How EV charging is speeding ahead of the cars

More energy in less time

More than half of UK residents want to do their part for the planet by buying an electric car. Yet only one in four of them is thinking about doing so in the next five years. 

Government subsidies have fallen, making electric cars more expensive. And while the market is growing fast, there are still a limited number of models available. But the biggest fear of potential customers is about running out of steam.   

When it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), 81% are concerned about vehicle range, 74% are worried about finding a place to charge, and 66% think about recharging time.

The good news is that change is on the way. By 2020, Ionity – a consortium led by BMW, Mercedes, Ford and the VW Group – is installing 500 high-capacity EV chargers across Europe.

These lightning-fast power sources will be capable of discharging electricity at a rate much faster than any car currently on the market can absorb it.

Energy by numbers

Right now, the most energy a car can take in one charge is 150kW. That’s because vehicles can only charge at their maximum charge rate. A car with a maximum charge rate of just 7kW won’t charge any faster on a charge point with more capacity.

However, the latest charging infrastructure will add exponential capability once car technology catches up. 

Earlier this year, Centrica installed the first two 350kW charging points at Extra Motorway Services in Milton Keynes and Maidstone for Ionity.

Each station has six charging points, where next-generation electric vehicles will be able to charge in less than 20 minutes using 100% renewable energy.

That’s significantly faster than the Tesla Supercharger – currently the quickest on the market – which charges vehicles in 30 minutes

Ionity is planning a network of 40 high-powered charging stations throughout the UK motorway system by the end of 2020.

Automotive technology playing catch-up

Meanwhile, car manufacturers are innovating with batteries that can handle bigger currents, catching up with the more advanced charging technology. 

Next year, Porsche will launch the Taycan – the first car able to absorb on a 350kW charge rate. That’s seven times the capacity of an affordable EV like the Nissan Leaf (and nearly three times the price).

“The successful transition to EV motoring depends on two things: the availability of vehicles and the right charging infrastructure,” says Patrick Bevan, Commercial and Operations Director at Centrica Mobility Ventures.

What Centrica is doing

Centrica is working with Ford to build electric charging installation services across hundreds of dealerships in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It will also offer a home charging installation service that will allow Ford customers to benefit from lower energy prices for overnight charging.

In addition, it is working with NCP, one of the UK’s leading car park operators, to trial new approaches to electric vehicle charging for professional drivers, focusing on the challenge of making charging more convenient and creating potential ways to charge commercial fleets and taxis in public spaces. The first pilot ‘charge park’ is expected in the new year.

Centrica has also expanded its digital service, Local Heroes, to offer homeowners EV charging installations, while Centrica Business Solutions has launched a package for large businesses that includes new solar and battery storage facilities to help meet increased onsite power demand.

The lightbulb moment

But it’s not just the prospect of rapid charging that will make electric cars more attractive – it’s how and where that charging takes place.

New technology offers flexible solutions that could soon become mainstream. Since the end of 2018, Centrica has been working with Freewire Technologies and Westminster City Council on trials of mobile chargers that can be taken directly to vehicles, eliminating the need to drive to a service station.

Apps like Driivz can map out charging points and even price points for motorists.

And to get around the fact many people in cities don’t have driveways where they can plug in their cars at home, the London Borough of Southwark is testing 50 open-access charging points in lampposts.

Sometimes, progress really does happen at the speed of light.