoption rate doesn’t appear to be on the same track as regulatory measures pushed by various authorities.

According to government-commissioned poll from 2016, range anxiety appears to be the primary culprit in the United Kingdom. Most respondents cited recharging their battery as their biggest hangup, with elevated EV costs playing second fiddle.

To test the region’s preparedness for electric vehicles, David Wright, chief electricity engineer at National Grid UK tasked his colleagues with a 565-mile round trip between offices. According to the Financial Times, the mission’s goal was to test the feasibility of a long journey using the UK’s vehicle charging network, which varies greatly in terms of speed, accessibility and location.

“Nine hours of driving, four hours of charge,” Wright reminisced during an EV conference in London last month. (It should be noted that the event was being hosted by BP.)

From FT:

Parliament’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee has described Britain’s charging infrastructure as “poor” and “lacking in size and geographical coverage”, and experts say this is one of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the UK.

Energy network operators, charging companies and motoring associations warn that questions over where and how quickly drivers will be able to charge their vehicles, and how much investment is needed in energy grids to support vehicle charging must be considered with far greater urgency if Britain wants to meet accelerated targets to decarbonise [sic] its economy.

Considering the last time I witnessed the UK’s electric charging infrastructure in action was when Jeremy Clarkson and James May attempted to drive a Nissan Leaf and Peugeot iOn to the beach in 2011, 4 hours of charging represented a marked improvement from their two days of goofing around. Charging times have come down while EV driving range and the prevalence of fast-charger points have gone up. However, National Grid’s 4 hours of waiting still doesn’t sound all that appetizing when one inserts themselves into the scenario.

Of course, every time I mention range anxiety, there’s a puff of smoke introducing a complete stranger who’s eager to remind me that most people do their charging at home, overnight. While absolutely true, not everyone has access to off-street parking or a secondary vehicle to use for road trips. This could be mitigated by a sudden leap forward in energy storage, but that’s not a guarantee.

“The [current] charging infrastructure, you can make it work,” said Dustin Benton, policy director at the Green Alliance. ”But if we want this to really take off we need big charging infrastructure.”

The UK thinks the best solution is to deploy more charging points, including some along curbside parking areas and at office car parks. For destinations further away than your place of employment, Britain also hopes to expand stations along major highways.

FT said that UK motorways are currently dominated by Ecotricity, a start-up that has installed 300 stations, yielding lackluster consumer reviews. Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ Fastned opened a new “superfast” 350 kW EV fast-charging station near Sunderland last month and has plans for five additional 50 kW sites in the area. Unfortunately, no car currently sold in the UK is compatible with its superfast charging stations.

BP has also begun incorporating charge points at its gas stations, along with Shell, but both companies express skepticism regarding the overall plan. While electrification could upend the oil business, the more likely scenario involves fuel companies attempting to gradually shift their business towards EV charging. Naturally, these companies are hesitant to invest without some kind of proof that the public will go crazy for electric cars by 2035 (and governmental support).

There’s also the question of the UK’s energy infrastructure. National Grid and local power providers have repeatedly expressed concerns that the government is pushing for rampant electrification without considering the added draw it would create on networks not built to cope with a large population of electric cars.

Graeme Cooper, project director for electric vehicles at National Grid, said a “really grown up discussion” needs to take place between the energy industry, transport sector, government and Office of Gas and Electricity Markets regarding the type of investments that will be required. That’s probably the best message to take away from this, too.

Regardless of how you feel about EVs, they won’t work if they’re foisted upon people with no plan to support them. And supporting them is a risk right now. Automakers and energy companies have nurtured the internal combustion engine for over a century and, despite seriously looking at EVs, their customer base and the surrounding infrastructure isn’t yet sufficient to support a total shift. This will require serious planning, plenty of time, and loads of collaboration — things all parties should keep in mind when making important decisions, no matter what country they’re in or which side of electrification push they’re on.

[Image: James W Copeland/Shutterstock]

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