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Charging Network, Electricity Supply May Cripple Electric Cars.

Charging Network, Electricity Supply May Cripple Electric Cars.

“If EV penetration continues to increase, ageing grids will be unable to cope with extra peak demand, increased demand volatility”

“A battery electric car with “fast” electric charge is about 25 times slower to fill than a vehicle with conventional fuel”

Tesla Inc has a convincing recharging set up in the U.S. and Europe, but the successful development of electric cars is threatened by the strength of the network generally, and the availability of electricity.

And it’s not just the availability of charging stations, it is the time taken to fill up with electricity that threatens the development of battery-only vehicles as they begin to invade the mass market.

Critics say the only sensible solution is to concede that battery electric vehicles make sense only in urban driving, while long-distances should be the preserve of plug in hybrid vehicles for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers are scrambling to build up their own networks. On Friday, BMW, VW and its Audi and Porsche subsidiaries, Mercedes parent Daimler and Ford announced they would create a 400 strong pan-European fast charging network by 2020. Each charging point would have a 350 kW capacity. Last month oil giant Royal Dutch Shell bought one of Europe’s biggest electric vehicle charging companies, Netherlands based NewMotion. NewMotion has 30,000 private home electric charging po9nts, and 50,000 public sites.

But even a much bigger charging infrastructure might not be up to the job of refuelling at peak or vacation times because of the cost of providing adequate fast chargers, the inadequacy of the technology to dispense the stuff fast enough, not to mention the strain on electric generation this implies. 

I recently drove a Tesla Model S 100D with a view to examining the actual range and the adequacy of the recharging here in Southern England. This was designed by Tesla to show off its claim in the best possible light, but given those limitations, the test was positive.

Frankly ridiculous range claim
Tesla claims the range on the 100 Kw Model S 100D is up to 393 miles (NEDC – New European Driving Cycle), but that is frankly ridiculous and only obtainable in the most perfect of circumstances. But the range indicated after it was plugged into a Tesla charging station at the Stoke Park Spa hotel near London’s Heathrow airport for more than 16 hours was 316 miles. (Stoke Park provides electric charging facilities, including 2 destination chargers for Teslas. It paid for my overnight stay). These regular chargers can raise range to over 300 miles in 10 hours.  Tesla claims that its Supercharging network will fill 50% of the battery in 20 minutes, 80% in 40 minutes and 100% in 75 minutes.

That’s impressive, but there were some negatives too.

I found that if, for instance, the range remaining was 292 miles and the car was driven 50 miles, it would actually subtract 63 miles from the total because perhaps some of the route was over highways and speeds of up to 80 mph were hit. That is 10 mph over the legal speed limit in England, but mirrors the actual speed that most vehicles cruise at. On three separate occasions, the mount of mileage consumed ranged from 20% to 30% more than that indicated by the car as available. Tesla says this wouldn’t be a problem for an owner because the car is designed to build up data on the driver’s habits and would adjust its reading to reflect that.

According to Frost & Sullivan analyst, Paris-France based Nicolas Meilhan, when driving on highways at 130 km/h (80 mph), driving range is only 50 to 60% of the official NEDC range. This has big implications for Tesla because its cars have sensational performance and it is winning sales from the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi, but if it is driven fast across European highways it will become second best in the range race.

Tesla fails German test
Automotive News Europe recently reported the case of a German Green Party member Johannes Remmel who bought a Tesla Model S as his official car. The online magazine reported that this model’s claimed range of 311 miles was impossible to achieve and even 250 miles was a struggle. To make sure he could return to base, Remmel had to restrict his journeys to less than 100 miles. He gave up the car.

Frost & Sullivan’s Meilhan said long distance electric cars will take double or triple the time to recharge than a diesel or gasoline vehicle, even with a big charging network.

“A battery electric car with “fast” electric charge (50 kW) is approximately 25 times slower to fill than a vehicle with conventional fuel. Gasoline or diesel drivers will take 5 minutes to take on board what it will take 2 hours for a battery electric car as they will get 6 times less energy in 20 minutes – the equivalent of 100 kilometers compared with 600 kilometers (65 miles versus 375 miles),” Meilhan said in a report earlier this year.

Meilhan said plug-in hybrid cars are best for long-range driving, combing diesel or gasoline with electric power, battery-only ones for urban use.

This will be a powerful incentive to buy a plug-in for long distance journeys. Battery electric vehicles are more suited for city and urban driving. These will be small and light specially designed cars,” he said.

Charging time isn’t an issue for daily commutes of around 30 miles, and in the long term long distance driving will be better served.

Charging stations are very expensive so there won’t be enough and that will lead to huge queues.

“In the long term, 150 kW fast charging stations should reduce this charging time to 40 minutes for 600 km (370 miles) However, assuming two 150 kW charge points in each and every service station, charging network availability will still be 40 times less dense (8 times long x5 less charges) than the existing fuel network, which will be a challenge to pass peak demand during week-end and holidays without waiting hours before being able to charge,” Meilhan said in a recent email reply.

Grid capacity in doubt
And even if there are more chargers, the grid capacity is in doubt.

“An intelligent electricity grid is necessary for EVs or else the grid will fail. If EV penetration continues to increase in the UK (and elsewhere) ageing grids will be unable to cope with 1) the extra peak demand and 2) increased demand volatility,” said Berenberg Bank of Germany analyst Asad Farid in a recent report.

Needless to say, the Tesla Model S 100D was a fabulous drive. Quiet, amazingly fast, and with great quality. There were a couple of nagging criticisms, one trivial, one not so. The screen wipers were noisy and clunky sounding and seemed out of place in a premium car. Once, driving locally, the computer control system intervened quite scarily, detecting the need for evasive action when there was none. It yanked the steering hugely to the right (we drive on the left here don’t forget) to avert this imagined catastrophe, and for a split second I thought I was doomed to a head-on crash. Happily, that wasn’t the case.

And it does seem that whatever the problems in the way of the successful development of electric cars, Tesla will sail serenely on, bypassing the massive traffic jams at highway recharging stations as its smug owners plug in to superchargers only they can use. 

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