In the future all automobiles won't be running on fossil fuels. They'll be running on electricity of some kind, and we know this because the government has already told us new petrol cars will be banned after 2040. But according to the head of insurance company Axa, the UK doesn't have the infrastructure to support them.
Eectric cars need chargers capable of providing a lot of juice in a short amount of time, and Axa UK and Ireland Group Chief Executive Amanda Blanc doesn't think the UK is capable of offering enough. For one there currently aren't enough fast charging points for self-driving cars, and secondly because of the strain on the national grid.
Blanc is a Tesla driver, and claims to have had first hand experience of the issues regarding charging up an electric car. Currently there are 14,000 electric chargers in the UK (for 125,000 plug-in vehicles), 2,620 of which offer fast charging - specifically at least 80 per cent of a full battery in 30 minutes. Blanc claims that a family road trip to Edinburgh required two trips to a fast charger, and while it wasn't an issue for her and her family now she points out that the current infrastructure could be problematic. More electric cars means more demand for chargers, and more demand means you're far more likely to need to queue to charge up your car.
While she has a point here, it's not something that hasn't already been considered. The government has reaffirmed its dedication to electric vehicles over the course of last year, and the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill contains a section that notes the government may force large petrol retailers to install EV chargers - though so far companies have been more than willing to do it themselves.
But Blanc also has concerns about how the national grid will cope with the sudden need for more electricity:
“If suddenly everyone’s got one [an electric car] I’m not sure how the National Grid is going to cope with that. If in the Coronation Street break everyone goes to put the kettle on and that causes problems, just imagine what will happen if everybody comes home from work at 6 o’clock and switches their cars on to charge – we have to be smarter about renewables and regenerating electricity. That’s a real challenge.”
It's worth noting that this isn't fearmongering or trying to dismiss the potential of electric vehicles, which some people have still been called out for doing in recent weeks. She's a big believer in the electric, autonomous future of motoring, and believes that children born today won't actually need to bother with learning to drive.
While the national grid issue is something to be concerned about, it's not like this topic hasn't come up already. The government has already envisioned a 'smart' EV charging network that can directly interact with the national grid and manage demand. And if someone is plugging their car in overnight, it doesn't necessarily need to charge up quickly or even immediately. Surely a smart grid could stretch the charging process over the course of a few hours?
The issue of infrastructure is going to be a long process, particularly since EV adoption isn't going to explode overnight. Yes we need more charging points, particularly with fast charging capabilities, and yes we need to be able to manage the national grid to compensate for all the cars that aren't using toxic gas-producing fuel. But it's not like we've not got a head start, and provided the government actually follows through with its promises we're on our way to making sure the system can handle everything that's coming. [The Guardian]