/ Motoring

How can public electric vehicle charging be improved?

We need electric car charging infrastructure to change before it’s too late. Following our recent investigation, Citizens Advice gives us its view.

This is a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Which?’s recent investigation highlights many of the challenges people face with electric vehicle (EV) public charging. As the official consumer watchdog for energy across Great Britain, Citizens Advice is familiar with many of these issues.  We also represent consumers on the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce.

Last year, we looked at a year’s worth of tweets about public chargers using a programme called Method52 which analyses what people are saying online. We identified four key challenges that the government needs to address to make public charging smoother and drive up confidence in EVs. 

As the government consults on improving the consumer experience at public chargepoints, their proposals will need to fix these four problems:

🔋 1. Unreliable chargers are frustrating

In more than half (58%) of the tweets we looked at, people had experienced a problem while using a public chargepoint. Establishing a minimum availability of working EV chargers across an operator’s fleet would help address this, and we’re pleased that the government is proposing to do this. 

The cost of this shouldn’t be shifted onto consumers. It’s critical that maintenance costs and plans are agreed before chargepoints are built, and that effective monitoring is put in place.

We know that even with the right standards in place, things can still go wrong. That’s why we support the government’s decision to make it mandatory for chargepoint operators (CPOs) to provide a 24/7 helpline for consumers. 

🔋 2. It’s too hard to find a public charger

In nearly one in five (19%) of the tweets we looked at, people complained about the quality of data on chargepoint apps. This included chargepoints missing from apps, broken chargepoints displayed as working, or chargepoints displaying incorrect information on speed or cost. 

Government is now proposing a ‘standard’ for openly available data, with mandatory data such as location, power-rating and pricing that has to be made available. 

This is a crucial step – but we know that the varying quality of smartphone apps makes the task of finding a chargepoint difficult. The government should also monitor whether the system is working for people, and take action to improve it if not. 

🔋 3. Paying to use public chargepoints can be difficult

Consumers regularly complain about having to download and use multiple apps and company-specific cards to pay. The government’s plans to mandate alternative payment methods that don’t require a mobile or fixed internet connection is very welcome. 

Government is also looking at implementing a roaming solution which would allow people to access different chargepoints using one method (such as a membership card or app). This already exists in other countries and should be available in Great Britain.

There are numerous ways to do this – it’s essential that consumer experience and cost should be prioritised whatever route the government takes. 

🔋 4. Prices are confusing 

Pricing at public chargepoints can be difficult to understand. Some charge for units of energy (p/kwh) while others charge based on the time spent charging. We previously called for the government to introduce a standardised p/kwh metric.

It’s good news for consumers they have decided to do this, as it will help people to understand and compare costs.

We think there should be some flexibility for companies to make different offers – it helps to drive competition and innovation. It can also help to avoid chargepoints being blocked by parked cars. But it’s vital that the government tracks how it works in practice, to make sure people understand what they’re paying for and when. 

Accessibility and safety

In the past we have raised concerns about accessibility and safety when it comes to public chargepoints, and we’re really pleased to see that the government wants to know more about this.

If the government is serious about phasing out petrol and diesel cars, it is essential that public chargers are designed to be used by everybody. We’ll continue to draw on our evidence to highlight these problems.  

Our work on public charging is just one way that we are advocating for an improved experience for EV users. Citizens Advice is the voice for consumers on the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce. Our recent research paper looked at EV and smart-enabled tariffs and their implications for people.

You can find more of our work here or check us out on Twitter here.

This was a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

How do you feel the rollout of electric car charging points has gone so far? What do you think should be done to bring about improvements?

Comments

Thank you for this Conversation. It could wrap together a number of thoughts that have been floating about in Which? Conversation on the whole business of moving into electric motoring, which is no longer an ‘If’, ‘when’ or ‘maybe’. Decisions made now in the pioneering stages of infrastructure implementation will have to be right and be suitable for the long term.

I must admit that, before this morning, I had no idea that Citizens Advice was the “official consumer watchdog for energy across Great Britain”. So what is the situation in Northern Ireland? And what other functions does CA perform in consumer representation? – Which? seems to have kept rather quiet about CA’s role generally; perhaps it considers there is no necessity for another advocacy body in consumer affairs.

On reading the article I was at first a bit baffled by the expression in Problem 1 “working EV chargers across an operator’s fleet”. I thought . . . what is an operator’s fleet? A couple of paragraphs later we were introduced to the term “chargepoint operators (CPOs)”, but the mystery of “fleet” remains. Is it charging stations?, or chargepoint terminals/connexion pillars?, or something else?

Semantics aside, I am intrigued that an analysis of a year’s worth tweets on Twitter would produce a credible representation of consumer opinion for use in influencing the government. It seems to have worked to a certain extent so perhaps there is a lesson for Which? there. But my concern is that, by their very nature, tweets are a very selective source of evidence that excludes a goodly proportion of the citizenry, predominantly captures negative opinion so is unbalanced, and is unstructured causing interpretational difficulties. On the other hand, and in favour of this form of opinion survey, tweets about charging points will only reflect the experiences of users of electric vehicles and not drivers generally, and will focus on the problems of using them thus narrowing the range of responses to the critical issues. It would be useful to undertake a wider opinion survey of people who have not tweeted about their problems and have had nothing but satisfactory experiences; they might also have important views on the workability of different approaches to vehicle recharging.

Clearly the more standardisation that can be introduced into electric vehicle recharging the better, and that has been a theme in many of the comments received here in different Conversations. As with any new technology, there are rival systems available [vide video recorders] and the motor manufacturers and the energy suppliers will no doubt be battling it out to see which one wins in the end, so the sooner the government supports a particular standard interface the better. But is it going to carry out comparative technical tests or just rely on the popular feedback of tweets?

I shall be interested to see what the rest of this community makes of CA’s exploration of this subject.

Thanks, Dhara.

The Conversation is proving very interesting, largely because it is not over-constrained by the topic.

I support the use of smart tariffs to help balance the load on generators over a 24 hour period. I have my reservations about feeding electricity back into the grid on a regular basis because that will shorten the life of vehicle batteries.

This is new technology and as it evolves these problems will surface and gradually be rectified (AC or DC?) . Electric vehicles are still being developed and the charging structure is still in its infancy. Go back a few years and motor spirit was available at chemists and hardware shops in cans to begin with. The pump evolved until it now appears everywhere. So it is with charging points. They have to keep up with demand for electric vehicles and deal with the fact that they are in single use for long periods, unlike the petrol pump. I expect there to be snags along the way for the next twenty years or so until everyone is buzzing round without thinking about the next charge point. I’m glad the situation is being monitored and companies urged to get their respective acts together. As they do so, the motoring world will evolve and evolve at the rate that these charge points appear and become universal in their access and payment procedures. Electric progress is parallel, with car manufacturers doing their bit and the electric companies keeping pace. The public has to be patient while all this gets more main stream and less ad-hoc.

One of the things that alarms me is the idea of belting a huge current into a battery for a quick charge. The amount of energy passing down the cable is one thing and the effect on the battery, short and long term is another. Mains current is bad enough but when it is multiplied by several amounts, any leakage could be explosive in its reaction. It seems as though Tesla and others are using this idea to fast charge vehicles in minutes rather than hours. Has there been any research about battery life under such conditions? What is the fire risk?

I was thinking quite seriously about buying an electric car.
Having heard about all the problems with charging points I think I shall have to stick with my smelly old diesel until someone sorts it all out..

Phil says:
9 April 2021

A common standard for charging points.

I was planning to replace my present car in 2022 when it will be ten years old. I may keep it another year since it has seen very little use during the pandemic and because electric vehicles, charging facilities are evolving so fast, and I’m still hoping that the price of EVs will fall.

I strongly support the aims of Citizens Advice, as set out in Dhara’s introduction to this Conversation. It is particularly disappointing that we still have different types of connectors used by different manufacturers and the sooner manufacturers have to comply with a standard the better.

I must admit I have more faith in Citizens Advice resolving the compatibility and distribution problems than certain other organisations.

It’s interesting that Vynor compared the development with the early days of internal combustion engine vehicles and the evolution of petrol pumps. Shell and BP are two of the leading providers of electric vehicle charging points. Shell aspire to having 5,000 charge points by 2025 delivering 100% renewable energy [energy sources need verifying], and BP aims for 16,000 charge points by 2030. I assume these numbers represent the individual supply points rather than the hubs.

A new charging hub recently opened near Braintree in Essex with capacity to charge up to 36 cars at the same time. The operator is Gridserve Sustainable Energy Ltd which hopes to provide 100 public recharging stations in community locations rather than alongside main roads. The company is developing solar farms to generate the power required to enable their supplies to come from 100% renewable sources; the power will be fed into the National Grid for distribution and there will be high capacity battery storage at the charging hubs to enable grid balancing. The solar panels at their photovoltaic generators will be bifacial, allowing them to harvest energy from both sides of the panel.

There will come an interesting crossover point when fossil fuel sales fall to the point when conventional filling stations become uneconomic and fuel duty revenue collapses. Many could convert partly or wholly to electric vehicle charging [subject to power supplies]. As that time approaches EV sales will probably accelerate and demand could overtake supply capacity. I just hope power supplies will keep pace with the uptick in demand – a lot of faith is being placed in a further expansion of wind and solar power because the nuclear gap will probably not be closed in time. The taxation regime would have to change as well.

I can’t see on-street charging infrastructure keeping pace with the sales of EV’s so public charging hubs might be the only way of achieving the government’s target to ban sales of new fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030.

I do hope that Shell and BP will have competition. I avoid buying fuel from them and head to the supermarket filling stations unless this is not practical.

Citizens Advice have proposed that the cost of electricity should be shown as pence per kWh and I strongly support that. At present, Ofgem sets a maximum price for resale of electricity (e.g. by landlords). Presumably similar regulation will be needed for public charging points.

I haven’t seen any comments from the supermarkets about the use of their forecourts for electric vehicle charging. By the nature of their store and car parking layouts, their filling stations are often quite cramped [especially in urban areas] being designed for the quick turn-round of vehicles to fill up and move on. However, I can’t see them being left behind on this and if rapid charging technology is successful then it should not be too difficult to arrange for vehicles to recharge while the driver is doing the shopping.

I agree there must be a standardised unit price basis across all charging point operators. However, I don’t immediately see why there should be a maximum price for electrical energy sold at charging points anymore than there is for petrol and diesel sold at a pump. That could deprive rural communities in more remote or hard-to-serve locations of sufficient recharging facilities.

It’s not just the price of power from the grid that has to be recovered from the sale price but the overheads and staffing costs for each charging hub. A major national operator could equalise those costs across their estate but a smaller regional or local provider could be faced with higher costs in their catchment area and need to recover them. If we want good competition then I think we must leave pricing to the market. [Energy price controls on landlords are a different issue; tenants are captive and in a direct relationship with landlords; historic evidence demonstrated that tenants needed protection from abuse of the landlord’s dominant position.]

There may be more players in the oil industry these days, and things might have changed, but some years ago, the likes of Shell, BP and Esso supplied the supermarkets with fuel. Supermarket fuel didn’t contain the additives that supposedly looked after your engine which was why it was cheaper and why we don’t buy from supermarkets. 🙂 🙃 🙂

Whether the claimed benefits of premium fuels are worth it is an argument that will run and run – rather like engines do these days. Back in the days when cylinder heads had to be decarbonised regularly and petrol engines did not have computers and anti-knock sensors, the quality of fuel was certainly a factor.

John – I don’t know what will happen in rural areas but perhaps householders will be allowed to resell electricity to passing motorists, helping supporting the local economy. If this happens then regulation of resale price might not go amiss.

Phil says:
10 April 2021

It all comes from the same refineries which are run by the big oil companies but as you say supermarket petrol doesn’t have the additives the majors use which is why it’s cheaper.

Supermarkets would be better off installing charging points in their car parks so customers can charge their cars whilst shopping or having a cup of tea in the cafe.

I bet the premium fuels have a higher profit margin too. 🙂

I agree that having a cafe would make waiting for charging more bearable. A related issue is the need to move customers away from the charging point as soon as possible to make it available for other customers. I presume that apps will provide users with a timely warning to move their car.

Phil says:
10 April 2021

There’s very little, if any, money to be made from fuels sales. For most concerns it’s just a way of getting punters in to spend money in the attached shop.

I can’t see any reason why householders should not be allowed to sell electricity to drivers so long as they park off the road to connect. Our next door neighbour charges for the use of her driveway to a commuter during the week and some people rent their properties out via Airbnb; such activities require no special permission and I think electric charging should be the same.

I see no need for resale price controls either. No doubt such arrangements would be organised through an app which would give the unit price per Kwh [or whatever metric was devised]. Regulation comes at a cost in administration and enforcement and seems an unnecessary burden on the government for little benefit.

I would not want to use a private charger without knowing that the installation is electrically safe to avoid the risks of electrocution and fire. Car chargers can deliver much higher currents than a mains socket. Airbnb properties are subject to fire regulations, but I don’t know if they have to meet the regulations for electrical safety imposed on landlords.

Incidentally, the SI unit of energy is kWh, not kwh, Kwh or kW/h, etc. The poor thing is one of the most abused units.

Just remember that Watt was someone’s name. The symbol is often incorrectly written. ” Symbols: Unit symbols are written in upper case letters when derived from the name of a person (W for watt, Pa for pascal, A for ampere etc.).“
The watt is not a basic SI unit but a derived one.
The seven SI base units, are comprised of:
Length – metre (m)
Time – second (s)
Amount of substance – mole (mol)
Electric current – ampere (A)
Temperature – kelvin (K)
Luminous intensity – candela (cd)
Mass – kilogram (kg)
”.

I presume any private person selling electricity to the the public to charge an EV would need to be insured, have equipment regularly checked and probably need a licence. I wonder for the small return that would give whether it would be worth it. Unless other services were offered from the premises……..

An obvious incentive to provide a charging point is if you use your property as an Airbnb. I hope I’m OK letting neighbours park on the drive occasionally – for no charge.

To add to the list of SI units, the coulomb (C) is the unit of electric charge. 🙂

Has that superseded the pound? I’ll see if I can write a cheque in coulombs to Scottish Power. 🙁

It might be worth councils that are struggling to provide sufficient public charging points exploring the possibility of encouraging householders with private parking and charging facilities to make these available for use by others.

“Encouraging” sounds rather like providing incentives or subsidies. I do not want my council tax used to fund private households to help EV owners. The system needs to stand on its own feet (tyres). Out council has provided two charging points in one of their car parks that I use. I have never yet seen a car use them.

Encouraging need not involve payment, but providing small grants may be a cost effective way for some councils to meet their target for charging points. Regarding incentives we already have grants towards the purchase of certain models of battery electric vehicles and towards the cost of installing a charge point.

Our town used to have a charge point in the shopping centre but Lidl and Morrisons have now joined in and it appears that the Council has provided two. Here is one source of information: https://www.zap-map.com

Grants are payments, aren’t they. That sounds like accountant speak 🙂 🙂
EVs are expensive even with a grant so affordable largely by those already able to buy a new car. I am not in favour of that subsidy, nor the cost of charging points. I would rather public money was devoted to public transport (electric / hybrid) for the benefit of all, including those less well off, and sharing in the cost of setting up UK manufacturing of electric vehicles and associated components.

I thought what I said was clear.

I expect there will be further subsidies in future, maybe scrappage schemes to get the most polluting cars off the road.

The householder would certainly be wise to have the electrical installation certified as compliant but I doubt many external users would enquire about the safety aspects.

Allowing non-household use could become a question on buildings and contents insurance policy quotations.

If a car is going to be left on charge for several hours there is no need for the power supply to deliver a high power rapid recharge.

I bet people will allow others to park on their drive and charge up their car without any authority knowing about it – and why not? Why should they need a licence?

Streets with driveways probably won’t have a problem with residents’ vehicle recharging although they could contribute to the overall availability of facilities for other local residents but I foresee time conflicts.

It will be interesting to see how many local authorities will provide recharging points on the public highway. I don’t think they will be under any obligation to do so and it might be unlawful for them to do so without making an overall surplus on the operation. It is more likely that they will tender concessions so that private companies are authorised to open the highway and provide the installations in return for payment [at the prices bid in their tenders], or for the provision of highway improvements, or for both.

Unless the car was there all day you would need a 7kW charger and that’s more than enough to cause mayhem if not properly installed and maintained. There are still many homes that don’t have an RCD, so it would be foolhardy to plug an EV into a wall socket for a slow charge. I agree that it might be necessary to have insurance cover. We can wait and see what happens but I expect that regulations will eventually appear, though they would be difficult to police.

I envisage that informal charging arrangements on a private driveway would involve all-day recharging on a regular basis set up between the householder and the car owner. If it was run like a commercial recharging facility with rapid charging it would probably need planning permission because it could soon become a public nuisance. I would object if our neighbour did that and had a turnover of vehicles throughout the day.

I doubt whether all councils will set targets for electric vehicle charging points – I don’t think it is obligatory to do so. Many streets will not have space for recharging all the vehicles owned by the residents of the street.

Eventually the government might have to legislate to require local authorities to bring order into the situation before it descends into chaos. I see that as the rough end of the stick that the government doesn’t want to handle, in the foreseeable future at least.

I hope the action being taken now by Citizens Advice will propel the government into sensible action before it’s too late. The track record on that is not encouraging.

I wonder who would use these charging points. Most EV users will have adequate range from a single charge to last a week if the vehicle is used locally. Many owners will have suitable charging arrangements. Those who need public charging points are more likely, I would think, would be those making long journeys. I doubt they would use private charging points. Just my thoughts.

Maybe there will need to be an appointments system for charging EVs at central charging centres. Most EV owners will get a week’s motoring out of a single charge so, when they do not have their own source, they will have to suffer some inconvenience to keep their private transport ready for use. Maybe they will find better public transport to be an alternative some of the time and thus avoid charging too regularly.

I don’t think there will be much trade in electricity on people’s private driveways, except perhaps where people have a standing arrangement with a commuter or other regular user for renting a space on the drive during weekdays when a weekly recharge of the vehicle might be a part of the deal. People won’t want to get involved on either side in complex transactions and billing.

I can imagine if we had relatives coming over to visit we would let them charge up before their long journey home but there would be no charge for the electricity.

As for commercial recharging stations, I think some form of appointment system will be necessary, at least at busy times, until capacity builds up and demand has settled down. The occupation times for chargepoints will be quite different to the situation with fuel pumps. The charging stations might need to allow for each chargepoint to be engaged for 20-30 minutes [allowing for some coming and going, late arrivals and departures, and other operational exigencies]. A fair amount of space will be needed to allow for queuing and waiting – charging slots could be cancelled if the vehicle was late by more than a few minutes. No doubt it will all settle down quite quickly as people get to know when is the best time to get served with their trickle of juice. Presumably the driver will be required to remain on site throughout the charging period so that the vehicle can leave the stand as soon as charging is complete.

As has been said, early electric car sales will be to people who have charging facilities where they live, so roadside charging stations will really only be needed for long journeys and from 2030 when there will be no alternative to having an electric car for regular use [when liquid fuel supplies will start to dry up]. However, if sufficient progress is not forthcoming with rolling out on-street charge points for the millions of car owners who have to park on the public highway , then the commercial charging hubs will be in high demand. Comparative pricing – on-street versus off-street – could become an issue affecting local decisions: what if the council had, at enormous expense, dug up the streets and installed charging stanchions only to find that a big charging station opened up down the road with cheaper juice?

Perhaps a new psychosomatic symptom of recharging anxiety will develop if the whole process becomes too stressful and petty squabbles arise over who is first at the plug.

There will be an awful lot of diesel and petrol vehicles still on the road in 2030 when the sales of new ones is set to cease. Many people will simply be unable or unwilling to part with what was an expensive purchase, apart from the millions of commercial vehicles that will still need, mainly, diesel. So I doubt fuel will dry up that quickly.

I wonder what scope there is to convert existing cars to electric? Scrapping 36 000 000 perfectly usable vehicles is hardly good for sustainability.

I don’t entirely share your confidence in the availability of petrol from 2030, Malcolm. I think the supply of petrol will start to wither away as soon as electric car sales overtake petrol and diesel car sales. Ultimately, fuel availability will follow the pattern of demand and at the end of this decade we could be having Conversations about the distribution of petrol pumps instead of ATM’s.

The production of many petrol and diesel models will start to be scaled back well before 2030 and the used car market will be changing dramatically – although that could be useful for those who don’t want to change to an electric car if old petrol cars became significantly cheaper. Trade-in values for petrol and diesel cars would tumble the closer we got to the end of the road for fossil fuel, so many owners might change to electric sooner rather than later to take advantage of better trade-in rates.

There are approximately 30 million cars in use at present. At the normal average rate of vehicle ownership turnover [2.5m p.a.], it would take about twelve years to replace all the fossil fuel cars on the road today. But I don’t expect the change to proceed at an even pace; I think it will pick up quite soon and then start accelerating so that only a relatively small number of petrol and diesel cars will be left by 2033. And as they go, liquid road fuel supply will reduce as filling stations convert to electric charging hubs.

Whatever might happen to cars I presume there will still be very large numbers of diesel commercial vehicles on the road that will need fuelling. Hopefully I can take my diesel car there.
However, many people either hang on to their cars a long time for sustainability reasons or buy older cars because they do not have the spare cash for anything better, certainly not £30k for an electric car. The key in my view is providing much better public transport so the poorer members of our society are not forgotten.

I certainly agree with that, Malcolm.

My comment recognised that diesel cars will outlast petrol ones because of the need for fuel for commercial vehicles – although electric vans are starting to become more noticeable now.

Electric-powered medium trucks [up to 15 tonne payloads] are on the horizon but there is no likelihood of LGV’s [up to 44 tonnes] running on anything other than diesel in the foreseeable future, so electrifying more of the railways – at least the core freight routes – should be a parallel priority.

Having been awarded £32 m of taxpayers’ money by the government for transport improvements in and around Norwich, our county council has consulted on some potty road schemes. I have recommended that they spend the money on a fleet of new electric buses with a solar recharging capability to boost the batteries while in service.

Stephen Tompsett says:
10 April 2021

Mass use of electric vehicles will require a redesign of the electrical generation and distribution network. Hydrogen offers a much better long term replacement for hydrocarbon fuel, generate using ‘wasted’ green power produced at times of day when people don’t want to use it, long term fuel cells in vehicles. Short term Hydrogen conversion as was done for LPG. N.B. Also add Hydrogen to domestic gas supply to “green-up’ that energy usage instead of ripping out and replacing existing central heating systems….

You might be right, Stephen, but, so far as I have read, the production of hydrogen is nowhere near as efficient as direct electrical power – even using ‘green’ hydrogen [i.e. that made using electricity wholly derived from renewable resources].

Using electricity to make hydrogen which then has to be used to make electricity [to power the motor] is inherently wasteful as there are losses on both sides of the equation. There are advantages with hydrogen in that it can be made when electricity demand is low and then stored, and filling a car with hydrogen [in compressed liquid form] could be a much quicker operation than recharging with electricity. Moreover, unlike with batteries, the weight of the on-board fuel would progressively diminish as the fuel was consumed.

Given that many electric vehicles will be recharged privately at home overnight [or at any convenient time using smart meter technology to use electricity when it is cheapest], whereas hydrogen powered vehicles will have to be refilled at filling stations [which takes user time out], consumers might prefer the convenience of doing it at home. Furthermore, there might not be so much surplus renewable power overnight as people imagine; for one thing the sun doesn’t shine at night and solar power will be an important component of renewable energy. Providing infrastructure for both direct electric power through batteries and for hydrogen-powered energy could also be inefficient and the development curve is in favour of direct electricity at the moment; with 2030 in sight I think straightforward electricity from the grid is the way to go.

I see more mileage in using hydrogen in the domestic gas supply as it would be far less disruptive and economical than installing heat pumps to replace gas boilers, triple glazing to improve insulation, and bigger radiators and underfloor heating to ensure enough warmth. With heat pumps you cannot just turn up the dial and get a warmer room in minutes, but they could be successful as part of the overall design of the more expensive types of new-build house [not that those types will meet the country’s housing needs in the foreseeable future]. Digressing for a moment, the better-off can always afford to live cheaply because they can sink the capital outlay in the appreciating asset value; tenants and home owners of modest means [e.g. pensioners] do not have that opportunity.

There has been talk of providing overhead electricity lines for large goods vehicles on motorways and trunk roads. The time and cost of installing the infrastructure to enable adequate efficient uptake will count against that. It would be better, cheaper, and quicker to upgrade the railway network and transfer more heavy haulage on trunk routes to rail. I think goods traffic will run on diesel for many years yet.

John, I agree there will not be sufficient generation capacity to fuel cars, cooking and domestic heating. Whether sufficient hydrogen can be generated by “out of hours” wind energy is doubtful, but the best use for it is heating and cooking. Any shortage should be suffered by car owners.

In the absence of sufficient nuclear we should also be covering our sources by constructing tidal energy generation in appropriate locations, otherwise we will suffer rather severe consequences.

I see no point in installing overhead wires on our motorways when we should be developing our electrified railways to carry freight to distribution centres.

Phil says:
10 April 2021

Railway electrification has proved to be eye-wateringly expensive, I suspect covering the motorway network will prove to be the same. Experiments with hydrogen powered trains are well advanced and if successful might prove a cheaper ‘turnkey’ replacement for diesel.

Having read an article that Wavechange posted recently I am revising my opinions on tidal energy [It would be useful to have the link repeated here if possible Mr W.].

There seem to be some quite damaging conservation issues arising from tidal barrages largely through the disturbance of wildlife habitats with scouring of shorelines and the alteration of flow rates which upset the ecological balance – and it would not just affect molluscs and fish. as birds and some mammals would also lose their feeding grounds. Scientific advances and design changes could mitigate such adverse effects in time and they might become more acceptable.

So far as I know, the Mersey Estuary Barrage scheme is still going ahead although there are strong objections from the Cheshire and Lancashire Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB over potential environmental damage to the tidal mudflats and saltmarshes, but these concerns are countered by academics from the University of Liverpool and Lancaster University who claim there are much wider environmental and economic benefits [including improved wildlife habitats] than merely supplying clean renewable energy. The Mersey Estuary has one of the largest tidal ranges in the UK so the power of a barrage could be immense and the Mersey Tidal Commission has been established [with £32.5m of government seed funding] to take the project forward].

I do not see why further, but smaller-scale, hydro-electric power could not be developed where there is suitable topography but most opportunities would be likely to be in national parks, conservation areas, AONB’s and SSSI’s unfortunately.

High flow rates or high tidal ranges are not essential for tidal power generation. Extant structures from the Industrial Revolution like the Bow Tide Mill on the River Lee in London and the Woodbridge Tide Mill on the River Deben in Suffolk show how, with the right sort of waterwheel that can harness the force of a slow-running river or tidal inlet, useful power can be generated on the incoming or outgoing tides to be fed into the grid. Perhaps it wouldn’t excite a turbine but it could still serve a purpose in a comprehensive energy plan. One advantage of tidal power is that it is available when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

I think we have to recognise that we cannot discuss electric motoring without examining the availability of electric power or considering alternatives that could – with development – prove to be more suitable.

I make no pretence to be knowledgeable about habitat change. However, throughout history we have changed habitats; building cities, canals, railways (HS2 is currently changing a lot of habitats), roads. And, of course, water related ones – river control, reservoirs, dockyards, harbours, ports, Cardiff Bay, just as examples. They have not caused devastating effects as far as I know, but as I say…….

I am not sure what catastrophic effect a river barrage might have for example. The daily water level would largely cover the same amount of ground, but just last for a controlled time instead of a natural one. And would the wildlife not adapt? I’d like to be convinced. But we must remember that sourcing our energy from renewables instead of fossil fuels would be a real benefit to wildlife in terms of pollution and global warming (as it would for us – just another form of wild life). What threat would nuclear waste pose in the long term?

There was a an error in my previous post. The figure for the initial funding for the Mersey Tidal Commission is £2.5m, not £32.5m. The money is only for some research and assessment to see whether there might be a viable case for a barrage.

I have read that where there has been environmental disturbance the natural world has recovered or adapted within ten years. There are not many tidal barrages in existence – let alone still operating – so firm evidence is hard to come by.

The world has changed, I am afraid, Malcolm, and these major infrastructure projects bring out the protestors. The theory is that for every negative aspect there has to be full mitigation or compensation. Sometimes the bigger picture gets obscured.

In terms of the River Mersey, Birkenhead, Runcorn and Widnes have a lot to answer for: by the 1950’s Widnes had 45 major chemical factories.

John – I recall the article you are referring to but I might not be able to find it. You are absolutely right that the world has changed. Proposed developments must be vetted carefully, not least for environmental impact. A charity that I’m involved with has lent its voice to oppose a proposed recreational development within an internationally protected wildlife site.

Malcolm – Thanks for the article (2009) on the environmental impact of tidal power schemes. The authors of one of the articles cited were colleagues of mine. Unfortunately they are now working in other areas.

Environmental impact assessment is extremely difficult and we need to proceed with caution.

Thanks Wavechange.

I was just about to have another look for the copy I printed off before since I couldn’t remember which Conversation you had first posted it in.

This is a shorter url for access to this document –
https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-435/

Some major infrastructure schemes are currently being held up while the courts decide whether or not the EIA’s are adequate following challenges by campaigners [e.g. landfall cable routes for wind farm energy supplies to the grid connector station on the outskirts of Norwich].

A new industry has grown up around the need to produce EIA’s. I have seen a few EIA’s in connexion with fairly straightforward planning applications and they seem to consume a forest’s worth of paper and a heavy load of energy in themselves. Glossy covers and binding systems add to their resource demand.

The Parliamentary Report is quite inconclusive with two theoretical models producing contrasting results. It is also 8 years old, based on older evidence. But it does raise issues that need examining, including mitigation to offset some effects of a barrage.

However, loss of habitat and environmental impact will only be in the specific area where a barrage installation is constructed. There is a lot more to the UK than the Severn Estuary and more places the wildlife could flourish, if displaced.

However, we are facing not just an energy crisis where we need to provide much more electrical capacity, but an environmental crisis due to global warming and air pollution. We need to think of the benefits to all – humans and wildlife – of improving the natural environment generally. Sourcing electricity from wind, sun and water – whether wave, tidal flow or tidal storage – is essential to our future and to reducing the pollution that blights all of nature.

Is nuclear an option? I wonder whether there is sufficient ability to construct and fuel the number of new power stations necessary. We must remember the UK are not alone in this; countries worldwide will be competing for nuclear resource. Whereas we are blessed with a free source of energy that surrounds us. We should make the most of all our green energy resources before it is too late.

I agree with your comment, Malcolm.

I think we should continue with nuclear power station development – we are heavily committed to two new power stations at Hinkley Point C [forecast to start generating electricity in 2025] and Sizewell C [estimated completion date 2031] – and start the process for a follow-on programme starting when Hinkley Point C completes in order to keep the capability rolling.

I also think we should start a second tidal barrage scheme [assuming the Mersey Estuary scheme comes to fruition] and possibly also have a rolling programme with an overlap.

I wonder what the protestors would offer as a way forward. Major projects that affect the environment need a debate but we do have to keep our heads out of the sand and decide how we provide energy in the future and minimise the use of fossil fuels. I doubt there is any way to achieve that without change. Responsible involvement must recognise that and find a sensible solution – without prevaricating for years.

The problem with deciding a “viable” case is the parameters used. If it were just on kWh cost we would probably never have moved away from fossil fuel, coal in particular. I’d suggest the major factor should be “renewable”. We can, I believe, place less emphasis on the construction costs as long as we do it in house and not contract it out to foreigners. Like wind and sun, the energy source is free.

The National Infrastructure Commission is the official body charged with carrying out an evaluation of major projects balancing the various concerns against the national interest. There will always be some conflicting interests in any major scheme and the question is the weight to be attached to each. Ecology, environmental effects, conservation, side-effects and counter-balancing benefits can all be mixed into the assessment but that’s where the disputes arise. The NIC then has a duty to make the judgment and pronounce. To some extent the government’s decarbonisation policy [implying reduced emissions] has made it easier to make a decision in favour of developing more renewable energy resources even if there are significant environmental detriments. The conflicts do not necessarily have to be evenly balanced on a single project basis or even generally, in my opinion.

I think regulation of safe electrical earthing is an issue here, especially as the vehicle body is a large mass of metal insulated from the ground by the tyres so if a charger is not thoroughly professionally installed there is a danger of vehicle bodies becoming seriously LIVE with quite possible fatal results. So I think the government should not allow just anyone to install home chargers but just like with gas installations it should be a job for professionals only, especially as safe electrical earthing is quite a technical matter which really needs someone properly qualified to understand it. Especially as there is so many different variations of supply systems, there’s the old traditional TNS system, and the more recent TNCS, and of course also the TT system where you don’t get a separate earth wire from the supply transformer but you have to make a suitable earth at your own property and of course ground conditions vary considerably so it’s not a job for amateurs. And I think suitably rated RCD’s should be compulsory for EV charging points. There is some excellent videos on youtube about the various options and regulations for safe earthing, sorry I’m not sure how to provide any links but it is quite a subject on it’s own and it’s no wonder the regulations book has a whole chapter on earthing.

Thanks for giving more information about the dangers. The present grant scheme for EV chargers is only available for professional installations, which will help. I presume that home installations would not be permitted under the Part P regulations because a new circuit would be needed. I think I am right in saying that privately owned homes with old wiring are still quite common. These may have a fuse box and no RCD. If I stayed with friends I would want to inspect their electrical system before plugging in an EV.

This reminds me of a rather dangerous situation I encountered some years ago where someone I used to know had a campervan parked on a public road and he had it hooked up to his mains supply WITHOUT an earth! So I sorted it pretty quick. And now a lot of local supply networks are being or have been rewired and substations rebuilt etc. as they have where I live so it’s quite possible now that local earthing systems will have been somewhat altered and some old TNS supplies now might well be more like TNCS with all the problems that can cause. And I hope the new cables and transformers they’re installing will have bigger capacity as they’ll need to with so many charging points being needed.

You are right there Wavechange. In my own circumstance it was the replacement an electric shower that changed the fuse box to an RCD set of trip switches. I had lived with the fuse box without a thought. Now, of course, even that RCD box has been updated in the recent build. The point is that it was these items that changed the circuits and not an official order from the authorities to modernise. There was no push from outside to do anything. Thus many people may have been like me and not bothered.

At least if you use a public charge point you should be safe.

Crusader – I guess you are an electrician, understanding the different earthing systems etc. I’m not but I don’t go far without a Martindale tester. I’ve found two hook-up leads with crossed L and N conductors another with no Earth and plenty of extension leads and mains sockets with no Earth. Several years ago a friend was asking my advice about some electrical matters and I found three sockets with defective Earth. Although he has been a shrewd businessman his attitude was that there cannot be anything wrong since the sockets work. He was thinking about buying an EV but thankfully he bought a petrol one.

Vynor – Home owners are not required to have their electrical system inspected, but their insurance may require that it is in safe condition. There is no requirement to have an RCD, though it will improve your chances of not being electrocuted, and fuseboxes are still allowed in existing installations. You will be able to plug your car in to a mains socket if you visit or stay with friends but a public charger could be safer.

I am recommending all the young people I know who have a technical aptitude to take up an electrician apprenticeship. I think secure long-term employment is virtually guaranteed.

A better bet then media studies. Time we had more vocationally-qualified people who can actually contribute something useful.

If you have not had your wiring inspected recently, now might be a good time, particularly if you want to charge an EV without a professionally installed charge point. I have found the YouTube videos by John Ward useful in helping me understand the earthing systems that Crusader has mentioned.

I hope that if councils encourage homeowners to make charging facilities available to others on a commercial basis that they will require inspection of these facilities.

I presume that public charge points will be subject to period inspection and testing.

As a matter of interest, what stops the local vandal or curious kid from disconnecting a car left on a public street charger overnight? And do the cables recoil or reel back into the unit when disconnected?

Here is a useful video about public EV chargers: https://www.smarthomecharge.co.uk/guides/how-to-use-a-public-charger-for-an-electric-car/

The cable hangs much like the pipe of a petrol pump when not in use and would not be flexible enough to reel up. With these tethered chargers the connector is locked to the car when the vehicle is being charged. I hope there is an interlock that stops users driving off with their car still hooked up.

Phil says:
12 April 2021

Unlikely to deter cable thieves after the copper.

I presume that sites are monitored by CCTV cameras. If vandals can be identified I expect they will be charged.

In my question I was thinking primarily of the street stanchions that will have to be installed throughout our towns and cities.

The video pre-supposes that most electric car owners will be charging their batteries overnight at home. That is probably true initially because there is little alternative, and only people with the space and equipment to charge up at home will buy an EV.

It did not seem to recognise that eventually possibly 75% of electric vehicles will have to be charged on the public highway via a cable connected to a supply point. I think these units can recharge up to four cars simultaneously so a bit of neighbourly organisation will be necessary.

The units will be used for long charging periods rather than rapid recharges so the power supply is relatively low and the cables much thinner than at the charging hubs. Two snips with some heavily insulated bolt cutters would have the cable away. It is unlikely that every street with kerbside chargers will be covered by CCTV monitoring.

I am concerned that local authorities are taking far too long to get on with the job of having street chargers installed. To enable universal all-electric motoring by 2035 [say] councils must start deciding very soon where they are going to install street charging points in an order of progress. This could be politically tricky, and controversial, and will take some time. We have got to avoid people in a road scrapping over who can park outside their own house [will EV’s get parking priority near a stanchion?], and also avoid EV owners running a cable across the pavement.

Might be a lot of vagrants hooking their caravans up to street charging points. Some naughty householders have connected to lamp posts in the past.

I don’t want to see yet more streets watched by CCTV. It is an uncomfortable feeling.

The essential problem is EVs take too long to recharge. Who wants to hang around while it happens when you could be watching paint dry instead. And why should I be forced to go for an unpleasant meal or an expensive coffee just to while away the hours? One way would be to standardise battery packs in modules and make them easily interchangeable. So you rent them and when yours needs replenishing, the charging station exchanges it. Alternatively you rent your electric vehicle and swap it for a charged one. At least for those unable to charge their own conveniently.

I do not think we should expect an electric life to be the same as a fossil fuel one.

Phil says:
12 April 2021

CCTV hasn’t done much to deter catalyst converter thieves. Rumour has it that some have been taken in front of their owners.

This outfit seem to have done most of Which?’s work for them although they have assumed that every household has a car:-

https://www.field-dynamics.co.uk/25-drivers-no-off-street-parking/

John – There are various solutions for preventing theft of charging cables (which will be your own property) for use with non-tethered charging points.

Cars generally have a much longer life than they did in the past and I presume that these will still be available secondhand after new petrol/diesel ones are no longer available. During the pandemic, homes with gardens have become more popular and expensive. I’m sure that homes with charging points or the opportunity to install one will be an attractive feature for many buyers and homes with no parking will become more affordable and attractive to those who do not wish to or are not permitted to drive.

At present our council is offering free charging at its two charging sites in town, presumably as an incentive to use them. At our small shopping centre you can park for two or three hours for £1 with free charging. Morrisons and Lidl offer no such perks.

I wonder if the current priority should be for councils to make their roads fit to use by everyone, including cyclists and motorcyclists, by fixing potholes. Let people with off-road space take up EVs first. Those who live in crowded towns without their own facilities should have access to good local public transport and be encouraged to use it.

I do not think an electrical future will simply replicate the personal transport freedom we currently enjoy – although given rush hour traffic, jams, parking restrictions “enjoy” is not an appropriate description for many. Good local public transport would address those problems if private transport were restricted. There are just too many of us competing for space to make the current situation sustainable.

If you charge your vehicle at someone else’s property then take a portable plug in RCD, they’re widely available and they’re cheap enough now, but always test such a device before each use as I’ve had at least two of them fail and they didn’t fail safe. And you can either get a plug in adapter, or a plug with an RCD built in, or an extension cable with such a device fitted, and you can also get inline RCD’s to fit in an extension lead yourself. And you can also get a basic RCD testing device like I’ve got which plugs in to a normal domestic socket protected by an RCD to test it first, although beware of using such a gadget in someone else’s home as it might trip out their whole ring main while they’re watching their favourite TV show, I’ve done that once, and don’t forget that some consumer units have an RCD on the main isolating switch so if you trip that out it takes out all the power…

Yes, a portable RCD is well worth having if there is no RCD in the consumer unit. They became popular for use on outdoor equipment when few homes had a modern consumer unit.

I have a Martindale EZ150 socket tester that provides an indication of a missing/poor Earth (and incorrect wiring) but is designed not to trip a 30mA RCD. Other brands now offer this feature. The only time I tripped an outdoor supply I found that it had a 10mA RCD, which are not common.

Electrical Safety First has published various warnings about the risks of ad hoc arrangements for charging from mains sockets and has pointed out that a lack of public infrastructure for public charge points contributes to the problem: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2019/05/driven-to-danger-electric-vehicle-drivers-charging-dangerously-due-to-lack-of-public-infrastructure/

I hope that public charge points are inspected and tested routinely.

Malcolm – I don’t think there needs to be any funding conflict between fixing potholes and other highway defects and installing on-street charging units. I am sure it will be possible for local highway authorities to go out to tender for companies to install the infrastructure free of charge in return for retaining the revenue from the sale of the electricity. The council would remain in control of the location of each unit and the reinstatement of the footway.

I rarely see any potholes in the roads nowadays so don’t have a feel for how big the problem is.

I agree with your final paragraph.

PUBLIC CHARGER AVAILABILITY
In her introduction, Dhara mentioned some of the problems under the heading: 🔋 2. It’s too hard to find a public charger

Anyone planning a long journey in a battery electric vehicle (rather than a hybrid) needs to know about the availability of charging points on your route. It’s easy to look at a map showing the location of chargers before you set off but you will not know in advance if they will be available or in use.

Current availability of chargers can be found using a phone app but that provides the temptation to look at the phone when you are driving, unless you have a passenger available to do this for you.

I think more consideration certainly needs to be given to solving some of these logistical problems. I expect the industry is onto it.

I would hope that the satnavs in new electric cars would receive live feeds from charging stations and update the data on the move. You’re right – people shouldn’t be doing it on their smart phone. Apart from stations being temporarily out-of-use, some might have long queues [or, under an appointment system, no available slots for several hours].

I downloaded the Zap Map app and that showed me that one charging point at each of the council’s two new charging stations was in use and the ones at Lidl, Morrisons and the small shopping centre were vacant. There is the opportunity for users to report faults and success in using chargers via the app.

I have not heard of an appointment system for using chargers but that might come when there are more electric vehicles on the roads.

At present I run a diesel Golf and if I am planning a long trip I can fill up before setting off and never need to think about fuel. That’s very different from my first car which had a smaller range than many battery electric vehicles. I can remember ‘range anxiety’! In a car with a limited range you have the choice of taking the risk and going on until the battery is nearly empty or playing it safe and stopping sooner. Thanks to smartphones we have a better opportunity to make informed decisions.

Displaying information on a sat nav would be one option but that too could be distracting for a driver.

I wish Ian would come back and join in because he will have experience, having owned a Prius for a few years.

Thanks for your experiences, Dhara. It’s encouraging that it is practical to own an EV despite being dependent on public chargers. That would not work in many places where chargers are still something of a novelty. By not charging the battery fully you might prolong its useful life.

It must be incredibly annoying to find non-EV cars parked at a charging point, almost as bad as fit people parking in spaces for the disabled.

Until they get the charging structure right the electric revolution will not take off in spite of the threats from the government to ban things. Car manufacturers want to sell cars and they will be putting pressure on the electric companies to speed up the process. Tesla has gone one further and taken the charging network under its own control. It hopes the convenience of its investment will sell more of its cars as people worry about the supply of fossil fuels and the demise of the internal combustion engine. It is only the expense of its entire range that stops it doing better. Look around and observe the motoring stock on the road today. There are not that many cars around in the Tesla price range and not that many new cars either.

I have noticed that as well, Vynor. Buying a new car has effectively been put on hold for the last year and will not pick up again immediately. Deeply unfortunate though it is, of course, the market has also shrunk.

People can still buy petrol and diesel cars if they wish and will presumably be able to continue to use them after the ban on sales. I expect that many, like John, will delay replacing cars until they know more about electric vehicles and more choice is available. Others like Vynor have already taken the plunge. I’m not going to worry about replacing my car, which has cost me less than £300 in repairs since 2012.

I am planning to reduce my annual mileage by supporting a charity based 2 miles away instead of making many 40 mile round trips. I hope that the lockdowns have helped many people realise the benefits of staying local. I will continue to hope that electric cars will become more affordable. At present, manufacturers will be recouping their development costs of designing and testing new vehicles and presumably using the money to expand their range. At present there is plenty of generating capacity to meet the needs of charging vehicles overnight, though future demands will need to be addressed.

For years I knew only one person with an EV, but now I have two other friends who bought EVs before the first lockdown. I look forward to seeing their cars and learning about their experiences.

With a substantial amount of our electricity coming from gas and biomass am not sure how much carbon emissions will be saved by burning these fuels to produce electricity and charging cars, but this will change. The compelling reason to move to an EV is if you drive in cities, because we need to tackle air pollution.

I thought Drax was the only major biomass power generating station in the UK but recently discovered that Lynemouth power station in Northumberland had recently been converted to biomass. Drax is colossal and produces 2,640MW using its four biomass plants while Lynemouth has a capacity of 420MW. Ferrybridge multi-fuel power station has an output of 79MW. There are over 170 other biomass generators, mostly small-scale [below 20MW] and 17 mid-range plant [20-50MW].

Most of the smaller units are associated with industrial activities at or near the same site and use bi-products or waste materials arising nearby which I consider environmentally good.

However, the Drax, Lynemouth, and Ferrybridge power stations import vast quantities of pelletised biomass [mainly from growing timber]. This is largely sourced from the USA, transported to the eastern seaboard and then shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool [for Drax and Ferrybridge] and Ashington [for Lynemouth] whence it is carried by diesel-hauled train to the power station. Ignoring the issue of chopping down trees [Earth’s carbon absorbers] to burn and planting replacements, how on Earth can the transport arrangements be environmentally acceptable? This is an unsustainable process labelled ‘renewable‘ for public consumption.

Please could we move our discussions about electricity generation, electric cars etc to The Lobby? This is interesting and important but has no direct relevance to the problems that users are facing when using public charging facilities.

EVs, electricity generation, the future of fossil fuelled cars have relevance in a Convo dealing with charging points, moreso than getting lost in the lobby. There have not been that many posts about actual problems with charging points but plenty around the topic. So I would prefer we do not move it as we would then lose all these comments.

However, that decision is Which?s.

Some of what we write is for the general education of Which?, its Conversation authors and other contributors. I think it is useful to have related material associated with this in order to see that there is more to electric car use than topping it up. And, put more bluntly perhaps than Malcolm expressed it, I don’t think the proposition from Citizen’s Advice is conducive to much discussion since it is eminently sensible and just what consumers will agree with.

I have nothing against going off topic to some extent and I have done a great deal of that myself but I recognise that it is unhelpful to enter into protracted discussion, which is why I have not continued to discuss environmental impact assessment.

We as regulars have been encouraged to steer topics back on course, albeit not recently, but our Community Guidelines state: “Please keep comments relevant to the topic at hand – veering off to add colour to your point is fine, but we like to keep conversations on course. If you want to go off-topic then head over to The Lobby.”

I think this Convo has developed with relevant albeit related comments. Moving to The Lobby is not necessary in my view, particularly as it would lose the history that leads to ensuing comments. And the Lobby would soon become a mess.

However those who feel it better can do so. Part of the charm of Convos is in the diversity of comments and information provided.

The moderators can decide, of course.

We are certainly now right off topic. Perhaps we should….. no 🙂

I would find a journey on Which? Conversation rather uninteresting without the branch lines that take us to different destinations. I don’t think I learn much from the basic Conversation preamble and opening comments, whereas the contributions around the topic can be informative and quite useful. I wouldn’t want Conversations just being a series of “that also happened to me”-type comments.

I don’t think our extemporisations on extra mural matters have done any harm to the original Conversation and at least it’s still running quite vigorously unlike some with a narrower field of vision.

Phil says:
12 April 2021

Generation is important to the topic; the power has to be there before anything else can be considered.

A report on Drax published a few years ago concluded that it was more pouting than burning coal yet it still gets a subsidy (£785 million in 2019) from the government. Coal (and Open Circuit Gas Turbine) were all that kept the lights on for much of the winter but the last coal fired power station and the subsidy for Drax will end in 2024. The oldest nuclear stations are due to close at about the same time. With renewables unable to reliably deliver, at least until the storage problem is cracked, the big question is is there going to be enough generating capacity for an all electric future? I have my doubts.

I share your doubts, Phil.

In a renewable future we have to over-provide capacity to ensure reliability of energy supply during the coldest parts of the year. We are not there yet and heat pumps are not the magic bullet.

One of the useful factors in considering hydrogen as a fuel is that it is a way of storing energy. While for traction it takes three times as much electricity to achieve the same amount of power at the wheel as a direct electrical supply, it can be used in places where electricity is not available like remote railways, or not economical such as on low traffic lines. If the input resource – wind, solar, and tidal – are effectively free, the relative efficiency of making electricity from hydrogen is less of a concern [although the purists would still criticise it].

As Wavechange said the other day, hydrogen can be used for space heating and cooking either on its own or in combination with natural gas to avoid having to rely on electricity as the substitute for gas. This would take the pressure off generating station capacity, and surplus renewable energy in the hot months can be used to build up hydrogen stocks for the winter.

We also need to allow for environmental reconsideration of biomass as an energy resource.

Well said, John

I am so relieved that people are finally waking up to the biomass scam. It’s incredible that this has been allowed to develop; you really couldn’t make it up.

They fell for this in NI where the inept government subsidy – the Renewable Heating Incentive – made burning biomass profitable when it was quite unnecessary. Cost the public purse £500m. No politician had the integrity to take any responsibility.

The hope politicians have with Drax is someone can magic up carbon storage as a “solution”. But it does not address the issue of carrying fuel, that will not actually be replaced, thousands of miles so unethical people can claim subsidy off the taxpayer.

The trees being cut down to be burnt as biomass are already nature’s carbon absorbers. Transporting them 3,000 miles in an oil fuelled ship just adds insult to injury.

Richard – As I wrote previously, this is an unsustainable process labelled ‘renewable‘ for public consumption.

Deviating slightly from the main thrust of the conversation, I got to thinking about the comparison between an inexpensive petrol/ diesel car and the cheaper end of the electric car market. There is, of course, no such thing as a cheap electric car. Buying an inexpensive run-around may not give much kudos, and may not be that much fun to drive or that posh inside, but one thing is usually assured, it buzzes around on spoonful’s of petrol and diesel. The equivalent electric car has a short range and needs topping up frequently. The smaller electric car is less practical than the entry model Honda Jazz or Fiesta.
The malevolent demon inside me also wondered what might happen if the average electric car found itself in the Lake District. Would that car and its four passengers manage a couple of mountain passes? Would it, after this exertion, have a smell of burned toast about it and smoke coming from the battery pack? Would the full range have suddenly evaporated into nothingness? Has anyone driven one of these cars over Hardknot and lived to tell the tale?

Do the downhills recharge the batteries for the uphills, Vynor?

We are on the top of a hill so wherever we go is downhill, which means that coming home is always an uphill task for the motor. I would be worried that after a long day out gliding around the fens or the Brecks or the Broads [which are all at or below sea level] the car would be struggling a bit.

The one thing I look forward to in the future is that everyone will have to drive smaller and lighter vehicles. This will make country roads more pleasant and towns safer, make parking easier, and lead to a big reduction in noise and particulate pollution. So long as diesel engine road fuel is available this might just be a dream, of course.

The question is, ‘How can public electric vehicle charging be improved?’

The very first requirement is that the UK must have generators capable of supplying all the extra electricity needed for electric transport in the future.

Three or four years ago Jack Ponton, senior honorary professorial fellow of engineering at the University of Edinburgh, worked out that if all the UK’s cars were electric it would require an additional five nuclear stations to power them at a cost of over £10 billion.

According to EDF’s website, since 2010 26 power stations have closed, which equates to 20% of the UK’s generation capacity. By 2030 a further 35% of existing generation capacity will close down. Not sounding too good so far, is it?

Some of this can be replaced by renewables and by burning American trees (so called ‘biomass’) in power stations. However, the public’s expectation that we will all be moving around in electric cars powered by nothing but wind and solar is nothing but fairy dust, as I and all my electrical engineering friends are only too well aware.

We live in interesting times.

Richard – I would suggest that the cost of a nuclear power station now is closer to £20 billion than £10 billion. The critical thing is that they can take ten years from start on site to commissioning. If we had a rolling programme of the same design, costs could be reduced and the build period shortened.

My calculations indicated 13 more nuclear power stations the output of Hinkley Point C to fuel EVs if all existing cars were replaced, plus another 12 to replace domestic gas for heating and cooking.
Whatever the real number it does not seem achievable.

However, we won’t be on our own in wanting to construct and fuel nuclear power stations, whereas we can lay claim to out own wind, sun and, importantly I believe, our tides (unless they fall foul of the EU who might claim them, as they originate in international waters.

Actually, I believe our tides originate in space, from the gravitational pull of our moon and sun.

The short term answer is PHEVs (plugable hybrid electric vehicles). They can be charged when there is spare electric power – i.e. sunny or windy – available for shorter journeys, and continue to run on fossil fuels otherwise.

I wonder if any of us will still get stuck behind crawling electric tractors or diggers?

As mentioned in the introduction the cost of using a public charger can be confusing. I’m confused and I haven’t even used one.

Here is a photo taken at my nearest supermarket:

No wonder I have not seen this charge point in use when I have been using the nearby click & collect service. The price per kWh and the standing charge are both well above those charged for domestic electricity. Zap Map shows the price as 35p/kWh for registered users and 39p for ‘guest drivers’, with no mention of the £1 fixed fee.

The overstay charges will help to ensure that drivers don’t get too engrossed in shopping.

I think 90 minutes seems quite a generous time allowance but it depends what the charging speed is per kiloWatt. Perhaps it takes over an hour if the battery is flat. The hourly rate seems high but the connexion charge is low. I expect the prices are set to recoup the considerable investment required.

That is a long time to have to queue though.
1kWh should give you up to 10km. It all depends on the rate of charge but I would have thought a 15 minute top up while you wait with your vehicle would be adequate for most people who are no doubt local and can charge fully at home. That would minimise inconvenience to others in the queue.

Zap Map records users’ comments and poor charging speeds seems to be a common complaint.

I gather that the speed can depend on the charger so the stated output of the charge point is an ‘up to’ figure.

That should read: “…the speed can depend on the vehicle…”

Robert Whittlesea says:
18 April 2021

One has to go with self charging cars. Or you have to have two cars one for local use the other for long runs which has to be self charging. The best way will be hydrogen but the costs will have to come down. Our councils could make a start by having their commercial vehicles go Hydrogen also sell hydrogen to the public. That could be a start Just a 5 min fill up and not a problem for people who live in apartments etc

Robert – There are several advantages of hydrogen power for road vehicles but it is a very inefficient means of getting power to the wheel; it is only acceptable if the energy used to produce the hydrogen is obtained from effectively free sources [off-peak renewables]. But at present the UK does not have adequate hydrogen production facilities to sustain more than a small percentage of the potential requirement. I think your suggestion of hydrogen fuel for cars where connecting to a charging point is difficult or impossible is a good one.

I am not sure that hydrogen will be adequate to power large commercial vehicles, and small to medium-sized ones lend themselves to electrical propulsion [and are now on our roads in increasing numbers].

I expect the commercial sector will be more than capable of supplying hydrogen to the public as and when the various parts of the production, delivery and consumption process start to fall into place. I would hesitate to let local authorities get involved in that kind of activity; it is worth keeping a competitive element in the provision of essential fuels.

Graeme says:
24 April 2021

Totally support all chargers being able to take card payments, the need for standardisation and reliable infrastructure.

Recently had a 48 hour test of a Corsa E and was impressed – easy to drive, nippy and quite. Seriously considered getting an EV.

Then I tried to charge it. All told I tried to charge it
3 times, EVERY time there were issues, none connected first time with the the Charge your Car app (the only app for Cahrgeplace Scotland),1 charger cut out and went offline, second was out of order but showing as operational. Finally got to a fast charger that worked (still took several attempts to get the app connection). All in of a 7.5 hours trip, 2.75 hours were spent charging or trying to.
Perhaps I was just unlucky but upshot is I’ll stick to burning fossils for a while longer.

Totally feel the same, had a very similar experience with BMW i3 really lovely to drive. If I was making short trips I wouldn’t mind so much but the longer journeys I’d need to be sure that I could charge on the go. Sticking to my car for a while but will be interesting to see how EV’s develop.