Our response to Isabel Hardman's charging woes
Posted by Roseanne: Oct 10, 2018 • 4 min read
Our Head of Insights, James McKemey, responds to journalist Isabel Hardman's several rapid charge failures.
As a Radio 4 fan, your Scribe has been a long time Twitter follower of the journalist Isabel Hardman. It came as some surprise to learn that she is also a member of the (not so) secretive community of EV drivers, nobley zipping about in a LEAF. Sadly her days charging the car have not always been effortless, and one Friday there was what can only be described as a weapons-grade marooning incident at Gretna Services, after a couple of failed rapid chargers let her down en route to an evening to promote her new book.
As you can imagine, she was none too impressed and some tasty tweeting followed.
I think I can now confidently say it is a stupid idea to get an electric car. Thanks to @ecotricity’s complete casual failure to maintain their network of charging points, I’m now stranded and unable to get to where I’m supposed to be.— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) 21 September 2018
One can make a case that suggesting buying an EV is a “stupid idea” might be overdoing it. But then when one has been dealt such a bitter blow, fully measured comment is rarely the first thing out of our lips/thumbs.
Some of the responses were surprisingly condescending and accusatory from our EV community, who no doubt felt wounded by this besmirching of our great love and needed to defend it.
This was bit unfair really. Isabel is not employed by anyone to promote our industry. She had just been completely screwed over by it. Whilst EVangelists like myself are drawn to defend EVs, explaining that this is an unfortunate incident in an otherwise brilliant automotive development, we have to at least acknowledge this is a real issue in the here and now.
And it is. Relatively modest range BEVs like this variant of Nissan LEAF are very reliant on rapid charging for any trips >100 miles. Ecotricity have invested a lot in the rapid charge network throughout the country’s Motorway Services Network, which was a noble gesture. The challenge is maintaining it at this scale and developing it to meet a growing need. And sadly the commercials of the endeavour are likely not compelling enough for Ecotricity to have universal rapid (!) response engineering support available countrywide.
But ignoring the contractual challenges with the status quo, how do we move as an industry towards a situation where these maroonings are a thing of the past?
1. Increasing Range
The journey was from somewhere in the Lake District to somewhere in South West Scotland. Egremont to Turnberry Holiday Park is a similar return journey of 291 miles. Some EVs on the market today might just make it, but it would sketchy. I’ve no idea how long such a book event would take, but I would expect something >3 hours parked. If we took a Hyundai KONA (real world range ~250 miles) and plugged into the 7kW Pod Point at the site, we’d have a net range >325 and there would be no requirement for a rapid charger at all.
Indeed, as ranges increase the average drivers’ reliance on rapid charging decreases proportionally - you will find plenty of Tesla drivers who go months without visiting a Supercharger - even though they are quick and free.
2. Proper Rapid Provision
But there is no doubt we still need rapid charger provision. Without it the EV is constrained to the range of the battery, while with a proper network it is as mobile as the conventional car. So I think we need to target something like this:
- Circa 10+ rapid chargers per motorway service area
- 150kW charging
- Easy to use (contactless cards, or app usage for a reduced fee)
The truth is the commercials of rapid charging are marginal at best. The challenge here is the scale of the grid reinforcement needed. 10 x 150kW = 1.5M peak load. Batteries can help, but they won’t be cheap either. Doing it at scale makes it super tough.
How do we overcome the market challenges? I think there are several ways, but this could well be the quickest and most effective direction. We definitely support its serious consideration. Maybe there’s a future blog in how it might work… but that’s for another day.
Thankfully Isabel was eventually rescued and made the show, but the work continues for the end of the maroonings and ever more happy dogs at happy charging points:
FINALLY at a charge point that works! 🎉 pic.twitter.com/K8cCPDOltN— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) September 22, 2018