Why has it taken so long for electric mobility to catch on? The main suspect: range anxiety, the fear of getting stranded with a flat battery. But with sufficient charging infrastructure and a rethink of the way we refuel, we could easily make it a thing of the past. There are enough good solutions available - we just have to put them into practice.
We could have far more electric cars on our roads - there certainly isn't a lack of well-engineered models on the market. The reason for the slow take-up of e-mobility is probably a combination of two factors: the higher price and smaller driving range when compared to petrol and diesel cars. But as production grows and technology continues to advance - above all the batteries - prices are sure to come down. Range anxiety can't be dismissed completely - electric cars currently have an average range of 150 to 250 kilometres. Even though that is enough to cover most journeys with no problem at all, they do need regular charging.
Countries like China, where e-mobility is booming, are putting serious money into charging infrastructure, there were huge moves to accelerate the development of EV infrastructure in the US under the Obama administration too, and in Europe, BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen recently announced they would be building a continent-wide network of charging points for electric cars, running along Europe's most important roads. On the surface at least, things seem to be moving in the right direction.
Different Providers Leads to Confusion and Chaos
Another factor holding back e-mobility is - as well as the lack of sufficient charging stations - the general confusion surrounding the different methods of charging and paying for the electricity on offer. There are currently a whole range of different providers with different billing and charging systems: without detailed advance information and a whole selection of different cables to hand (high speed charging stations still have three different systems, normal stations have managed to come up with one standardised option) longer distances could quickly become a struggle.
It's a vicious circle: many places still lack extensive investment in infrastructure because there aren't enough EVs on the road. But it doesn't make much sense for a consumer to switch to an electric vehicle until there's simple and accessible infrastructure in place. Why does the situation have to be so complicated? In most places that EVs will be driven there's a comprehensive and well-functioning electricity supply - all we need to is plug into it.
Young startups with innovative new concepts seem to be doing the most to significantly improve charging infrastructure: from apps that show you the nearest free charging station and include a smart payment system via streetlights that turn into rapid charging stations, to wireless charging systems. Hopefully projects like these will soon be making range anxiety a thing of the past.
Apps to Help You Find and Pay for Your Next Charge
If you live in Europe, the app PlugSurfing can help you not just find the next free charging station, but also show you what tarif it's using and whether your charging cable is compatible. It also makes it easier to pay for the electricity you use - the app has payment options for every different operator.
There's the hugely comprehensive Plugshare app for those outside Europe - it includes Asia and North America and the concept is very much the same. It even shows private charging stations - often people's homes - and also has a comprehensive payment option, although not all networks participate in the scheme. And similarly, if you live in Sweden, the Elbnb app can hook you up directly with someone who has a charging station at their house. They decide on the promise and you make a new friend in the process.
Fill Up at Home!
The German startup eeMobility – where the "ee" stands for "easy electric" – wants to make it easier for people and companies to go electric and have developed a wall box suitable for any type of electric vehicle that allows users to charge them at home. As well as offering a quick and secure way of charging, the system uses 100 per cent green energy. And there's one really special feature too - the so-called "smart charging function" which ensures the vehicle is charged - when possible - whenever there is surplus power, usually at night.
Streetlight Charging Stations
The startup Ebee has developed a technology that allows street lights to be transformed into charging stations for electric cars. The advantage of such a system is that the street light and the charging point share an electricity supply meaning the charging station doesn't need a specially-installed power outlet. And the charging points are already part of the make up of cities - so no space needs to be taken up by extra charging points. With it's "Light and Charge" project, BMW is already using Ebee's technology in Munich, Oxford and Los Angeles.
Why mess around with cables when there are much simpler options available? There are a whole load of startups and projects that show that contactless charging - although it might sound futuristic - is very much a reality. The startup Blue Inductive, for example, already offers a technology that holds it own against traditional cabled charging options. Their wireless rapid charging device can charge several electric cars in under an hour, and more efficiently too. Electromagnetic induction systems such as this one can be integrated almost seamlessly into existing infrastructure, meaning that they're protected from possible vandalism which could affect their usability. And by cutting out the cable and the plug, the problem of compatibility is also solved in one stroke.
The UK introduced wireless charging for at least one fleet of buses way back in 2012. The vehicles are charged at the beginning and end of the route via charging coils installed into the parking spaces. And Nissan is currently looking to collaborate with wireless transfer systems firm WiTricity to speed up the use of wireless charging systems and grow the market, in the belief that it will increase widespread acceptance of EVs.
Moving Away From Traditional Thinking
What these examples all show: we're certainly not lacking simple, accessible and comprehensive solutions for our charging infrastructure. And what's more: switching to electric mobility is all about moving away from "petrol station" thinking. Currently we wait for the tank to be nearing empty before driving purposefullly towards a petrol station. With electric cars it's different. Charging usually happens where you would leave your car anyhow: your house, when you go shopping, at your workplace. In that way the battery is full pretty much all the time and the issue of range anxiety no longer an issue at all. There are only a few exceptions - such as during longer trips - where drivers have to make a brief stop for recharging. And even that could one day be history - if roads that charge your car as you drive stop being a pilot project and one day become a worldwide reality.
The future looks bright for e-mobility. Want to find out which countries are leading the way, how electric vehicles are now holding their own against the rest of the market, and what innovative startups are doing to keep e-mobility moving forward? You can find all the articles here: RESET Special E-Mobility.