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No Driveway? You Can Still Have an Electric Car

Posted April 30, 2018 by Roseanne

How does the UK solve charging for those without off street parking at home? James McKemey, Head of our Insights Team, is back again to decipher another challenge to EV adoption.

Pod Point are fond of the concept of “top-up” charging, i.e. plug your car in wherever it is parked and thus never wait to charge (apart from the handful of times a year when you need to go beyond the range of your car - although this often coincides with a comfort break and we're trying to reduce the charge time there too).

This is why EV ownership is in a different league of convenience to Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars that require weekly detours to vastly expensive petrol stations when you were actually hoping to drive directly to your destination.

In turn, this gives rise to the charging ecosystem below:

This concept works beautifully. Even petrol heads like the idea of their car very inexpensively fuelling itself during the ~95% of its life when it’s sitting there doing nothing.

But a clear challenge here is “...but I park on street, I can’t have a home charger”. It is a real problem. And there is not one silver bullet answer for this. So how do we fix it?


How big is the problem?

Before we declare that the EV market is doomed until 100% of cars can charge 100% of the time, let's consider that today we have ~2.5% of all new car sales with a plug socket. So if this problem prevents ~97.5% of users having an EV it is clearly disastrous. Thankfully that is not the case.

The majority (it’s roughly 60:40) of UK dwellings have off street parking. But it gets better. Those who don’t drive cars are over-represented in the dwellings with no car parking. PWC recently estimated that a stunning 84% of UK drivers have access to off-street parking at home. Wow. So this is absolutely not, in any way, a blocker to the mass adoption of EVs in the UK (say ~30% of sales). Ace! Goodness, what an impact that would have on air quality and CO2 emission reductions.

That said, it is a blocker to full adoption and there remain other issues here: e.g. how do we retrofit chargers into multi-occupancy property parking? Clearly, charging on this scale requires smart charging to mitigate grid impacts. We are still keeping a good chunk of drivers out of the EV revolution and arguably creating a two-tier system between those who can have proper cars vs those condemned to expensive, weak, slow, smelly, pale-imitation, ICE vehicles.


Let’s talk solutions

No home charger. Where else do you park?

Workplace

Many people use their car to get to work. Workplace charging offers a huge opportunity. Most drive <30 miles to work. EVs are likely to have 200 real world miles as standard over the next 3 years. This enables EV driving with the use of the public network for top up, as required. Some modal interchanges (rail station car parks) can also fulfil the workplace role.

On street

Next challenge: no workplace charging and you park on the street - can you fit a charger there? Yes. To an extent. There is public funding available, but it’s rarely spent. This is because fitting genuine charge points on streets is very challenging and expensive. In recent months, lamppost charging has become a more popular option. This clever innovation is a way of eking a little charge from underutilised lighting ring mains and can be a useful enabler for a handful of users, but it doesn’t scale beyond 2 or 3 cars per circuit charging at a time and doesn’t address other issues, such as the parking bay being free when required.

One version of the future sees the public sector either fund or allow the private sector to invest in bringing the mass installation of innovative charging infrastructure into the on-street environment. Some like the concept of induction to remove the cables, but other innovative solutions are being considered. At present this is not feasible, but a critical mass of EVs may change the political will, moving us to a situation where it becomes possible. Having spent some years selling to the UK public sector, this seems ambitious to your scribe.

Rapid hubs

So can we just go back to the refuelling model? Detour once a week or so to charge at a hub of rapid chargers? Maybe. And perhaps you could develop facilities at these hubs that make the dwell time productive/enjoyable. But scaling rapid charging is horrendously costly, making charging costs likely to threaten/exceed the cost of petrol for the users. Also, the model is very inconvenient for users who must forsake charging when they aren’t using their car for waiting to charge when they are trying to use it.

Well placed rapid chargers are critical to EV uptake, but always beware McKemey’s Rapid Charge Paradox, i.e. “The faster the charging point, the longer you spend watching your car charge”. They are just not an appealing way to do the bulk of your charging

Other destinations?

“How far would you be willing to walk for a guaranteed overnight full charge?”, I once asked a regular EV driving private hire cabbie, reliant solely on the public charging network. “15 minutes,” came the response. That’s equivalent to a three-quarter mile walk. That seems like a maximum, but a useful data point.

When we look at town centres we often find high-density housing without car parking within a few hundred metres of large proliferations of parking spaces that are totally empty overnight. These can be found in the likes of council and commercial car parks and car parks for other businesses (e.g. supermarkets).

Commercial car parking

Commercial car parks are largely empty overnight and busy during the day. Why not change the model to work 24hr? Levy a small fee on top of the energy costs and you have a new revenue stream and a great opportunity to capture some new, intensely loyal, local customers.

E.g. Retail parking

Again a small fee on top of the energy costs to could be levied to cover maintenance etc and you would then have a captive market for your bakery etc. when customers return in the morning. You could then ramp the fees as the retail outlet opens, encouraging drivers to leave the charge point before it gets busy.


The ultimate solution?

Autonomous features

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The arrival of fully autonomous features into our cars will offer two solutions to the issues in question.

Those without home chargers will now be able to send their cars someplace to charge; and those without off street parking are likely to be the amongst the first to ditch their cars, opting instead for ride-hailing very inexpensive autonomous vehicles (AVs) for their vehicular mobility needs. This will further reduce the scale of the challenge.

Developing the capacity to charge the AVs (largely overnight during fleet redundancy) will be its own challenge, but can avoid some of the current pitfalls and that provision will solve the on-street charging issue forever.

How soon will this world arrive? Well, that is subject to intense debate, and probably one for another blog.